Fumes from the outboard were still detectable on the breeze, but already Pete Ponds was on the front deck, with the trolling motor down and his hands on his crankbait rod.
Before I even had my feet on the floor, the B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro’s first cast was hitting the water on a shallow edge of a creek channel on Barnett Reservoir.
He spun the handle about three times real quick, then stopped and made a quick jerk with his rod.
“There’s one,” Ponds said, jerking again, even harder, to set the hook on an unlucky largemouth. “What did I tell you? It’s on.”
Ponds reeled in the 3-pounder, unhooked it from the shad-colored Bandit Flat Maxx and let the fish go.
“I love cranking this time of year, and there’s no better choice than the Flat Maxx, no matter what type of lake you are fishing,” said Ponds, of Madison. It’s a lure he helped develop for Bandit Lures, located in Sardis, one of his tour sponsors.
“Take a big lake, like Barnett Reservoir or Grenada, this time of year is when shad start to gather in the afternoons and bass will come up busting them,” Ponds said. “Instead of fishing on top like a lot of people do, I throw the Maxx and try to catch the bigger fish underneath. The big fish are lazy, and they usually stay down and just pick off the shad that are injured.
“What I do is throw past the surface action, crank the reel four or five times real fast, stop and then give it a good hard jerk. That’s when they usually load up on it. If not, I will reel a few times fast again, stop and jerk again.”
As September turns into October, Ponds always keeps a Flat Maxx handy, or in his hand as he did on this day last fall.
“When the shad start migrating out of deep open water, what I do is find a well-defined creek channel winding through a flat and work the edges,” he said. “What you want is a flat where the water is 4 feet deep on the flat and 8 or 10 feet in the creek channel. I will work the edges of that creek channel, especially anywhere I can find an S-curve in the creek or a sharp bend.
“Work both sides of it until you find the fish. Sometimes they like the insides of the bends, and other times they like the outsides. But if you are in a creek where shad are migrating, bass will be there to feed and will be aggressive. That’s why a crankbait can be so effective.”
So what about smaller lakes that don’t have shad?
“Same thing, only instead of a Flat Maxx in a shad color, switch to a bream-colored lure,” Ponds said. “Find the areas close to where the bream bedded earlier in the summer and you bet bass will be nearby.
“Now, if the bass and bream have moved into timber, like stumps or old brush piles, I will switch to the 200 Bandit instead of the Flat Maxx, because the 200 is more timber-friendly.”