Elite Series Pro Pete Ponds of Gluckstadt has fished the BASS Elite Series since its inception a few years ago, and knows a thing or two about locating and catching bass in a wide variety of lakes and rivers during good times as well as bad. More often than not, Ponds has to locate bass on the spur of the moment also.

Though Ponds was confident in his ability to find and catch bass, he was nonetheless hesitant about our chances of catching bass during the early morning hours on the backside of an extreme cold front, the first of the fall, with plunging temperatures and bluebird skies.

"I love to fish topwater for the excitement, but I'm most confident fishing crankbaits, my search baits," he said. "Search baits are more effective at finding fish fast, and then you can switch to different techniques and fish more deliberately to catch them once you find them.

"On the Elite Series, you've got to be able to find fish fast, and you need to aggressively fish for strikes to find those bass, but conditions might not be optimum for enticing aggressive strikes from bass that probably have post-frontal lockjaw."

 

7:00 a.m.: It's 36 degrees with fog so thick you could cut it with a knife when I meet Ponds at his house on the famed Lake Caroline near Gluckstadt. Although the high is forecast for the 60s, with high winds expected, the morning starts out frigid with a heavy frost.

Our fishing trip has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, and will be completed on the worst day we've seen in several weeks. But then again, Mississippi Sportsman's Day on the Lake Series pits pros and local experts against the worst conditions Mother Nature can cook up. And that's exactly what the pros have to deal with on a daily basis on the professional bass fishing trail. They've got to find and locate bass on strange lakes, when weather conditions can change without a moment's notice.

 

7:15: Ponds climbs into his Ardent-wrapped truck, and we begin our trek to Wolf Lake, an oxbow that has recently turned into a muddy mess due to the hard rains that inundated the area after a long drought.

 

8:25: Ponds launches his Ranger boat at the public landing at Wolf Lake on Highway 49W just northwest of Yazoo City, and checks his water temperature.

"Is that right?" he wonders aloud. "53 degrees? Man the surface temperature has really dropped."

Ponds motors into the main oxbow, turns north and heads uplake until he gets to an area with a shallow ledge near the bank.

"A lot of folks just fish the structure and cover along the bank," Ponds says. "I want to hit the other spots that haven't been hammered."

 

8:35: Ponds graphs a submerged ledge near the bank, and suspects that bass may be nearby. The pro starts with a chartreuse-tinged bream-colored crankbait.

"It's got a chartreuse tint that makes it kind of bright, and that's what I'm fishing since the water is kind of muddy," he says.

Ponds works the ledge over with no takers, and suddenly picks up the trolling motor, cranks the big motor and heads uplake until he runs across another submerged point. After several casts, Ponds repositions the boat and continues working the ledge from yet another angle.

 

8:45: Ponds picks up and moves to another submerged ledge that he discovers with his electronics.

"One of the things I look at is what is everyone else doing, and I like to do something different," he said. "You've got to try something different, or you'll do the same thing everybody else is doing and usually not catch the quality of fish you're looking for."

 

9:00: We move farther up the lake, and stop at a small pocket with a flat running across between two cypress points.

"I like to pump my crankbaits in fall and winter," Ponds says as he begins probing visible cover with a square-billed Bandit prototype crankbait. "I saw a lot of bait on the depthfinder, and the bass are either on the bottom or on the bank around the cypress trees. The ones I'm targeting are the ones on the transition points."

 

9:15: Ponds works a flat with a gold/black back Yozuri Vibe.

"Sometimes they'll be located in these flats or bowls, but we've got to find them first," he says.

The expert angler continues working all visible cover and directs me to do the same.

 

9:30: Ponds switches back to the square-billed Bandit, and continues working another cypress side point farther up the lake.

"The wind is blowing right into this cypress point, and it's got a lot of the right stuff, but cold fronts usually turn the fish off," Ponds says. "It really affects them negatively, but the main thing is to stay focused because they might not be feeding right now. I expect them to bite on a square-bill later this afternoon."

 

9:46: Winds are howling now, and Ponds is running from spot to spot, graphing and trying to find a pattern. It becomes clear that Ponds has extreme confidence in the small Bandit crankbaits, and anybody who has followed his career knows he has profited handsomely from fishing the small crankbaits on Ross Barnett and other lakes around the country.

Stopping at another laydown, Ponds amazes me with his ability to carve up the partially submerged tree with the square-billed Bandit.

"Sometime you have to cast seven, eight, 10 times into a brushtop to draw a strike, and you need to bang it into cover," Ponds says.

 

10:15: Continuing uplake, Ponds spots the only other anglers we've seen on the lake this morning.

"I see one, two, three, four cranes down that bank line," he says. "The conditions are just right here as the wind is blowing shad right into it and the cranes are capitalizing on it. A lot of stuff is happening right here."

The expert angler suddenly bows up on one with a crankbait, and quickly realizes that it's only a baitfish. However, the shad is about 4 inches long, and gives Ponds an idea of what he's got to contend with as there are literally thousands of these size shad in the lake.

 

11:30: Ponds switches to a Mardi Gras-colored Zoom finesse worm rigged with a Gamakatsu finesse hook with a gold finish tipped with a small nail in the head.

"Well, it took me awhile, but the bass finally told me what I needed to know," he says. "I really knew that the conditions weren't conducive to a great bite today, and they proved me right. I'm going to target the wood structure, slow down and try to finesse them since they're not actively feeding after this front cleared through."

Ponds promptly pitches the finesse worm near a piece of wood cover near a shallow drop, and a bass inhales it. Wham! Ponds sets the hook, and the fight is on. The seasoned pro wears the bass down and lands him quickly, and our first keeper of the day is in the boat.

 

11:55: Ponds calls the shot, and tells me to work the wood cover as he left a top for me to probe. I pitch a watermelon red flake magnum tube into the top, jig it slightly and a bass sucks it in. Rearing back on the rod, I drive the steel home, and jerk the bass 20 feet out of the water and into the boat.

Ponds had eliminated a lot of water and finally found a pattern with the bass holding tight to wood structure and cover in shallow water near the drop. Though many anglers would have packed it in by now with a big zero, Ponds persevered, and we overcame extremely tough conditions thrown at us by Mother Nature.

 

12:03: A quick check of the gauge shows the surface temperature has risen to 59 degrees. Ponds continues working the wood cover, and pitches his finesse worm right up tight to a log.

"I don't know how I'm going to get him out of there with this 6-pound line," he says.

In an instant, his finesse rod suddenly doubles over, and the fight is on as the enraged bass wallows in the water like a hog.

Ponds works the bass back and forth along the side of the Ranger, and finally wears him down enough to lip him. The lunker couldn't have come at a better time, and our pattern is really heating up now.

 

12:15: "What I'm noticing is that you've got to be real precise and deliberate and hit the structure as the strike zone of the bass is really small right now," Ponds says. "Hopefully the water will continue to warm and their strike zone will expand out to about 6 feet this afternoon."

Ponds is onto something now, and continues to work the shallow cover in search of another bass.

"So right now you've got to be really precise in your location and presentation to draw a strike," he says.

 

12:17: Ponds pitches his finesse worm by every piece of wood cover he can find, except for a few that he has left for me to check out. By now he is in a zone, and dissecting the cover and tops like a skilled surgeon. As he continues carving up the cover with pinpoint accuracy, he also lets me know what he is doing and where he expects to catch fish and why he is doing what had suddenly become successful after a morning of famine.

 

12:20: Ponds pitches the finesse worm right up into a shallow tree top and slowly twitches the worm before letting it flutter down.

"You don't set the hook with a finesse rig and a trick worm, just tighten up on the line and it hooks him," he says. "If you really set it hard, it might tear a hole in the fish's mouth and he'll get off."

 

12:40: Ponds notices another submerged point on his depthfinder, changes gears instantly, picks up his Bandit crankbait and makes a perfect cast. Just as the lure ticks the bottom of the shallow hump, a large bass nails it and bores down hard before earning its freedom.

"I never turned him or slowed him down," Ponds says. "I don't know what it was, but it was a large fish."

 

12:55: Ponds switches back to his pattern of targeting wood structure after working the point over with nary another bite. Once again, he relies on a slower presentation to try and coax another bass into biting. Ponds pitches his lure to a bank, and catches yet another bass right near the brush, not 2 feet from the bank.

Ponds has finally enticed a kicker fish into sampling his finesse worm.

"I think the difference is in the presentation as this finesse worm falls so slow and they haven't seen a lot of this style of finesse fishing," Ponds says.

 

1:30: Ponds' fifth keeper comes on yet another precise cast with the Zoom finesse worm, and fills out his limit, which is quite an accomplishment on a day when just getting a bite is tough.

 

3:00: After drawing quite a few short strikes on the upper end of the lake on the finesse worms, Ponds connects with another bass, and we called it a day.

 

"Although we didn't catch the bass on a crankbait like I'd hoped, the lack of strikes did tell us that the fish had a small strike zone and that they weren't real aggressive today," Ponds says. "When lures don't work or pan out, they can tell you just as much about what is working, or what will work, as what you learned by not catching them on that particular bait.

"Today we just had to use more precise casts and an almost dead-stick pattern. We just had to pitch the trick worm out, and let it go down and sit and then shake it and work it about a foot, foot and a half from the brush and then reel it in and pitch it out again. We had to be more deliberate in our presentation, and the key was just not moving it much.

"If we hadn't experienced extreme post-frontal conditions, we'd have caught them on crankbaits today. But as it turned out, we had to take what the lake would give us, and that required a slow methodical presentation that allowed us to catch a limit on finesse lures."