Tossing me two soft-plastic frog style baits, Bassmaster Elite Angler Mark Burgess (www.MarkBurgessFishing.com), questioned me as to the difference between the two baits. My answer was quite obvious. “One of these frogs is harder than the other”, I replied. Then with a snicker on his face the Norton, Massachusetts Skeeter Pro flipped me another question. “So which bait would you chose to fish?” Pausing for a brief moment, thinking Burgess had a trick question up his rod-sleeve, I pulled the legs on each soft-plastic frog and responded, “I would choose the harder soft-plastic frog. In my opinion I believe it will hold up better while retrieving it in heavy cover as well as when bass devour it on a strike!”
|All photos courtesy Billy "Hawkeye" Decoteau|
As Mark Burgess and I idled out of Moultonborough Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, he revealed our game plan for the day. Summer transitional patterns working both submerged and emergent vegetation in a variety of depths would be our target under overcast skies, and windy conditions framed with threading thunderstorms.
Coming off plane Burgess’s 250 HP Yamaha outboard purred as the Bassmaster Elite Angler (www.Bassmaster.com) utilized his Humminbird Side Imaging sonar’s wide screen picture to describe the bottom structure leading to submerge Coon-tail and Cabbage vegetation. “The advantage to this location is the ability for both smallmouth and largemouth bass to harvest baitfish such as the abundant perch forage along the deeper inside contour curve or up on the sand and gravel flat on the other side of the vegetation.” (www.Humminbird.com)
With the submerge Coon-tail and Cabbage topping off just a few feet below the surface, a slight rippling effect on the waters surface helped to refract the early morning light conditions. Dropping his Minn-Kota 36 volt Trolling Motor gently into the water, Burgess beckoned me to the front bow sonar. “My Humminbird sonar’s are connected via an inter-link connection, thus allowing me to mark waypoints on one unit and have them saved on both units at the same exact location.” Burgess went on to explain that for tournament conditions he also has the ability to download this information unto his laptop computer, in preparation for establishing his Bassmaster Elite Series tournament strategies.
Once again tossing me one of the soft-plastic frog style baits, Burgess replied, “This is the only bait we are going to throw all day long, and since you chose the harder soft-plastic toad I am going to let you fish it while I fish the softer plastic toad!” making sure he corrected me several times as to referring to his Reaction Strike soft-plastic bait as a ‘Toad’ and not a frog, Burgess instructed me as to the proper rigging techniques needed.
Spooling our Shimano Curado CU 200E-7 reels with 65 lb test Power Pro braided line (www.PowerPro.com) in a green color, we then tied on Reaction Strike weightless Plasma Point Swimbait Hooks. Burgess rigged his ‘Toad’ on a 4/0 hook while I chose a 5/0 for my ‘Toad’. Burgess’s completed arsenal consisted of a Shimano Crucial 7’ Heavy action rod, while I saddled my high speed 7.0:1 gear ratio Curado baitcaster to Power Tackle’s Paragon PG104 7’6” Medium-Heavy rod.
A slight breeze on our backs allowed us to work our Reaction Strike ‘Toads’ along a wind blown contour line. Burgess explained the importance of utilizing long rods, braided line and ultra sharp hooks. “It’s imperative to utilize longer heavy action rods with braided line for this technique. The longer rods propel your baits further, while the braided Power Pro line not only has no stretch for better hook-ups, but also will cut through the thick vegetation eliminating break-offs and lost fish. Since this technique is also a big bass pattern extremely sharp strong Reaction Strike Plasma Point hooks allow you to penetrate a larger bass’s harder jaw, making for powerful holding hook-ups.” (www.ReactionStrike.com)
It wasn’t but a few cast and Burgess called out fish-on, reaching down I lipped a Lake Winni largemouth in the two-pound range. Then for the next ten minutes it seemed all I did was make a cast drop my rod and lip-lock bass for my Bassmaster Elite partner. Paying more attention to detail I watched Burgess retrieve his ‘Toad’ across the surface, then tried to emulate the same retrieve. Making side-by-side cast and retrieves I began to realize the unique differences in the two soft-plastic ‘Toads’! Burgess’s ‘Toad’ not only seemed to swim smoother, it also was extremely louder. It was now time to question Mark Burgess on the particulars that seemed to draw more bites on his ‘Toad’ verses my ‘Toad’. (10 bass to my 2 bass???)
“I was wondering how long it would take you to notice the differences,” laughed Burgess. Explaining the Reaction Strike ‘Toads’ we were using were actually ‘Proto-Type Baits’, Burgess went on to demonstrate why his soft-plastic ‘Toad’ incorporated so much more action and bass attracting noise. “Research and Design modifications have proven that the softer plastic, allows the Toad’s legs to move much more freely, thus creating a larger commotion on the surface while emitting a louder noise very similar to a Jitterbug. And, as for durability the stretching qualities of the softer plastic increase the ‘Toads’ longevity!”
Throttling up his Yamaha outboard, Burgess proceeded to run a milk pattern of wind blown contour line pockets with heavy vegetation growth, ranging in depths from 8-12 feet. Each location produced both smallmouth and largemouth’s in the 2-3 lb category. As the wind became stronger and white caps became more apparent, Burgess suggested we retreat to shelter back bays with emergent vegetation.
Standing side-by-side on his Skeeter’s padded deck making alternating cast and retrieves, Burgess and I continued our Reaction Strike Bass catching ‘Toad’ conversation. “I am extremely excited with Reaction Strikes interest in my R&D modifications,” said Burgess. Adding, Reaction Strike will produce the ‘Naked-Toad’ in two-sizes with a color selection containing only the top bass attracting colors.” Interrupted as Burgess landed a 5 lb plus largemouth, I inquired as to the ‘Naked Toad’ name. Burgess’s smiling response……’It’s so natural looking it doesn’t need a hat nor a cane, and besides it’s a ‘TOAD’ not a frog!”
God Bless and Best Bass’n
Northwood’s Sporting Journal
Column: Best Bass’n
August 2009 Issue
Bill Decoteau is an outdoor journalist with a strong passion for pursuing the Black Bass. His activities include covering and photographing professional bass trails, the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America Bass Trail, as well as emceeing benefit tournaments such as Maine’s Special Olympics. Bill may also be found on the water filming his television show The Bass Bureau…………Where the Road meets the Water or in the classroom at many of the regional sportsmen shows holding bass seminars, sharing winning techniques utilized by some of the nationals’ top-bass pros.
“Burgess’s Elite Baits”
By Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau
Never one to resist an opportunity to fish New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, there wasn’t any hesitation in my response, “Absolutely…When and where!” Bassmaster Elite Angler Mark Burgess’s invitation to spend the day sharing the padded front deck of his i-Class Skeeter/Yamaha professionally wrapped rig, in and of itself was enough enticement. (www.SkeeterBoats.com)
Massachusetts’s #1 Professional Bass Angler’s instructions were also a no-brainer! “Here’s the deal Billy, leave all your baits at home, I’ll provide you with the lures we’ll be utilizing!” Trying desperately to encourage Burgess to reveal some additional information for our Lake Winni adventure, the Norton, MA resident smiled, “Spool your reels with 12-17 lb Seaguar Fluorocarbon, and saddle them unto long 7-7’6” Medium-Heavy rods.” Pausing for a moment Burgess added, “And, you might want to pick-up a spool of Power Pro 65lb test braided line!” (www.Seaguar.com)
Our rendezvous starting point was Lake Winnipesaukee’s famed Lees Mill in Moultonborough, NH. Upon my arrival, I found Mark Burgess sitting in his Skeeter rigging several Shimano rod/reel combinations. Reaching over to a large plastic Plano box, my host politely invited me to take a seat on the front deck. “These are the baits we are going to concentrate working for the next two-days!”
Opening his Plano box, the Bassmaster Elite Angler looked me in the eye and handed me one of the most beautiful realistic looking swimbaits I have ever seen! Continuing to enlighten my inquisitive questions, Burgess explained the hydro-dynamically engineered 4 segmented section hard-bodied lures.
Produced by Reaction Strike Bait Company (www.ReactionStrike.com), Mark Burgess had been approached to develop a signature series of specific colors relative to the forage base in the crystal clear waters of the Northeast. “Reaction Strike’s rEVOLUTION Shad is unlike any other swimbait on the market! Besides an extremely life-like replica when retrieved, the rEVOLUTION Shads fall perfectly vertical on their treble hooks. When you suddenly stop your retrieve, these baits make a 180 degree turn enticing following bass to engulf them with a Reaction Strike!”
Placing four rEVOLUTION Shads in his signature series Yellow Perch color on the deck, Burgess asked me if I could see any difference between them. Reaching for a billed rEVOLUTION Shad I replied, “All are the same except for this deeper diver.” Obviously, I was wrong! “Each of these Reaction Strike swimbaits is designed to run and fall at different rates. Thereby covering the entire water column, while staying in the strike zone much longer.”
My Bassmaster Elite Reaction Strike Swimbait lesson revealed the rEVOLUTION Shads we were about to use are available in both 4” and 5” versions, and come in a Wake model for swimming just under the surface, a Slow Fall model which Burgess says is excellent to run over submerged vegetation, a Fast Fall model to quickly achieve deeper depths, such as those in which smallmouth bass occupy, and of course the billed Suspending Model. Burgess also pointed out, “For easy reference to each baits model, Reaction Strike has labeled each rEVOLUTION Shads model and size near the VMC treble hook eye.”
Spooling our Shimano reels with Seaguar 100% Fluorocarbon ‘INVIZ-X line we then tied on Burgess’s Signature Series rEVOLUTION Shads Swimbaits. Burgess rigged his 5” Yellow Perch in a Wake model while I chose his Golden Shiner 4” Suspending model. Burgess’s completed arsenal consisted of a Shimano Crucial 7’ Medium-Heavy ‘TC’ Crankbait rod paired with Shimano’s CU 201E-7 Curado reel. (www.ShimanoFishing.com) While I saddled a high speed 7.0:1 gear ratio CU 200E-7 Curado to Power Tackle’s Paragon PG104 7’6” Medium-Heavy rod. (www.PowerTackle.com)
Idling out of Lees Mill, Burgess replied, “We are going to start near the deeper open areas first and search for smallmouths, then as the wind picks up we will make our way back to the shelter coves for largemouths.”
Coming off plane Burgess’s Humminbird (www.Humminbird.com) sonar revealed tapering contour lines reaching deep submerged coontail vegetation topping out in 12-15’ of water. “We are going to parallel this weedline and try to locate where the smallmouth bass are holding, once we hook up we will toss a buoy marker overboard and concentrate in that area,” instructed Burgess. Adding, “Smallmouth bass have a tenacity to school up, especially when they are on schools of baitfish like yellow perch!”
Noticing surface commotion, Burgess fired a long cast landing on his target. Instantly his Shimano rod loaded as a smallmouth bass rocketed into the air twisting and turning its brilliant bronze colors. Instructing me to drop a buoy marker overboard Burgess continued, “That’s the advantage of these Reaction Strike swimbaits and their inherent perfectly balanced natural vertical sinking baitfish qualities!”
Carefully Burgess demonstrated his Bassmaster Elite Angler talents and techniques, as he fought his feisty smallmouth competitor to the boat. Reaching over the side of his Skeeter, and gently placing his hand under the smallmouths belly, Burgess lifted a 3 lb plus smallmouth motionlessly into the boat. Utilizing our buoy as a guide we circled back casting in the same general area, this time we both managed to entice several smallmouths in the 1.5-2 lb category to eat our rEVOLUTION Shad swimbaits.
Mark Burgess and I spend the next three hours working similar deep weedlines harvesting both coontail and cabbage. Concentrating on only high percentage pockets of these open water weedlines, we eliminated wasted time on the water, thus increasing the number of smallmouths and a few largemouths to eat our Yellow Perch colored Reaction Strike swimbaits. Once the winds velocity became too difficult to maneuver in we headed towards Lake Winnipesaukee’s shelter Basin.
While Burgess alternated between his Yellow Perch 5” Wake and 5” Slow Fall swimbait, I switched to a 4” Suspending Yellow Perch. With only one VMC treble hook I found the 4” Suspending rEVOLUTION Shad could easily be ripped through the submerged vegetation. I managed to land several smaller largemouths and a few nice size pickerel along the outside deeper weedline.
“When you have pickerel feeding in the area, bass will be close by as well,” claims Burgess. “Since all of your pickerel have been caught along the outside edge of the weedline, lets concentrate our efforts on the inside edge and over the top of the vegetation.” Burgess’s suggestiononce again, proved to be productive. As I worked my smaller 4” Suspending Yellow Perch over the submerged coontail, Mark ran his 5” Yellow Perch Wake model swimbait along the edge of emergent vegetation. To the sound of a bass exploding on the surface, my Bassmaster Elite partner whispered, “This ones a hawg!” After several surface swirls and a final dive into the thick mixed vegetation, Burgess maneuvered his Skeeter along side his line that was buried in the weeds. “I can still feel her tugging,” said Burgess as he reached into the water. Then with a sudden pull and twist of his body Mark Burgess held up a Lake Winni largemouth that tipped the scales at 6lbs.
Smiling for a picture, Burgess replied, “What a way to end a day on the water!” To follow Professional B.A.S.S. Elite Angler Mark Burgess, log unto his web site at www.MarkBurgessFishing.com.
God Bless and Best Bass’n