The Trophy Quad

by Joe Bucher
Hall Of Fame Angler Joe Bucher Suggests These Four Easy-To-Follow Tips To Score Big On Trophy Fish This Season




1) Spend All Of Your Time On Big Fish Water. Contrary to what you might have first believed, not all lakes, rivers, and reservoirs are created equal. Some are big, some are small, Some are deep, some are shallow. Some have crystal clear waters, some are deeply stained. But more importantly than all of these physical traits, some waters simply contain more big fish. They have a superior set of environmental conditions that ultimately produce above average sized fish on a regular basis. These waters are not numerous and are generally much tougher to fish overall, but the net catch on any given day is generally much higher in average fish size than on all the surrounding waters.

It’s important to note that true trophy waters are rarely easy to fish, so expect your daily creel to suffer greatly. In fact, the best trophy walleye and musky waters in my area are so tough that you’re going to get skunked on them more often than not. Yet, anytime a fish is caught on these waters, you have a better than 50:50 chance of acquiring a taxidermy bill.

That, in a nutshell, is my criteria for a trophy water. So what is its “catch ratio” formula? How many fish do I have to catch from this lake until I’ve hit the jackpot with a big one? Believe it or not, if you concentrate on the wrong waters, you’re fishing for a proverbial “needle in a haystack”. For example, most of the lakes in my area have a musky catch ratio formula of at least 1:100. In other words, I am going to have to catch at least one hundred muskies from that lake before I have any chance of tangling with a trophy. In my book, those are not very good odds. Yet, I am certain that most waters have far worse odds than this. These are lakes that typically produce great numbers of fish each and every season. Day in and day out, week in and week out, lakes like this pop out fish like a french frier at the local fast food joint. Yet, they are all just that, french fries (small fish). Perhaps once a season, a lone lucky angler tangles with an above average sized fish, furthering the mystique that there is indeed a few big fish in this lake, but realistically, the odds are simply too great.

What you want to concentrate on is a lake with a reputation for producing trophy class fish of the target species you’re after. Take the time to do some homework researching every possible information base to find those special waters. Talk to local sport shop folks, read the local paper, check the stats from local fishing contests. Use any means to hunt down the info you need to locate the right waters in which to begin your search. This will be your toughest job locating the right water. Once you’re done that, you are already on your way to fulfilling your trophy quest. Then, the fun begins.

2) Pinpoint The Best Spots. Once you’ve located a body of water with a reputation for producing trophies, you now have to learn it. This is all part of the quest. Don’t believe that you can simply waltz onto such a lake and score within an hour. Rarely will this happen. More often than not, you will have several fishless trips to this water before you unlock its mysteries. The secrets start to unfold as you learn the topography of the lake, along with a few other idiosyncrasies such as timing of your trip, and the hot producing baits. The first thing you should do is get a good topographical map of the lake. Then, ideally try to locate a local source on the lake to fill you in on potential spots. Build your own file on this lake from all the info you accumulate over the years. This should include everything from newspaper clippings off fish caught here to local guide gossip. Mark as much info as you can on the map. As you acquire successes (fish caught) mark each and every one of these encounters on your map in order to develop a pattern and continued confidence in certain spots. Eventually, you will see some definite patterns develop over time, and specific spots will become the key to your success.

I always try to find a new spot on any lake I fish, but I must admit that in almost every case there are one to three hotspots on any given body of water that produce the big fish. This becomes even more obvious as you get to know that body of water over time and develop a score card. Certain spots have all the magic ingredients for attracting big fish. Sometimes, it’s hard to decipher why one spot is so much better than the rest, but over time, your successes confirm that big fish simply like to hang out in this spot. Your job is to find these spots. This can be done by doing a lot of homework, but it is only confirmed by actually fishing the lake hard over time. And, nothing develops confidence in a spot quite like catching a big fish off of it. Once you’ve caught several big fish off of a single spot, you will get goose bumps each and every time you fish there.

3) Timing Is Everything. If there’s one plain truth you’re going to find out the hard way a bout the best trophy waters is that most of the time the fishing stinks! Big fish don’t grow to such outsized proportions in such waters by biting all the time. On the contrary, most of the time they are either uncatchable or inaccessible to anglers. That is how they got so big. However, there will be certain times of the year when these big fish will be aggressively feeding and accessible to your lures. You need to find out precisely WHEN this occurs so you can plan your trips accordingly. Without fail, this is the single biggest detriment to any fishing trip on trophy waters. Pick the wrong time to attack a big fish lake, and you’ll likely go home empty handed, and swear the lake is a “dead sea”. Hit it at the right time, and you’ll be amazed by the size of the fish you see!

Uncovering the WHEN is actually quite easy with a bit of good detective work. This can be accomplished by asking a lot of questions and simply being a little observant. When you see a photo of a big fish taken out of this lake, note the date of the catch. This is a key issue. If you see more a pattern of more than one big fish being taken from this lake at a specific time of the year, bingo!—- you’ve got a pattern. You’ve discovered the WHEN.

More often than not, there will only be a couple of times a season when this trophy lake is “right”. The rest of the time, it is a tough nut to crack. Generally, I’ve found that even the toughest trophy waters have two distinct time periods when they turn on; both coincide with seasonal changes, and both coincide with a full moon phase. The first occurs during the spring, and the other occurs in the fall. Usually, the earlier the better (in the spring), and the later the better (in the fall). In both cases, the
full moon is the key.

My big bass success, for example, on both smallies and largemouths is no accident. I planned it. I make certain to hit my best big bass waters as early as possible. I plan my trips to my favorite big bass waters on the first warming trend of the spring that coincides with the full moon period. It matters little where this is geographically. In Florida, I’m certain to be on my best big largemouth water during the full moon of February, just waiting for that first warming trend to occur. That’s how I put myself in position to bag that monster (28 3/8 incher) last spring. I was there! In Wisconsin, you couldn’t keep me off my favorite big bronzeback (smallmouth) water during the first warming trend after ice out. If that coincides with a full moon, look out! I’m going to catch some big smallies.

Late fall is also a key time for big fish of nearly every species. Late fall monster musky catches are legendary. Most of the world record class muskies have historically been caught during this time. In fact, a true 60 pounder was taken this past fall. It was one of the biggest muskies caught in the last 50 years. Guess where most of the fishermen were when it was caught? Not on the water. The 60 pound giant was taken at the very tail end of November, right after Thanksgiving on Georgian Bay.

Whopper walleyes are also very susceptible in the late fall. Walleye warriors brave the brutal elements of that time of year to venture out on to the best trophy waters to pursue these giants. Truly, the largest walleyes in any system are most catchable at this time. Ironically, almost no one is fishing for them then. It’s important to note that there are a few other times throughout the season when trophy fish might be catchable in your favorite waters. Only be doing some detective work will you uncover these leads.

For example, night fishing during the heat of the summer can be superb for big fish of nearly every species; in particular, muskies, walleyes and big bass. Trophy waters that have a lot of boat traffic are particularly good night fishing waters. Incidentally, I’ve had great success during the new or dark of the moon peak night fishing such waters. The best fishing usually occurs well into the night; after nearly all the boat traffic has subsided. In fact, it rarely occurs before 10 p.m.

4) Keep It Simple. The final ingredient is the “how”. How do you catch the big fish in this lake? What is the hot technique? What is the hot lure? Honestly, this is usually the easiest part of the puzzle to solve, and more often than not, it’s something very simple. If there’s one thing I’ve come to realize over all the years I’ve chased big fish of various species, it’s that the K.I.S.S. rule applies almost all the time. Keep It Simple Stupid. Generally, you’ll find that the best trophy hunter in any given area has one or two techniques he or she relies on to catch all their big fish. Rarely is it some secret lure, nor some secret color. More so, it’s a simple tactic involving one bait. Once again, a little detective work will uncover the truth. If several big fish have been taken in the past out of your target lake on a specific bait that you are aware of, get one! This may be all you need to purchase to be on top of the action. Rarely is it any more complicated than this. I can site one example after another where, the local big fish pro dominates by fishing one lake with one technique. It’s important to note this above all else, that you don’t need a fancier boat nor ten tackle boxes full of lures to catch big fish. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. Remember the K.I.S.S. rule. Find out what the big fish like in your target lake, concentrate on mastering this technique, and go for it. Keep it simple, but fish this technique hard and thorough on the best spots and you’ll usually come out on top.

That’s it! Fishing for big, trophy class fish is basically a very simple task, but often a tedious one. As you can see, fishing the right spots at the right time is certainly the most critical part of this system. Locating these big fish haunts is your biggest challenge, but staying focused on such waters is often the toughest part of the whole plan. Casting for hours without any success isn’t for everyone, and you should expect such results in even the best trophy settings. But, if you do everything possible to put yourself inside a big fish situation, I’m certain you will score eventually. This is the formula for success with any trophy class fish of any species. Remember that you’ll have to sacrifice some action to get the reward. But, you’ll know that effort was worth the wait when you’re posing for photos with the fish of a lifetime!

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