By USA Guest Columnist and Pro Angler Boyd Duckett
In recent years on the BASS Elite Series Tour, we have been to places like California and south Texas where throwing big, bulky swimbaits is the norm. Sure, big fish are caught that way, but those baits do not help me when I go back home to Alabama or some other tour stop. Plus, they take up a lot of room in the boat and they are expensive.
Recently, Berkley released its new PowerBait Hollow Belly and it is one of the best swim baits I have ever used. I can skip docks on Lake of the Ozarks, fish for schoolers in place like Clarks Hill or wind it deep at Amistad.
This is an important thing to keep in mind in any of the hot, summer months because of the ways we have to adapt in order to catch bass this time of year. The summer is an interesting time for fishing. Typically throughout the South, the fishing can be tough. Not everywhere; you can still catch fish in the summer, but I would rather fish in the dead of winter if I were competing. The reason fishing is so difficult is because the fish are so hard to find. They tend to suspend a lot but will also take advantage of any available cover. Fish will stay shallow or go really deep. Hunting for fish and not being able to consistently pattern them is the primary reason why I don’t enjoy it as much.
But fishing tournaments, I do not get to set the schedule. I have to fish whenever and wherever the tournaments are. I may be in the first flight of the morning or could be the last to blast off. But if I was fishing just for pleasure this time of year, I would really focus my efforts on early morning and late evening. Typically during these times of day, the fish are more active and really keying on bait.
There are lots of situations to use a Hollow Belly, but early and late-day schooling fish is really productive. Cast it out over 30 feet of water where the fish are schooling, count it down to 10, and start winding it slowly back to the boat. This bait will stay in the desired, 8-foot range all the way back to the boat. It does not matter if the fish are suspended in less than 10 feet of water or more than 40, the Hollow Belly gets to where the fish are and stays there.
One of the reasons that the bait is so effective is because you can wind it slower than most other swimbaits and still get the natural appearance and action. That is also the reason you can use it for so many things: wind it on the surface, count it down for deeper fish, fish it in and around grass or skip docks—it does it all.
I rig the Hollow Belly two ways. When fishing shallow, I rig it weedless with the hook that comes in the package. You can have lower hook-up ratios when you rig any bait this way because the hook has to pierce both the bait and the fish’s mouth. But the Hollow Belly is softer and like the name says, has a hollow belly, making it much easier to get the hook in any fish that strikes.
If fishing open water, I rig it with the treble hook. I take a slip sinker and put it inside the bait’s belly. I then take a needle and thread it through the nose of the bait, through the slip sinker and out the belly. On the end of the needle I tie my line. When I pull the needle through, it pulls the line through the nose of the bait, through the weight and out of the belly where I can attach the treble hook. This is great for schooling bass.
When using a Hollow Belly, I use a medium-heavy casting rod, nothing shorter than seven feet. If I am using heavy line in shallow water, I will go with a heavy-action rod, but the medium works best because you want the bass to actually eat this bait a little before you set the hook. When I feel a bite, I drop the rod tip and make sure they are running with it before I set the hook, not a big, sweeping hook set like fishing a crankbait. Plus, with the medium action, you can cast further and more accurately.
For line, I use 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon line so it does not break off on the hook set. Turning those swimming fish can create a lot of shock on the line. Of course, the more cover in the water, the heavier line you will need. If I am skipping docks with the Hollow Belly—a great way to catch bass in the summer—I will switch to smaller weights and monofilament line.
Boyd Duckett, from Demopolis, Ala., is the 2007 Bassmaster Classic winner and currently fishes the BASS Elite Series.