Largemouth isn’t the king of freshwater species in any European country except Spain and Italy (the only two countries with warm, soft Mediterranean weather). Elsewhere the bass is neither widespread nor abundant due to the colder climate on our continent.
In France, pike, zander (the walleye’s cousin) and fluviatis perch (larger cousin to North America’s yellow perch) are much more important to anglers than the bass, and are present in greater numbers of lakes, rivers and canals. This changes radically in the south of France; it’s a very wet region with an Atlantic climate albeit fairly mild temperatures year-round, and the countryside is full of ponds and canals with lots of vegetation – the perfect habitat for bass.
That was where we were going to spend two days fishing and filming a new Sebile swimbait on a couple of lakes located in a rural area close to Bordeaux. We were the first to have a new paddle tail from Sebile’s AT (All Terrain) soft plastic series, with infinite rigging possibilities, the AT Minnow. The production crew responsible for this gig: Patrick Sebile (who doesn’t need any introduction), Philippe from Filfish Prods, an amazing camera and underwater photographer, Alexandre, an experienced pike angler in this region, and yours truly, Roberto Martinez, who’s telling this story.
The goal was to catch and film all game species residing in the lakes, always using the AT Minnow swimbait, but rigging it in different ways to demonstrate its versatility. Each of us was focused on the species for which he had more experience. I dedicated myself to bass fishing exclusively for 2 days. I’ll tell you how I managed to capture a large number of largemouth in a lake that I had never seen before, without any research or prior information about the lake.
The Worst Weather
The wet Atlantic weather could not have been worse – with constantly changing winds and lots of rain all day – but that’s the typical weather for this region during the spring.
The first thing that caught my attention was the temperature of the crystal clear waters of the lake was only 15C (59F), and the fish had not begun to spawn yet. Some were beginning to look for partners, and others were simply eating voraciously like gluttons in preparation for expending much energy during the rigorous spawning period to come.
Day One Afloat
The first day I fished from a float tube without much success. I caught only one bass, fishing all day, plus I saw one big mama that followed me for almost 10 minutes, less than a meter (3 feet) away, as if it was a dog tagging along with me. It was certainly a mistake to start fishing the lake with the float tube because I didn’t know the topography of the shore. I had no clue where I was casting on any cast because as you may know, being at water level, the angle of vision you have from a float tube is too low. Most of the casts I made were unsuccessful. For instance, casting a Carolina-rigged swimbait into the middle of a tree I couldn’t see under the water. I flipped my Texas rig into an abundance of slimy, clingy algae beds all over the lake too (none visible from the float tube). Many other times I was casting the swimbait weightless to the shore, waiting to feel it hit bottom soon, only to discover it was a steep, vertical drop where a heavier lure was necessary. To sum up this day, I came to the conclusion I was fishing blind, had no way to see what I was doing, and you cannot fish like this…
Day Two Afoot
I decided to fish from shore the second day, having a better vantage point for being able to spot fish and to locate their hang-outs, and also to gauge depth, identify holes, trails and edges amongst the jungle of aquatic plants and trees lying underwater and ringing the shore. I chose to take only one trusted fishing pole to be as comfortable as possible walking around the lake (whereas I had four rods the previous day on the float tube). The rod choice wasn’t easy, because I had several goals. First, I wanted to flip and pitch a swimbait to all the fallen trees and brush choking the shallow banks. Second, I wanted to slow-roll the deeper slopes and drop-offs. Third, I also wanted to have one AT Minnow weightless and ready if I saw a fish swimming near the surface, or lying in ambush along the shoreline. I decided to deploy a 7’0” medium rod, fast action, equipped with an Abu Garcia Morrum reel spooled with 10 lb braid. With this, I could rig a drop shot weedless with the hook hidden for fishing in the dense tangles of wood, brush and vegetation (and pray fervently if I hooked a big one), or I could explore the depths and drop-offs. In a pinch, I could fish the AT minnow weightless (rigged with a drop shot hook in the mouth or wacky style) if I saw a fish swimming or hunting on the surface. Likewise, if I saw a fish lying in ambush along the shoreline, I’d still have a shot at it.
As I began to fish my way around the lake, I saw a large female cruising in open water, with two smaller males following right behind her. I crouched behind a tree, and made a long cast with the soft weightless AT Minnow, rigged by the head with a drop shot hook, The lure landed a foot ahead of the female, and I skipped it along the top quite fast. Instantly, she ripped into it. Without any hesitation, she charged and swallowed the bait. After landing and releasing her, I chased after the other two fish that had continued cruising down the bank, and I managed to land one of the males, using exactly the same technique.
Walking along the shore, I came up to an area full of fallen trees. This place seemed perfect to hide numbers of big bass in ambush. I started fishing the slope to deeper water, skirting the outside edges of the spot with a drop shot, about 4 feet deep…nothing. Without moving my feet, I started to cast toward the shady side of a fallen tree just ahead. Nothing. Finally, as I got ready to move to the next position, I saw that I had a pretty big bass practically right at my feet in a foot of water! I had stood in and casted from the same place for 15 minutes and had not seen it. I cut off the drop shot and retied the AT Minnow on wacky style. I dropped it right in front of the fish’s mouth, and with two subtle twitches, it was on! I managed to land the fish after a short but intense fight. It was a magnificent specimen of more than five pounds.
Those two patterns were repeated throughout the day: fish swimming in open water close to the surface, and fish waiting in ambush in a foot of water. The last pattern was repeated more often during the hours that the sun warmed those very shallow areas, raising the water temperature in such shallows by several degrees. Largemouth were using the sunny periods to eat and to bask in the sun, raising the body temperature, metabolism and activity levels of these cold-blooded creatures.
Overall for two days, our mighty Sebile AT Minnow swimbaits tallied 7 bass over 4 pounds, 2 of them over 5 pounds, plus a few smaller bass (although we didn’t really figure out where the small bass were in these lakes), along with 2 perch, more than 10 pike and 5 zander. Not a lot, but I assure you that for the weather conditions we were dealt, it was not bad. We all gave it our best, as always when we are on the water!
Now we just have to wait to hear your opinion about the new AT Minnow which has been officially released in Europe – however there is no release date yet for the USA or elsewhere. It was so good to write once again for such wonderful readers. I hope you enjoyed our tale of bass fishing in scenic southern France, and I will write you soon.