8 min to read
Fishing Shallow as a Co – Mike Mueller
Category : BACK DECK
As many of you already know, fishing out of the back of the boat as a Co-Angler presents enough challenges as it is. Now, throw in the uncertainty of where and how you will be fishing on any given day, and it makes this challenge even more daunting.
How many of you have had this scenario: You meet up with your partner at the pre-tournament meeting and he tells you that he’s on a shallow flipping/pitching pattern. He then tells you that the boat position is critical to his pattern, and he’ll “try” to get you some water to fish. This is an all too common scenario that plays out every weekend in lakes across the country, and I’d like to share some of my tactics when faced with this challenge.
I first began fishing pro/am or boater/co-angler events when I was in college back in 1989. Being a college student, and without a boat, it was the best way for me to compete on a limited budget. Some 25 years later, having fished both as a boater and a co-angler, I have – for now – chosen to compete as a Co-Angler for both work and family reasons. Having close to 300 tournaments under my belt, I’ve been able to take challenging situations like this and use them to my advantage.
It is important that you do not take these situations as a negative. If you do this, then you’ve already lost. I’ve put together some pretty decent tournaments over the years fishing behind some of the best shallow-water anglers in the country. Here are several things that you can do, some are common, and some are unique.
#1 – Pay attention to what the boater is using.
As basic as this may seem, there is much more to it than just throwing the same lure. For example, if your boater is flipping a 7/16 oz. Jewel black/blue jig – choose a heavier black/blue jig, perhaps a 3/4 oz. Jewel jig with different fall rate. Although that color may be the key, the faster fall rate of the heavier jig could draw more reaction strikes than the slower falling 7/16 oz. jig.
You can also change trailers for your jig. The body of the jig may be identical, but differing trailer size and shape can be just as effective. Finally, adding scent is another tool that I use to differentiate my lure from my boater’s when fishing in close quarters.
#2 – Do something completely different.
This is where time on the water and creativity comes into play. Let’s say your boater is moving quickly and throwing a spinnerbait through the brush. I’ll often counter that with a chatter-type bait, or shallow running squarebill, like the Bass Craft Crankbaits SB 1.5 or an SB 2.5. These high quality balsa squarebills provide a completely different profile and water displacement that some bass will find irresistible!
In these situations it is important to match your lure/technique with the way that your boater is fishing. If he’s burning a spinnerbait through the shallow brush with his trolling motor on high, flipping a jig may not be the best option. This is where a fast moving bait would be more effective.
Doing something different doesn’t always mean fishing the same water either. A very effective way I have found to fish is to probe the deeper water off the other side of the boat. I like to use search baits like a rattle trap, a Bass Craft DD², or even a Carolina rig to search for fish that have pulled out of the shallows and may be right below the boat.
With the boater focusing on the shallow water, I always ask his permission to cast out ahead of the boat to the deeper water. Since that is an area that they have no interest in fishing, they rarely have an issue with it. I had this situation arise in a tournament earlier this spring. As my boater was flipping the shallow brush, I was able to throw my crankbait deeper to catch a 4 ½# Largemouth that had pulled out to the outer brushline.
Finally, don’t be afraid to drag a jig, tube or a worm off the back of the boat. There are times when this is an effective technique as the fish are pulling out of the shallows or have been spooked by high pressure on the lake.
#3 – Work “Behind”
One of my single-most important techniques that I employ when faced with a shallow-water situations is to work BEHIND the boater. Now when I say that, I do not mean this in the literal sense.
As a boater, all of their attention is focused on moving down the bank and hitting the high-percentage spots, and then looking forward to see what is next. They almost NEVER turn backwards to throw back BEHIND the piece of cover that they just pitched to. This is key to me. I rarely flip a jig into the same place that my boater does. I’ll wait until the boat passes by the brush, then I can flip the entire back side of the cover that was completely untouched by the boater. I’ve caught countless fish this way.
#4 – Throw “Back”
I learned the importance of casting angles in a year-end championship at Truman Lake in Missouri several years ago. My Boater was casting to some isolated stick-ups on the bank. It was the only cover on this stretch, so he worked it pretty thoroughly with a spinnerbait. As he gave up and we went past the cover, I made a long cast back through the stick-ups with a spinnerbait and caught a 3 ½ lb. Largemouth on the first cast.
That one fish taught me a valuable lesson about importance of lure angles coming through cover. You can often catch a fish out of cover by simply hitting it at a different angle than your boater does. When fishing alone, I frequently make a pass down one bank, then work back up the bank in the opposite direction. This gives the presentation a completely different angle and is quite affective.
#5 – Forget about your boater!
This tactic is one that I’ve only been utilizing for a short time, but for me, it is invaluable, especially when fishing is tough, my mind starts “wandering”, and I need to refocus on the task at hand.
When I say forget about your boater, I mean just that… Forget that he is in the boat. For me, this is an important mental trick I utilize, especially if my boater is whacking them and I’m not getting bit. What I do is completely turn my back to the boater and visualize that I’m the only one in the boat targeting the cover.
Like most of us co-anglers, I’ve spent plenty of time alone on the water, fishing the way I want to fish. Often times during a tournament, I find my shallow water fishing techniques being dictated by what my boater is doing. In essence, I’m not fishing MY game…I’m changing what I would normally do based on where/how he is fishing.
By completely turning my back to the boater, I am not influenced by where he has flipped, or by what lure he is using. I shut everything else out and imagine that I’m hitting all of this cover for the very first time. This mentally allows me to pick what I feel are the best spots and allows me to focus more on my presentation.
#6 – Do EXACTLY what your boater is doing.
So now I will conclude by completely contradicting everything I’ve just said! When my boater is whacking them on a particular lure, I’m usually reluctant to fish the exact same bait. My stubborn nature makes me want to force them to hit what I want to fish. It is rare that I will accept a lure from a boater, or match exactly what he is doing… BUT, although I may be stubborn, I’m not stupid. There are those rare times when they are only hitting one thing and you have to put your pride aside, suck it up, and match exactly what he is doing.
This very thing happened to me twice this season. The first time was during a shallow flipping pattern in which my boater was killing them on a Baby Brush Hog. He had culled several times up to about 17 pounds during the morning while I had yet to set the hook once. I was determined to make them hit the lure that I was throwing. I finally broke down and accepted his offer to use some of his lures (NOTE: I never ask my boater for one of his lures, but only accept when offered). In the next 30 minutes, I catch 3 keepers, have several shorts, and put up a decent finish.
The second time was while ledge fishing in early summer at Kentucky Lake. My boater was schooling me on a beaver-type bait on a ½ oz football head jig. We had isolated the “sweet spot” on the ledge and over a 30 minute span, he had well over 20 keepers to my 1 short fish. My lure was landing no more than 3-4 feet away from his, yet he was consistently catching keepers and culling.
About 10 keepers in, he offered me a handful of the beavers, and in frustration, I declined. I frantically tied, and retied about 10 different lures, but to no avail – my pride was getting the best of me. Finally after about 20 fish, I took him up on his offer and put on the beaver. Of course, in the next 10 minutes, I proceeded to boat 10 or so bass, with 3 quality keepers. I wish I had an answer for this, but if I did, I’d be a rich man! Sometimes they just want something very specific.
In conclusion, having to fish behind a “flipping machine” can be challenging, but it is not an impossible task. All you have to do is take some slightly different approaches when it comes to your lure choice, your presentation, and your mental perspective.
Thanks, and TIGHT LINES… From the Back!
Circuits fished: Central Pro Am, LBL BFL, Michigan BFL, Everstart Series
Years co: 25
Favorite technique: Flipping a jig
Hobbies aside from fishing: Watching my kids play sports