James Niggemeyer still likes to talk about a day of fishing he experienced at Lake Guntersville during the 2009 Bassmaster® Elite tournament; the Yamaha Pro didn’t win the event, but he knows he’s never found so many bass crowded into such a small area, nor had as much fun catching them.
“The problem was that those fish initially did not want to bite,” remembers Niggemeyer, “so I had to keep getting them fired up and excited, but when I did, I’d usually get two or three strikes on every cast. It was certainly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in tournament competition.”
The term fire up is an expression bass pros use to describe an often-practiced technique of getting a school of inactive fish excited enough to start hitting their lures. It’s a summertime presentation, since that’s when bass are concentrated in large schools, and it’s done with several different lures.
“During the summer, bass concentrate on or around specific cover and structure where they can ambush prey,” continues Niggemeyer, “but they actually feed only periodically and remain basically inactive the rest of the time. Anglers often complain about inactive fish, but there are definitely ways to get them to bite.
“Retrieving lures, especially crankbaits, fast and running them through the fish and right into cover or the bottom so they move erratically, is one of the best ways to get bass active, but I also use spinnerbaits, football jigs, and large plastic worms and creature baits. Even with these, speed and an erratic retrieve are still the keys to getting strikes. I move my rod a lot to make my lures change directions, and stop-and-start my reeling, too.”
The Yamaha Pro recommends using slightly heavier jigs, such as ¾-ounce and even 1-ounce models, and rigging soft plastics Texas-style with ½, ¾, and 1-ounce sinkers. These heavier weights create faster falls, and once the lures reach the bottom, Niggemeyer rips or sweeps them back up so the lures jump several feet before falling again.
“I’m trying to create a reflex strike that triggers the competitive nature of bass,” he explains. “I know that’s happening when I bring my first bass to the surface and others are following it, even trying to take it away from the fish that is hooked.”
It’s important to bring that first bass to the boat as quickly as possible, then to make another cast to the same spot as quickly as possible while the bass are still excited. Typically, that cast and often the next one will produce the largest bass, too.
“You may catch half a dozen or more bass, practically on successive casts,” says Niggemeyer, “but then suddenly you won’t catch anything. The action just stops. What I believe happens is that the school disperses because they’ve been following the bass you’ve hooked, and once they spread out, they lose their aggressiveness.
“When you experience this, the best tactic is to leave the area so the bass will re-group, and this might only take 30 minutes. You can then return to that same spot and start catching them, although you may need to get them fired up again. You can catch them, leave, and return three or four times during the day.”
At Lake Guntersville, Niggemeyer found his school of fish concentrated over a mussel shell bed smaller than his boat. He could get the bass active by running his crankbait into the shells so it would grind along the bottom and richochet in different directions. He also hopped a football jig through the shells.
“During that Guntersville tournament, the bass initially were totally inactive, but they became so excited I’d catch a bass, lose it when it jumped, and have another bass strike when my lure hit the water,” remembers the Yamaha Pro. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.” Y