Sightfishing Tricks with Skeet Reese

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by Dan O’Sullivan

Most of the biggest tournaments in the bass fishing world thus far in 2011 have happened in the Southeastern part of the country.  The first FLW Tour Open was on Lake Okeechobee, and was followed by the Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Toho.

The Bassmaster Elite Series schedule opened at Florida’s Harris Chain before moving to the St John’s River.  The FLW Tour made a stop at Beaver Lake in Arkansas for its first major of the year, then visited Lake Hartwell in South Carolina just this past week.  As the FLW Tour was competing in South Carolina, the Bassmaster Southern Opens went to Lake Norman in North Carolina.

SightFIshing1Most of these events had one thing in common; the spawn
With the one exception of FLW’s Beaver Lake event, the events have occurred largely around the spawn in the Southeast.  The spawn brings with it many opportunities for bass anglers. Immediately prior to the spawn, bass can be aggressive, fairly easy to pattern; and big.

For inexperienced anglers, the period when big female bass begin to move in to the shallows, pair up with the male of their choice and lock on to their spawning nests can be very frustrating.  The sight of huge bass not biting lures could drive the average angler crazy.

For seasoned anglers across the country, sightfishing is a tool that allows them to bulk up the size of their daily creels.  Sightfishing has played a major role in the final standings of nearly every major tournament held thus far on the national scene.

While many pros see the spawn as an opportunistic time, average anglers can find the thought of trying to catch spawners daunting.

Six-time B.A.S.S. winner Skeet Reese grew up on the famed waters of California’s Clear Lake; a sightfisherman’s dream body of water.  Reese has developed a set of tricks that give him an upper hand over the rest of the field in most instances. “Sightfishing is fun,” said the 2009 Bassmaster Classic Champion.  “There is nothing like seeing a giant female bass nose up on your lure and you know the strike is about to happen; it’s an absolute adrenaline rush because you see everything, and get totally pumped up for the bite.”

The Auburn, Calif. pro has used sightfishing in his tournament arsenal for more than 20 years and he decided to open his bag of tricks and share some of the secrets that have helped him over the years.

SightFishing2Who Started it?
Reese recognizes some of his peers for being responsible for showing how effective sightfishing could be.  “I have to say that Byron (Velvick) and Russ (Meyer) were the ones who showed most of us out here in the west what could be done with sightfishing,” Reese said.  “They were winning tournaments in the spring time with giant bags, and it took a little while, but, the rest of us followed suit pretty quickly.”

Before Velvick became known as “The Swimbait King,” he was winning tournaments in the west sightfishing.  He won several western Pro-Am events with the technique.  Meyer, who won a Bassmaster Western Open on the California Delta in 2005, is a longtime Northern California pro who has also won several western Pro-Ams by catching fish he could see.

Reese points to one angler on a national scene that has also become known as a great sight fisherman; that angler is Gainesville, Fla. Elite Series pro Shaw Grigsby.  “Shaw has always been really good at making spawning fish bite,” he said.  “He is known for being one of the best at it, and he has earned that reputation by using it to win throughout his career.”

Reese said that himself, and his longtime friend John Murray worked hard to figure out what the approach was all about.

Seeing is Believing
Reese said that anglers expect to see the whole side of a fish sitting out in the open, but he said his best fish have only given him a partial view.  “I might see the tip of a tail, or just a partial glimpse of a jaw line stick out between the branches on a bush,” he said.  “I try to look for subtle things and not miss those while only looking for the obvious ones.”

He also said using sunglasses that brighten up the field of vision is a plus.  “I used to use yellow lenses because they would brighten everything up,” he said.  “Wiley X came out with an Amber / Green Mirror lens that brightens the field of vision, but still relaxes my eyes on the water.  They gave me the option of any lens to put in my signature Xcess sunglasses, and I chose that one for that reason.”

SightFishing3He also suggested anglers look deeper than they think they need to; especially for quality bass.  “The biggest fish are going to try and stay comfortable, so they’ll spawn on the deepest possible spot,” he said.  “They’ll set up shop in the deepest spot they can for light penetration.  If you can see three feet, they’ll spawn there, if you can see 10 feet, that’s where they’ll be; and they’ll typically be the biggest fish that do that.”

Read the Fish
Reese said that the first step to becoming an accomplished sight fisherman is learning to read the fish.  “There are easy fish that anyone could catch,” he said.  “Those are the types who charge at the trolling motor in defense of their nest, or those who stay on the nest while you’re standing right on top of them; but those are few and far between.”

The six-time B.A.S.S. winner said that the real game changers are often the toughest to get to bite. “Some of the biggest fish are the hardest to catch,” he said.  “Some of those fish can take as much as three hours to catch, so you have to manage things properly in a tournament.”

Reese recommends that anglers locate as many quality fish as they can, trying to make notes on the mood of each fish when he approaches.  “If I can figure out which ones are aggressive versus the spooky ones, then I can manage my day,” he said.  “I try to catch a solid limit of the aggressive ones, and then go to the spooky ones.”

He said that aggressive fish will be chasing other fish away, or they may be stubborn and stay parked on the nest as the boat approaches.  Spooky bass will leave the nest for a period before coming back, or may hide in nearby cover as you get closer.

SightFishing4Positioning, Posture and Stealth
One of the best thing the California pro said to do is to keep the sun at your back.  “If you’re facing the sun, you have a harder time seeing things, and bass are no different,” said Reese.  “If I keep the sun at my back, I can see the fish more clearly, but they have a harder time seeing me.”

The one thing the 41-year-old pro said to remember is to not allow your shadow to loom over the nest.  “I want to be far enough away that my shadow doesn’t fall on the nest,” he revealed.  “If I have to get 50 or a 100 feet away and cast to it; I will.”

The other thing that he said will keep bass from striking is seeing an angler standing tall over the nest; Reese said to adjust.  “If I feel like my standing up in the boat is making the fish react poorly, I’ll get on my knees,” he said.  “By shrinking in the boat, the fish will often get more comfortable and focus on the lure.”

The question most often asked by anglers about kneeling in the boat is how they see the fish bite to set the hook; Reese said he doesn’t.  “I start watching my line and feeling for the bite like I would if I was just fishing at that point.”

Along with crouching low, Reese said he tries to use a push pole when sight fishing.  “I have a 14-foot three piece Stiffy push pole to move my bat around spawning areas,” he said.  “There are times that a trolling motor will spook them, and using a push pole can help you sneak up on them.”

He also said that the introduction of the Power Pole has made a huge difference.  “I used to anchor or use the skag on my Mercury to try and hold the boat in position,” he said.  “Now I’ve got two Power Poles on my Stratos Elite 210, and they hold the boat steady in any position.  They have allowed me to stop using the trolling motor so much and has saved me a bunch of time in the process.”

Heavy, Fast and Varied
Reese said that he likes to use heavier than usual sinkers for his lures when he is fishing for bedded fish.  “Speed is very important when you’re sightfishing,” he said.  “I use ½ ounce sinkers most of the time because I want the lure to get back into the nest quickly.  If a fish gets agitated and starts spinning around in circles while I’m bouncing a lure around in its nest, I don’t want to wait for  an 1/8-ounce sinker to get to the bottom; I need it to get there now!”

He also uses high speed reels whenever he can.  “If I’m using casting gear, I’m always using my Victory 701 reel with 7.1:1 retrieve speed.” he revealed.  “That way, I can bring the lure in fast and make another presentation before the fish has a chance to cool off.”

He also recommends anglers have many options at the ready.  “I may have 12 to 14 rods rigged up and on the deck during a sight fishing tournament,” he said.  “I want to be able to quickly change presentations and see what makes them react.  I may go through five baits and finally settle on a Power Hawg that makes a fish bite; I just never know.”

Once he settles on a bait for that particular fish, he also said that he will have several colors of each lure at the ready.  “I might have four colors of the same bait so that I can try different colors,” he said.  “One of them is likely to be better than the others for that particular fish; I just need to find the one.”

Bait Selection
Reese said that he tries to choose baits that don’t have too much body extending past the hook.  “I hate it when I get a fish excited and it bites the lure behind the hook,” he said.  “So I try to set up my lures so that the hook is near the end.”
For that reason, Reese shies away from some of the lures that anglers commonly use.  “I hate lizards because the tail goes way past the hook,” said Reese.  “I also don’t typically use jigs much because they can bite strands of the skirt and never get the hook.”

With this thinking in mind, he tends to use compact lures.  “I’ve probably won $200,000 in my career using a white five-inch curl tailed grub,” he said.  “I put a big TroKar TK130 Flippin’ hook in it, and if they still bite the tail, I can tear it off and still make them bite the body on the hook.”

SightFishing5One that has shown promise of late is his new Berkley Havoc Slop Craw.  He designed the lure for Flipping, but because the claws are stubby, and don’t extend too far past the hook; they are perfect for sightfishing.  “I designed the Havoc Slop Craw for punching, but bed fish have to eat it all,” he said.  “I found out in Florida that it can make fish eat the whole lure.”

Rigs
If he said he could only choose two setups to take with him, he would choose two, at either end of the spectrum.  “I would take my Wright & McGill Co. Flippin’ / Punchin’ rod and Victory 701 with 25 –pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line on it,” he said.  “I would also take my Drop Shot /Split Shot Rod with my Victory 3000 spinning reel and 8 to 10-pound test line.”

He said he would have the two rigs set up for different approaches.  “I would have a ½-ounce Eagle Claw tungsten weight and 4/0 TroKar Flippin Hook on the Flippin’ rod and a Drop Shot Weight with a 3/8-ounce sinker and 3/0 TroKar Light Wire Finesse Hook on the other,” he said. “I would have two deadly rigs that I could use multiple lures on.”

He believes the Drop Shot rig may be the most deadly setup for bedded fish.  “The sinker can stay outside the nest, or the sweet spot and I can dance the lure right in front of the fish,” he said.  “I’ve caught a bunch of fish on it since I started using it for bed fishing.”

Final Tip
Like any other approach, Reese said that anglers should spend as much time possible practicing the technique.  “It’s like any other technique; the more time you spend on the water, the better you’ll become with it,” he said.  “Sightfishing is a must for any tournament angler during the spring; you have to have it in your arsenal if you want to be competitive.”

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