These two lunker hunters share their secrets
Plural nouns are words used to indicate that there is more than one person, place or thing. Bass fishermen used to go “bass fishing” in the plural — targeting areas that held numerous bass and trying to catch one of many that might be there, including an occasional “hawg”.
But today’s new electronics have allowed anglers to change that approach and fish effectively for one big bass at a time. Bass fishing in the singular. One fish targeting, so to speak.
It’s a foreign concept to most anglers, but fishermen like Todd Risinger of West Monroe, La., and Sontus Mitchell of Ruston, La., have fine-tuned their skills to become big-bass stalkers with amazing success.
Two great fishermen. Two different approaches. One goal: catching the biggest bass possible. They often fish together, and when they do, it’s double trouble for the bass.
Mitchell is a Louisiana state trooper, and he knows speed kills, both on the highway and in fishing for big bass. Risinger has his own construction business and he knows you complete big projects one step at a time. He uses the same approach in fishing. Here’s more on how they do it.
Mitchell: slow is better
“Every time I hit the water, I am trying to catch that big one,” Mitchell said. “I don’t care much about numbers. It’s quality that I’m looking for, not quantity. It’s the same whether I’m in a tournament or on a trip just for fun. I think the biggest key to being successful is to just slow down.”
Mitchell slows down in his approach to planning out his strategy, finding fish and presenting a bait to try and fool them.
“I would honestly say that I’ve found the best days to catch really big bass are the bad-weather days, right before a front comes in or during the first part of the weather change,” he said. “I like to plan my trips where I can fish those conditions, and I fish slow. The bigger fish are just lethargic by nature, and they don’t want to have to chase after their dinner. I also like to use big baits to target big bass. I don’t hesitate at all to fish with a large crankbait, large creature bait or a large worm. I have caught a lot of big fish on 10- to 12-inch worms in all kinds of conditions. It’s just a mindset. You have to convince yourself that the bait isn’t too big for them.”
Mitchell uses his electronics to help him find big fish, but it wasn’t always that way. He learned where big bass hang out the hard way.
“When I started fishing, I couldn’t afford the kind of electronics that a lot of fishermen had,” he said. “I had to use land resources to pinpoint where big bass were, places like secondary points, old road beds, creek channels — things you can see on a map and visualize on the water. I studied everything I could to help me learn more about the habits of big bass and applied it on the water.”
Today, he uses his graphs like everyone else, but he also combines what he sees with what he knows.
“Take for instance today, when I see a big brushtop with some big fish on it on the graph,” he said. “I may fish it for 30 minutes and not get a bite, but I know they are there. It can get confusing, but here’s what you do when you know they are there. Basically, fish a complete circle around that top — or whatever type of structure it is. There are times when those big fish won’t hit a bait unless it is coming in the direction or at the angle they are feeding. You’ve got to figure that out and present the bait just like they want it. Be patient. Slow down. Give them, and yourself, every opportunity to get that fish to bite.”
“My mental approach is simply figure out how long I’ve got to fish and do what I can to get five big bites. I’m either going to win big or lose big,” he said.
Risinger: taking a different approach
“One reason Sontus and I do so well fishing together is that I take a different approach sometimes than he does,” Risinger said. “While he’s mostly about big baits, I’ll often go smaller, especially until the water warms up and gets stable in the summer. And I’ll spend a lot more time on the graph to find that one fish, or several areas that have a big fish or two. I’ll mark them and then come back to them over and over again until I can get one to bite.”
Risinger pointed out that, especially on bigger lakes and reservoirs, you often see a lot of fishermen just idling around. What they are doing, he said, is finding fish, marking them on their electronics and trying to pick out the spots that have the biggest fish.
“You can definitely tell the big bass from the smaller ones on today’s units, especially with a little practice,” he said. “Frankly, a lot of people after big bass today spend more time idling around the lake than they do fishing. You spend your time marking fish, then when you do actually fish, you are in the prime spots, not just casting and hoping.”
Risinger has the same approach as Mitchell, however, when it comes to the target.
“I’m all about catching the big one,” he said. “The biggest bass I’ve caught is 11 pounds, 2 ounces. I’ve caught three of them that weighed that, so naturally, I want to catch one that is just a little bit bigger. It’s like deer hunting. You kill an 8-point, you want a 12. Then you kill a 12, you want a bigger 12. The same thing with bass. I’m not knocking an 8-pounder, but I want to catch one bigger than that. And in a tournament, if you don’t catch 5-, 6- or 7-pounders, you probably aren’t going to win.”
Risinger said the best time to catch the very biggest bass is in the spring, right when they are about to spawn. They are full of eggs and gorging themselves with shad to have the energy to survive the spawn. But you can catch big bass all year-long if you target them.
“Remember this,” he said. “The big bass are going to move in along the points, creek beds and humps to the shallows to spawn in the spring. Then they are going to move back out to deeper water to the same type spots after the spawn. Bigger fish usually like deeper water. That’s a key. But there are really big bass that will stay in the grass most of the year, as long as it provides them cover and an abundance of baitfish.”
Both skilled anglers agree on another point. You can’t catch a big fish if you don’t go. You can never overlook the fact that sometimes, catching a big bass is just a matter of being in the right spot at the right time and getting a little bit lucky. To do that, you’ve got to have your bait in the water.
If you spend a few hours in the boat with Mitchell, his front deck will probably look a little bit like a bait store, with lots of options laid out and tried at one time or another. But you can bet most of those baits will be big. Everything from 8- to 12-inch worms, big crankbaits and big swimbaits.
Colors will vary from purple to watermelon to brown to green flake. He doesn’t let old preferences affect his decision about what today’s bass want; he lets them decide. If he’s on a big fish and it doesn’t hit after a cast or two, he’ll offer something else until the fish gives in.
Risinger, on the other hand, will try a larger variety of different types of baits, from lipless crankbaits to Chatterbaits to football jigs. If he’s locked in on a big bass out in fairly open water, he won’t hesitate to throw a whole school of baits at the big bass. He likes to add a Rage Craw trailer to his Chatterbaits and jigs.
“There are times when a big fish is out deep, and I just know I can catch him on an Alabama rig,” he says. “An Alabama rig is a setup with five wires angled like spokes of an umbrella, with plastic grubs attached to each end. It mimics a school of baitfish. It is a big rig, but it is actually a group of five smaller baits. Instead of just being one bite, though, it’s like a whole buffet coming through the water.”
If big bass are finicky, Risinger won’t leave until he tries a small drop-shot rig or a Carolina rig. And he can be patient, too.
“I’ve seen a situation where you have to actually bump the big bass five to 10 times with your lure and just finally aggravate it into hitting the lure,” he said. “But you’ve got to be keenly aware, because when it hits, it won’t be a monster strike. It will usually just be the fish grabbing it just enough to move it out of her way. It’s similar to bed fishing, only in deeper water.”
Catch-and-release lets bass grow big
One thing that Sontus Mitchell and Todd Risinger agree on is that managing big-bass populations is critical to anglers catching more big bass.
“We owe it to the sport and to other anglers to protect the bigger bass that we catch,” Mitchell said. “It’s okay for people to catch bass to eat if that’s what they want, but when they start getting 5 to 8 pounds, it’s best for the sport to put them back. You can’t have big fish unless you give them a chance to grow up. All the tournaments we fish in are catch-and-release, and we do that with all our fish. It’s especially important in lakes that have heavy pressure.”
“Bass can’t grow to be 8, 10, 12 pounds overnight,” he says. “They have to have some age on them, no matter how much food they are getting or how great the lake is. Again, it goes back to deer hunting. Hunters that expect to kill massive 10- and 12-pointers don’t also shoot their young 6- and 8-pointers. That just won’t work.”