Brent Ehrler, FLW Champion and USA Guest Author
Growing up in California, I like to think that I know a thing or two about fishing with swimbaits. In lakes like Diamond Valley in Southern California, I’ve spent countless hours casting huge 10-inch, trout-style swimbaits to bass that feed on the stocked trout in the winter. I’ve thrown them other places, too – some big, some small – but most times swimbaits are designed with a specific fishing situation in mind (like the big, tennis shoe-sized trout baits for California). That being said, it’s hard to find a use for something like that when I am fishing Lake Ouachita or some of the other places we fish on the FLW Tour.
Recently, Berkley released its new PowerBait Hollow Belly, and it’s the best swimbait I’ve ever used. It works well wherever I go. 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 July – or any of the hot, summer months – because of the ways we have to adapt in order to catch bass this time of year. July is an interesting month for fishing. Typically, what I’ve found throughout the South is that the fishing is pretty much terrible. Not everywhere; you can still catch fish in the summer, but I’d 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 they will also take advantage of any available cover and stay shallow or even go really deep. Hunting for fish – and not being able to consistently pattern them during this time of the year – is the primary reason why I don’t enjoy it as much as other times of the year.
But fishing the FLW Tour, I don’t get to set the schedule. I have to fish the tournament whenever and wherever. I may be in the first flight of the morning, or I 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, a perfect situation for throwing a PowerBait Hollow Belly.
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. Doesn’t 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 any other swimbait I’ve ever used and still get the natural appearance and action. That’s 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 PowerBait Hollow Belly two ways. If I am fishing shallow, I rig it with the hook that comes in the package and rig it weedless. You can have lower hook-up rations 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 I am fishing exclusively open water, I rig it with the treble hook. When rigging the bait this way, I take a slip sinker and put it inside the belly of the bait. 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.
My secret for rigging the Hollow Belly weedless is instead of sticking the shank of the hook through the nose and turning it before imbedding it in the belly, I prefer to slide the eye of the hook through the chin of the bait. It keeps from tearing as big a hole in the bait when rigging, and I think the baits run better and stay on the hook better.
When using a Hollow Belly, I use a medium-heavy casting rod – nothing shorter than 7 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 farther and more accurately.
For line, I use 15 to 20 pound fluorocarbon line. You want that heavy line so you don’t 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.
Summer might be a slow time for me, but it won’t be any more. With shad-patterned Berkley PowerBait Hollow Belly baits pre-rigged for both open water and heavy cover, I can fish around cover, skip docks and target suspended fish all with the same swimbait. There’s a reason all the pros are in love with the Hollow Belly. And the summertime is the perfect time for anyone to give this bait a test drive.