February 2nd, 2015
Spring is in the air, and with it comes the most enjoyable season for fishing. As everything comes alive, hungry bass take note, prowling the shallows in preparation for the spawn. Step one on their list is to eat everything in sight, and bass anglers enjoy taking advantage of the gluttony.
Matt Herren is a tournament champion with a history of high finishes all across the country. A 6-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, Herren has proven he’s got what it takes to fish in all seasons, coast to coast. His favorite time to fish, though, is during the spring across the mid-south regions of the US, specifically the famous string of reservoirs along the Tennessee River system.
These bass factories, with names like Guntersville, Wheeler and Kentucky, are well-known to bass fishermen around the world for the ability to crank out endless stringers of big bass. With such reputations, one would think that scoring big during the pre-spawn and spawning season would be a breeze. However, through decades of experience, Herren has discovered many understated intricacies that are needed to find the springtime motherlode.
First, it’s important to understand that these bodies of water have vast areas of shallow water, often conducive to springtime staging and spawning, that are unlike those found in most lakes. To further explain, Herren breaks down spawning habitat into two types: typical protected coves and shoreline areas, and offshore areas we’ll call “intermediate ledges.” Like main river ledges—those structures often highlighted in discussions of summertime hotspots—intermediate ledges are flat areas on the edges of submerged creek channels. However, in this case, Herren keys on those ledges that top out at fairly shallow water depths – usually under 8 feet. There, fish interested in spawning can group up and stage prior to moving, or even complete the cycle on the ledge itself.
To start, Herren narrows down his search by selecting areas somewhat protected from current: ledges downstream from major points or other structural elements, or on inside turns of the main channel. However, a quick look at any LakeMaster chip often reveals dozens of areas that match this criteria. How, then, is Herren able to isolate the protective spots?
The key is the efficient use of his electronics. In today’s age of depthfinders that look down, out and all around the boat, Herren has found it necessary to get intimately familiar with such technology in order to stay one step ahead of his competition.
The first and most important step, he says, is to locate areas with hard bottoms. Herren does so by selecting several intermediate ledges that fit his criteria based on lake level, water color and temperature, and graphing with the Side Imaging feature on his Humminbird. But, rather than do so utilizing the factory default setting, Herren first makes one small, but important, display change. “I always set my unit on Amber 1 color mode” he says. Doing so allows hard-bottomed areas to brightly glow on the screen, easily revealing key spots.
Herren’s user-customization doesn’t end with a quick display change. “I also play with frequency changes (on his depthfinder) a bunch” he points out. Herren has found that the best 2D SONAR frequency setting on his ONIX often changes as he moves from lake to lake. Whether such an oddity is the result of a chemical change in the water, or the amount of small particles floating within, is not totally understood by Herren; he just knows that changing frequency (say, from 83 to 200 kHz) often reveals the best set-up on a day-by-day basis.
Once hard-bottomed areas are located, Herren keeps a careful eye on his water temperature read-out, knowing such plays a major factor in the stage of the spawn. With water temps in the mid-fifties, bass often group up and stage; spawning beginning when the thermometer passes sixty. Herren notes that bass utilizing main lake areas for spawning often do so several weeks after those in protected bays, lengthening the springtime bonanza associated with this season.
Whereas summertime fish will often school on a bare-spot, like a small shellbed, Herren finds springtime fish prefer objects, likely due to these spawning tendencies. “They want to protect their blindside” Herren mentions of the tendency of spawning bass to nest up against and object like a stump or seawall. This behavior applies to open-water areas as much or more to those near the shoreline, as a bit of cover helps bass guard against nest predators.
When a potentially productive area is located through Side Imaging, Herren scrolls across the ONIX screen and marks each with a waypoint. Then, he deploys his trolling motor and utilizes a different electronic approach to investigate the spot, using both 360 Imaging and Down Imaging.
First, it’s important to understand Herren’s view on each of Humminbird’s technologies. “360 Imaging is a fishing application, not a search tool, ” he says. By this, Herren means that he utilizes 360 only when on the bow and casting, not for idling purposes, as the 360 sweep time is most conducive as a fishing application. In addition, Herren often isolates the sweep of 360 to reveal objects directly in front of him, within casting distance, making the update time on his screen display much quicker. As credit to the effectiveness of this technology, Herren noted that he’s often found new, key areas in spots he’s fished for decades by utilizing 360, opening his eyes to a vast new world.
Side Imaging is Herren’s bread and butter for fine tuning a spot. While he uses the new Humminbird HELIX units primarily for mapping, Herren sticks with ONIX for depthfinding, especially Side Imaging. “There’s nothing like it” he states, adding “I’ve seen things with that unit that I’d never see with any other.”
As Herren fine-tunes a chosen spot on the trolling motor, he’s constantly continuing his search for small, hard-bottomed areas, or isolated objects that could yield a big bass or two. Herren mentions that he often finds fish on the exact same spot, year after year, during the spring season.
Once “on the juice” Herren’s approach to fishing is fairly basic, using an arrangement of tried-and-true springtime lures. “I like a rattlebait a lot, as well as a chatterbait or spinnerbait.” After getting dialed-in to specific pieces of cover, Herren often wields his trademark Santone Jig to mop up on the competition.
But just what makes a good spot great? “It’s a combination of things. Bottom type and cover matter, but maybe so do things like unknown current patterns,” says Herren. It’s a big mystery, it seems, and one Herren admits to constantly trying to better understand. Perhaps we’ll never solve the case, but, with advancements each year in technology, we’re drastically closer all the time.