November 20th, 2014
In the past 14 years Alabama-based BASS Elite pro Matt Herren has qualified for five Bassmaster Classics and six FLW Cups, but hasn’t taken first since the 2007 Wal-Mart FLW Series BP Eastern on Arkansas’ Lake Dardanelle.
“It’s been a grind. I’ve had a string of seconds and thirds. Just wasn’t my time until now,” says the battle-weary Herren. But everything fell into place for the Alabama-based pro at the 2016 Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) on Lake Ray Roberts this past weekend, where Herren demonstrated flexibility despite changing water levels and weather conditions. On Day 1 Herren weighed 19-8; 15-0 on Day 2; and 17-4 on Day 3. He edged out second place finisher Bryan Thrift by a mere eight ounces and took home $100,000.
“I won’t lie, it was a tough tournament. It was difficult to stay consistent, which was the key to winning. Guys had 12 and 13 pound days mixed in with 19 pound bags.”
He continues: “Practice was cloudy and windy, and there was a lot of frontal stuff going on. Wasn’t until the afternoon of practice Day 2 that I started figuring out what the bass were doing. We finally got a little sun and that’s when the fish showed up. I had three or four bites that afternoon, and I was really focused on what’s going to happen. I knew conditions were changing rapidly and the key to winning would be staying flexible,” says Herren.
Bark at the Moon
Based on water temperature and moon phase, Herren had a good idea bass would be shallow. In his words, it was simply a matter of figuring out “where, when and how.”
“You’d think May in Texas would have bass in post-spawn and moving out. But we had a full moon, and on the first day of practice the water temperature was 68 degrees, so I knew there would be bluegills and shad spawning; tail-end of the crawfish spawn, too. So, the primary food sources were shallow, despite falling water and everything else. Bass only have two things in their lives that are a must: they’re gonna spawn and they’re gonna eat. Knowing that 90% of their food source is in 10’ or less makes it easy lock in depth zones.”
At that point, the tournament began to set up perfectly for the shallow-water ace.
“Everybody thinks shallow is 2’ deep, but to me it’s 15’ to the bank. I love fishing visible patterns like wood and rock. If I can see something and duplicate it, you’re stepping right into my wheelhouse. It’s like being a fast ball hitter standing at the plate – don’t throw me a fast ball ‘cause I’m gonna hit it,” laughs Herren.
Matt on Mapping
But Herren’s visual style of fishing is more than just chunk and winding or flipping to cover.
“When I say ‘see something’ that also means being able to dial in on a particular place or contour on my Humminbird Lakemaster mapping, which could be a certain contour along a channel or whatever. So, it’s visual with my eyes above water, and it’s visual on my mapping. I’m using my mapping all the time, even shallow. I look at contours, breaks, inside turns, outside turns, and all kinds of stuff. The Lakemaster Depth Highlight feature allows me to eliminate 90% of the water on a lake from the get-go, speeding up my pre-fishing a hundred-fold.”
Case in point, how Herren locked in his plan on Lake Ray Roberts.
“One of the keys to winning the TTBC was recognizing that the lake was falling drastically. The lake started out 2’ high, but by Day 3 was only 6 inches high, so I had to go into my Humminbird ONIX and HELIX units and adjust the Water Level Offset feature, which redrew the entire map for me. I realized the fish were pulling out of the shallow brush and the willows and into what they call ‘drains’ in Texas—what we’d call creeks everywhere else. The bigger bass started to leave the willows in the 2’-4’ drains and pull out to the 7’-8’ original creekbeds on flats. Lakemaster had every single drain marked, and I could go straight to them, pinpoint the salt cedars, and that’s right where the bigger bass were.”
Developing a Pattern
In terms of developing a pattern, Herren says all he needs is a first bite and a confirmation bite. After that, he studies contours on his electronics, asking himself questions: Is it a main creek? A pocket? Main lake? Then he sets his sights at duplicating those bites by seeking out similar structure, contours and cover.
“Let me put it to you this way: the main difference between pro and college football is the speed of the game. Same thing at the level I fish. Just look at how fast these guys can take one or two bites and turn it into a 20 pound limit. We ask ourselves the ‘why’ questions after every bite. My computer is constantly analyzing information, and I’m using my eyes, my electronics, every tool I have available, and it’s a constant equation, analyzing, calculating, spitting out information to instantly readjust,” says Herren.
Based on his Ray Roberts calculations, that meant employing two primary presentations: flipping 5/8 oz. Santone M-Series jigs and Reactions Innovations Twerk trailers (both in watermelon red) in willows and salt cedars on Day 1 and 2, and running shad-colored PH Custom Lures 2.0 cranks along rip-rap on Day 3.
Boat Control: This Ain’t Russian Roulette
But to make every cast count, he says boat control was critical, especially in the willows and cedars.
“The wind was really pushing the willows around. Add tight quarters and the fact I was I trying to pitch 20’ back into a spot the size of a coffee cup, and boat control really comes into play. All I had to do was tap the Minn Kota Talon foot switch twice and lock that boat down to make absolutely precise presentations. And that’s the difference in catching them or not. This ain’t Russian roulette. Those bass are sitting in specific places, and I’ve got to be able to put my bait right there. Without the Minn Kota Fortrex 112 to put the boat there and the Talon shallow water anchors to lock it down, none of that happens. I typically log about 200 hours on my outboard engine so there’s probably ten times that on my trolling motor at the end of the year. That’s incredible. No internal failures. No cable failures. Nothing. And I’m rough on it. You could plant acres on the fields I’ve tilled up in two feet of water this year.”
But it was Herren’s ability to adapt that ultimately won the 2016 TTBC.
“My primary cedar pattern died on Day 3. It got cloudy and the wind changed direction, which really messed with me. But I made the key decision early to go with what was happening and fish some different water. Instead of wasting the morning, I did something else. Turned out a smart decision because I caught 16 pounds by 10 am cranking bridge points.”
While Herren now assumes the TTBC mantle, everyone involved in the Fourth Annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic emerged a winner. Proceeds raised from the TTBC help underwrite Texas Parks & Wildlife Department youth fishing, Community Fishing Lakes (CFL) and other fisheries projects throughout the state. To date, the tournament has donated $2.25 million to the TPWD.