CENTER - Largemouth bass is the fish that has captured the nation's attention for decades. Major fishing tournaments, manufacturers, sponsors and television shows have been catering to largemouths for years. Few angling records anywhere are more revered than those involving largemouth bass.
All the bass buzz may seem a little odd to some, but to those who enjoy fishing for "bucketmouths" there is no better way to spend time on the water. Sometimes finicky, sometimes aggressive, largemouth are always loads of fun. At the same time a fishermen is about to pat himself on the back for hooking into one, the largemouth will be coming out of the water with a fury. They don't submit easily to hook and line.
"Hook a 6- or 7-pound largemouth bass and it immediately protests and jumps out of the water 16 times and fights back. It doesn't want to be caught. That's the appeal," said Marty Mantz, Center.
Mantz, the mid-season points leader on the Badlands Bass Bandits circuit, has a home a short distance from Nelson Lake - North Dakota's best known largemouth bass lake. It'll stay that way, said Mantz, if fishermen practice catch and release. He fishes Nelson Lake frequently, never tiring of the challenges largemouths offer. It is not unusual for him to have a dozen or more fishing rods rigged and ready to go for a single trip of chasing largemouths.
During a recent successful largemouth fishing trip on Nelson, Mantz adjusted his presentation in reaction to what was happening on the water.
"I threw some frogs around this morning. The fish came in and hit the frogs a few times but were short-striking, biting the legs off. They were interested, but not that interested," said Mantz. "That immediately tells me I should slow down and fish more of a stick-type bait that sinks slowly and will be in their face all the time."
Marty Mantz of Center teases a largemouth bass with a Senko worm. If necessary, Mantz can quickly switch to a pre-rigged frog.
A switch to Senkos, a worm-type bait that has become a favorite of bass fishermen everywhere, began to produce largemouths. Whether rigged at the front or in the middle, the Senkos were effective in getting the bass to commit.
"Nelson is a dirty water lake," said Mantz. "In dirty water, stained water situations, you want to use a darker color because it shows up better in dirty water. If you are fishing more of a natural or clean water lake, like Sakakawea or Audubon, go to more of a light color such as pure watermelon that will stand out better."
Small differences in presentations often can make a big difference in bass fishing success. One day, bass will annihilate a dark brown worm but ignore a black one very similar in appearance. Other factors such as hook or weight size or line choice can make a difference too. It is up to the fisherman to solve the problem. It is a challenge that bass fishermen enjoy and one that increases the feeling of success.
To be consistently effective at bass fishing, said Mantz, versatility is the key. All fishermen have their favorite lures - those they rely upon for success - but sometimes the bass may want a different offering.
"You have to be versatile. There's no end to tackle when it comes to bass. There's always new things and new techniques," said Mantz.
New techniques, new colors and new gear will always be hitting the market for the purpose of enticing both bass and bass fishermen. For those who wish to keep it simple though, Mantz recommends an old stand-by.
"As far as any one technique? It would be a jig. A jig will work in cold water, hot water, any time of the year. It's the most versatile bass bait there is," said Mantz.
Jigs come in virtually all colors of the spectrum, some of them are even multi-colored. There are gumball jigs, football jigs, weedless jigs, skirted jigs and no limit to the color of skirts or trailers. However, advises Mantz, the crayfish colors rank among his favorites.
"Smallies can't resist them. They cannot resist a crayfish," claimed Mantz. "It is the main forage that they eat. That is the one thing that they will chase constantly. Largemouths will too, but they also will go after whatever is available. They have a bigger menu than a smallmouth."
Bass offer an excellent alternative for fishermen seeking to try their skills on a species other than the two most often caught fish in the state - walleyes and northern pike. The state has numerous smallmouth waters and fewer, but excellent, largemouth opportunities.
"If you really want to have a lot of fun, go to Fish Creek Dam south of New Salem," said Mantz. "It has an excellent population of largemouth and smallmouth in there and a lot of nice-sized trout. Even the most novice of fishermen can catch 50 fish in one day out there. It's an incredible lake and there is some big ones in there."
When asked what species of bass he prefers to hook, Mantz had a lengthy pause before replying, "I like the way smallmouths fight. They do fight harder than a largemouth but largemouths get bigger. It is fun to see a 6- or 7-pound largemouth hit a frog and just demolish it. They start jumping up and all over the place. It's also fun to catch a 4- or 5-pound smallie and see them just go bananas and jump for two minutes non-stop."
A difficult concept for many fishermen to realize is that smallmouth bass will travel through many feet of water, coming up from the depths, to get at a lure at or near the surface. According to Mantz, smallies will rise quickly to a bait if the visibility is sufficient.
"We actually do throw frogs and top-waters out in 50 to 60 feet of water," stated Mantz. "A smallie will come up from that deep to hit a frog. In the summertime, generally, they'll be out there in the deeper water, 25 to 30 feet, even as deep as 60 feet."
Mantz, who still enjoys an occasional walleye fishing trip, credits Janine Wentz of Mandan with introducing him to the technique of fishing artificial worms. Wentz is a former Bass Bandits champion who is slightly behind Mantz in the current standings. Another Bass Bandits competitor and former FLW tour fisherman, Matt Sullivan of Bismarck, has also shared a wealth of bass fishing knowledge with Mantz.
"Matt has got to the point where he's going to stop showing me stuff," laughed Mantz. "The first year on the circuit was a learning year because I wasn't very adept at catching bass. I did win the Classic, but that was their fault for having it at my home lake."
The Classic is the Bass Bandits final event of the year. Mantz has been fortunate enough to win it three straight times, but that is no guarantee of making it four in a row.
"The Classic this year is on Lake Sakakawea," noted Mantz. "It will be a whole different story. I look for it to be quite a battle."