One of the most challenging periods of the bass fishing season for many anglers is the post spawn phase that we’re now entering. It is a time of major change when the males, in particular, are vacating their parental duties and the fish – both males and females alike – are shifting from spring locations to summer structures and cover.
With the fish in transition, it is always a good idea to search for them with horizontal moving lures like lipless crankbaits or rattlebaits. And one of the best bass pros in the business at the technique is Alberta-based Kam Sheikh.
If the name sounds familiar it is because Sheikh designed the now famous Kamooki SmartFish and SmartCraw, two unique lipless crankbaits that have taken the fishing world by storm. Matter of fact, the lures have become so popular, that Sheikh has been invited to demonstrate them in a couple of weeks time, in the mega tank at the giant ICAST show in Orlando, Florida.
But before he shares his insights with the largest gathering of fishing enthusiasts, media, experts and gurus in the world, I thought it would be cool to pick his brain and get an exclusive first hand account for Outdoor Canada readers.
Even better yet, I caught up with him recently, after he had just returned from product testing his lures at El Salto reservoir in Mexico.
Because the Mexican fishing season is considerably ahead of where we are currently in Canada, you’ll be perfectly positioned to put his words of wisdom into effect in the days ahead.
“El Salto is nestled in the Sierra Mountains,” says Sheikh, “It’s like it cycles from an oligotrophic to a eutrophic lake in just a matter of months. When the lake is at its maximum storage capacity the bass concentrate in the “new” shallows in flooded mesquite forests where the tilapia and shad forage bases congregate. And rattlebaits are the main stay.
“When we arrived at El Salto, however, conditions were less than ideal. The area was gripped in a heat wave and the fish were understandably sluggish. It was just like mid-summer in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and the Kawartha Lakes region of southern Ontario. We managed good numbers of bass cranking 4-inch SmartFish around points and the fringes of sunken forests. But on the second night of our trip we overheard a couple of veteran guests talking at dinner. They had caught some good numbers of bass working lizards and worms deep, keeping their presentations tight to the bottom. I was really excited when I heard this because we had been catching our fish by cranking up higher. We hadn’t really focused on the benthic zone, so we elected to change our strategy and dredge the bottom with SmartCraws.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Sheikh scored mightily on bucketmouths and had the rest of the guests in camp wanting to know how he was working his magic.
“We fished from 5- to 20-feet deep,” says Sheikh, emphasizing that the critical part of the presentation was keeping the SmartCraws within 8-inches of the bottom.
“I kept my casts short to maximize the feel of the bait and control the depth. I’d cast out the Smart Craw and let it settle to the bottom. But I always apply a little pressure to my line to straighten it out. The pressure orients your presentation properly at it enters the water and greatly reduces the chance of the hooks fouling on your line. You can detect subtle hits on the initial drop much better if you do this as well.
“Once the SmartCraw was on the bottom, I would fish it the same way I’d would a live minnow or leech on a slip sinker rig, slowly dragging and hopping it along the bottom. The other key was imparting long pauses, so that the SmartCraw would stand up and wiggle on its nose.”
According to Sheikh, allowing the unique lipless crankbait to pivot this way, drove the post spawn largemouth crazy.
“It was like we cracked the DaVinci code,” Sheikh laughs. “We caught more and bigger bass instantly. Sometimes the fish would just suck up the lure and hold on to it. Other times they would grab it and swim away with it as if we were fishing with live bait. Those were my favourite takes.
“But here is the key: most of the strikes came during the pause, or when we started moving the lure again immediately after a pause.
“Even more intriguing, we also started catching tilapia and catfish. It seemed like everyone wanted a “kick at the craw”. Prior to switching our tactics we had focused on mimicking the abundant tilapia in the lake, which are the main forage fish in El Salto. We caught plenty of fish during the peak morning and evening activity periods, but when we switched over to the SmartCraws we started to catching even the sluggish “midday bass”.
“I had one hefty 8-pounder pick up my Cobalt Crunch coloured SmartCraw while my rod was resting on the deck. I’d put it down to lend a hand to the guide, after some rope that was floating on the surface got tangled in the prop. My bait had been sitting there for several minutes when I suddenly noticed my line creeping away from the boat. The bass casually swam away with the lure in its mouth before I scrambled back and set the hook.”
With largemouth bass about to enter the post spawn phase across the country, Sheikh’s presentation is definitely an ace you will want to slip up your sleeve. And you won’t have to fly to the ICAST Show in Orlando to get all the details.