Sight fishing or bust - Major League Fishing

Sight fishing or bust

April 27, 2001 • Rob Newell • Archives

FLW anglers demonstrate why sight-fishing technique may be the only way to go at 2001 Wal-Mart Open

After the first two days of the Wal-Mart Open at Beaver Lake near Rogers, Ark., there is little doubt that sight fishing has become the primary pattern for anglers. In fact, many anglers claim it is the only pattern producing quality fish right now.

Consider the following: Nine of today’s top 10 finalists are sight fishing. Fishermen such as Rick Clunn, Tommy Biffle, Kevin Van Dam, and Paul Elias, known for there “power” fishing styles, all had to succumb to sight fishing to check in limits each day. Anglers estimate that as much as 65 to 70 percent of the field was sight fishing this week.

So why has sight fishing been the dominating technique all week? With water temperatures around 60 degrees, and a recent new moon, the bass in Beaver Lake are at the peak of their spawn. A majority of the fish have migrated to the bank to build spawning beds. Once bass make their nests, they will only bite in defense and they seldom eat for any other reason. Bass stay on beds anywhere from three to five days. Anglers target the beds with lures that imitate aquatic intruders to appeal to the fish’s sense on defense.

Over the last several years, sight fishing has become a prominent technique among tournament anglers for several reasons. With very little rainfall over many parts of the country, a host of lakes and reservoirs have become low and clear. Low, clear water sets up optimum sight fishing conditions for bass anglers. The low water concentrates the fish and the improved clarity allows anglers to see the fish better.

Additionally, sight fishing is a very efficient tournament technique because anglers can actually cull fish as they go down the bank looking for them. This allows an angler to fish only for the biggest fish that he finds. If an angler finds 50 fish on beds during practice, he can spend all of his time during the tournament fishing only for the five biggest.

Also, fishing magazines, televised tournaments, and the popularity of pro-am tournaments have let the sight fishing “secret” out of the bag. Anglers have proven that a fish on bed, once thought to be impossible to catch, are sometimes the easiest to catch.

Of course, a technique that involves removing reproducing fish from the nest brings controversy. Sight fishing is one of the most controversial topics among tournament anglers today. Sight fishing naysayers claim that the technique is unethical because it interrupts the spawning cycle and it is unfair to tournament partners. Sight fishing proponents say that anyone who casts a lure to shallow water in the springtime is apt to catch a spawning bass, whether they see the fish or not.

Ethical or unethical, there are no laws or tournament rules that prohibit sight fishing. By the books, it is a perfectly legal technique.
In the case of Beaver Lake this week, sight fishermen have also had perfect weather for their technique. Sunny skies and calm wind have aided anglers in their search for bass beds, especially deep beds, in the 5- to 10-feet range.

Given all the factors, sight fishing has been a hard technique to beat at Beaver this week. Rick Clunn, who normally avoids sight fishing at all costs, even had to participate in the “sight bite” this week. Clunn, known for his power cranking and spinnerbait styles of fishing, won the Wal-Mart Open last year by seeking alternatives to the sight fishing method.

But this year, his fishing alternatives were limited because of the strong spawn.

“This is a full blown spawn tournament,” commented Clunn. “A majority of the quality fish are on the bank in the spawning mode. I tried several different things in practice and it became clear that if I was going to catch fish here, I was going to have to sight fish.”

Tommy Biffle, well known as a dedicated jig fisherman, even sight fished this week. “At tournaments like this you have to sight fish or you will end up last,” commented Biffle who finished 22nd.

“There are other ways to catch fish here now,” said Kevin Van Dam who finished in 12th place sight fishing, “You can Carolina rig points, but the fish will be smaller. The quality fish are on the bank on beds.”

With sunny skies and calm winds on tap for today, it appears that sight fishing will continue to be the prevalent technique through the finals at the Wal-Mart Open.