Pro pointers: The young guns: Cooper Gallant
Teenage FLW Canada winners Cooper Gallant & Danny McGarry share their winning strategies
Last year when they were still just 19, Cooper Gallant (above left) and Danny McGarry (above right) won the FLW Canada Championship on Ontario’s Big Rideau Lake. And in doing so, they also qualified to fish the FLW Costa Championship in Kentucky this November. They credit their success to years of tutelage under Ontario’s Port Perry Bassmasters Jr. Chapter, where they’ve been members since age 13, as well as to their high school coaches, the support of their families and mentor Tony Chimirri. While they may have grown up idolizing Izumi, and now share some of his fishing strategies, they also have their own way of doing things.
The duo begin by seeking out deep spots close to spawning bays, with nearby underwater points or structure. Since the fish are just coming off their beds, they say, you want to look for spots where they might stage. Whether it’s a deadhead in the water, a rock pile or weedbed, find a spot where they’re going to stop before they head to deep water, Gallant adds.
Look for life
Seeing bait and sunfish is important. “We’ll look for old beds, fry swimming around, even sunfish beds,” Gallant says. “Largemouth relate to bait after the spawn ends. They might sulk for a day, but then they’re going right into feeding.” Sunfish typically spawn a short time after largemouth, he notes, so targeting their beds can be productive because largemouth will be nearby.
Work the weeds
Early on, the pair primarily target matted vegetation that has grown or blown into key areas. While many anglers avoid the hassle of dissecting such heavy cover, this team has won tournaments doing just that. “Sometimes, we’ll find dead weeds everywhere, then stumble onto fresh weeds coming up from this year. That kind of spot is key,” Gallant says, noting he prefers the thickest, nastiest matted vegetation they can find.
“A bass is always going to try to find a roof over its head,” McGarry observes. “Using a 1.5-ounce weight, I’ll penetrate the thickest stuff we can find. It’s made a big difference.” To do this, the two predominantly pitch, flip and punch down a variety of Texas-rigged soft-plastic baits—their mainstay colours are black, brown and green pumpkin. When targeting mats sitting over deeper water, they keep their presentations short. If they’re only in one to two feet of water, however, they make longer pitches so the fish won’t see them, Gallant explains.
When fishing a weedline or mat edge for bucketmouths lying in ambush, they say to throw different baits if you’re fishing with a partner. In their case, one fishes the edge with a soft-plastic stickbait or a light jig while the other punches the mat with a soft-plastic crawfish or 10-inch worm rigged with a heavy tungsten weight. If a strong wind destroys the mats, they instead seek out nearby structure such as submerged weedlines, rock piles and stumps.
Avoid the bubba hookset
When fishing heavier weights for largemouth bass, McGarry stresses you need to use the right hookset. “You have to sweep-set,” he says. “If you cream it on the hookset, you’ll knock its mouth wide open.” The duo also snell their straight-shanked hooks to help roof-hook largemouths and keep them buttoned.
Find the spot on the spot
The pair say they prefer shorelines that appear featureless on a map but actually offer something unique to focus on. “When you look at a graph, there’ll be 10 contour lines that are just gradual,” Gallant says. “We’ll look for that little something different.” Such as? If the area has a rock, stump or isolated weed patch, they say, it’ll hold fish, as it’s the only cover.
Look for current
Finding deeper water close to hard-bottom shallows with nearby current is crucial, McGarry says. When they placed seventh at an FLW tournament on Ontario’s Rice Lake, for example, they spent a lot of time fishing a shell bed in 40 feet of water right beside a rivermouth. “If you can find any shell beds, rock piles or individual rocks, a low spot and the presence of bait, you’ve found a high-percentage area,” he says.
Although McGarry uses a medium-light-action rod when drop-shotting, for most of his smallmouth finesse techniques he uses a seven-foot medium-action rod, 10-pound braided line and a six- to 12-pound fluorocarbon leader joined with an FG knot.
“Even if we go three hours without a bite, many times we’ll stay on a spot,” Gallant says. During one tournament on Rice Lake, for example, they fished for four hours in one area without a bite. Still, they continued to pick the spot apart with different presentations until it finally paid off. “We knew the fish would show up,” Gallant says. Often, he and McGarry will cycle through the same two or three spots up to six times a day, he says.
If the water’s dirty, the duo will drag tubes extremely slowly. McGarry likes a 5/8-ounce goby-coloured tube jig for its high-visibility factor. “When you’re dragging a tube with the heavy weight, you’re kicking up a lot of soot,” he says. “Fish are going to see it from a distance clanking off of rocks.”
If faced with a cold front, meanwhile, they take a two-pronged approach. One angler slows down and downsizes his baits while the other tries to draw a reaction strike with a jerkbait, spinnerbait or crankbait. That way, they cover all the bases, and up their odds of filling the livewell.
For another perspective—early-season bass tips from a veteran pro—see Bob Izumi’s bass secrets.
Port Robinson, Ontario’s Jonathan LePera eagerly awaits the beginning of every bass season.