Recent tournaments in Florida have had the Bagley Baits pro staff busy dissecting changing weather conditions with fish moving up shallow in pre-spawn and spawning behavior. Known as legendary largemouth bass fisheries, both the St. Johns River and Harris Chain produced for competitors in both fish numbers and size.
Familiar anglers know that February and March can be a tricky time on Florida’s reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and impoundments. Water temperatures are still fairly cool but warming trends signal movements of fish into the shallows to prepare for the inevitable spawn. It’s a transition period that should yield a variety of patterns, structures and depths. But as some of the best largemouth fisheries in the world, though, anything can happen if an angler is able to dial in the fish.
Drew Benton: Timber and Beds
“At the St. Johns tournament out on Rodman I was throwing the Bagley Sunny B around fallen timber. It was seven or eight feet deep and I was focused on staging fish and both the Sunny B and the Diving Balsa B caught fish in that timber. Both of them are balsa plugs and they come through the timber really good. All my bites came on some kind of horizontal timber, something that had fallen over and was laying on the bottom or was diagonally sticking up out of the water. That’s what the fish were holding on and not the vertical stuff,” says B.A.S.S. and Bagley pro Drew Benton. “It was really easy to see this cover because I’m fishing with Lowrance ActiveTarget so I can kind of pan around areas so even if the timber wasn’t visible I could see it 40 to 60 feet from the bow of the boat and make my casts with the Bagley balsa baits and let them swim and deflect through the cover nicely. That’s when I got my bites.”
In terms of colors, Benton kept it simple, sticking to shad-based colors. “I used Tennessee Shad in the Sunny B and the in the new Root Beer color. They seemed to match the forage the best,” offers Benton.
Scott Canterbury: Working Bagley Baits
At the St. Johns B.A.S.S. event Scott Canterbury had a good event to finish 12th overall; on the Harris Chain Canterbury finished 29th.
“At St. Johns I fished the Bagley Bang O Lure—not the Spintail with the propeller on the back. I fished it around pads mostly. And when we went to the Harris Chain I caught two big fish on the Pro Sunny B Twin Spin—a five- and a three-pounder. I was throwing the Twin Spin on 50-pound braid with a 17-pound monofilament leader. The Bang-O-Lure I fished on 15-pound monofilament,” notes Canterbury.
In terms of colors, Canterbury fished a Tennessee Shad/Orange Belly-colored Bang O Lure and Chartreuse Shad in the Pro Sunny B Twin Spin.
Canterbury is looking forward to the rest of the 2022 season, which he describes as “more opportunities to work Bagley Baits where I’ll know they’ll get bit.” He continues: “We’ve got Santee Cooper up next after the Classic and it should be a real good event for throwing a Bang O Lure. Those fish should be up spawning too.”
At the B.A.S.S. event on the Harris Chain things went really well for Benton with the pro finishing in second place overall. “On the first day I sight-fished down south. After a good practice, I just felt like I could catch the bigger weight down south. I just didn’t anticipate having that much company down there. I thought I would have a lot of the water to myself but it seemed like every corner I came around I was bumping into another competitor. I only had 13-11 the first day, sitting in 47th, which was just about the cut,” volunteers Benton.
“Day two I changed it up and went to Griffin and didn’t see near the people doing what I was doing. I was basically working the manmade canals which warmed up the fastest on the lake. We were on a little warming trend with a full moon and the canals were the first place where the bass were going to come in and spawn. They’re dredged and dug out and have a good hard bottom. There I was throwing the Pro Sunny B Twin Spin and I would catch fish that were on the bed or guarding fry. I did that on Day 2 and had 19-something. Day 3 I had 21-something and on Day 4 we had a cooling trend. In Florida, any kind of subtle weather change affects the fish. Instead of going back to Griffin I knew another canal closer to take-off that I had caught fish at during practice. I went in there with the Pro Sunny B Twin Spin and I caught them really well first thing in the morning. I think I left there with 12 or 13 pounds, which really took the pressure off. I had a couple four-pounders and that really kind of set me day up. I felt like I only needed to find a couple really big ones to win. I was able to find one seven pounder and one four pounder which culled me up to 21-something and then I had two more hours to find another big one but that never happened. I finished in second place, although my sights had been set on the win.”
“Our team was pulling for Drew as he was making a run at the championship on Day 3 and 4 at the Harris Chain,” said Northland Marketing Director Mike Anselmo. “Seeing him catch multiple fish on the Pro Sunny B Twin Spin was fun. It made me want to be in the boat. Bassmaster Live coverage is great, and watching those fish smash that bait on the surface is really fun to watch.”
Benton is now on his way to the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell with practice beginning Friday, February 25th. “Anytime that we’re in a pre-spawn situations on a lake well known for crankin’, Bagley shallow crankbaits are going to come into play for those zones of 10 feet or less. You’ve got a plethora of Bagley Baits that are going to be key—I might be fishing a point or some deeper roadbed leading into a creek or a spawning area and fish the Diving DB2. It’ll dive 10 to 12 feet on 12-pound line. Then I’ll go up to a Diving Balsa B if I’m little shallower than that. If I’m going to be in those creeks before the spawning flats or creek channel bends, on those I’m going to be throwing the Pro Sunny B. I’ll also mix in the Flat Balsa B2 if the water is really cold or the fish are really shallow. If they’re super shallow or on rip rap I might throw the B1 square bill. Before I leave for Hartwell I’ll probably have rods rigged up on my deck with every one of Bagley’s line-up. About half of them will be a red craw pattern or some kind of brown craw with an orange belly because orange and red are staples this time of year in the south. You can’t go wrong with that especially if the water has a bit of stain to it. Hartwell’s also known for its herring so I’ll have the same number of shad or herring color baits on the deck as well.”
Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson
Gussy Talks Topwater
At St. Johns and Harris B.A.S.S. and Bagley pro Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson says he didn’t do a ton of cranking but when he went topwater with the Bang O Lure Spintail, it produced nicely.
“I did catch a couple of keepers and one really good fish on Harris on the Bang O Lure Spintail,” volunteers Gussy. “That bait is great for when the fish start setting up in the shallows pre-spawn through post-spawn. It’s become a staple on my deck. That lure has been a Florida staple for years. There are a lot of Needle Fish in the waters down here which is a slender baitfish forage type up shallow and the Bang O Lure and Bang O Lure Spin Tail does a good job of replicating those as well as small bluegills when they’re flipping around the surface. The prop does a good job of replicating both the sound and profile of the needlefish and the small bluegills. I always have it tied on when I’m fishing topwater down in Florida. It’s saved my butt several times over the years.”
He continues: “Both St. Johns and Harris were grinder tournaments for me. Luckily I made the cut on Harris which was $10,000, but I had hoped for more and bigger fish. It’s on to the Classic now, though, which is going to be a good tournament for crankin’ Bagley baits.”
“The Classic is going to be more up my alley for being able to fish a little deeper and use my electronics and enjoy the clear water. I’ve got a good history at Hartwell so I’m really excited to get out there and get after it. I’ll be going up into the creeks and cranking. The Flat Balsa B2 is probably going to be my go-to—just a solid cold-water crankbait. You’re going to see quite a few fish caught on this particular bait. The water’s going to be a little cold so that’s where the Bagley balsa really plays in; it’s more subtle and can tap those finicky bites,” concludes Gussy.
About the Bagley Family
These Bagley pros are especially thankful for sponsors like Bagley Baits and the belief and dedication the team has put into their careers. “I work a lot with Charlie Peterson, Mike Anselmo, and Sam Larsen at Northland. They’re great people to work with and we all get along great. Their baits are top notch and cover every situation I face on tour. It’s been a really good experience,” says Benton.
Canterbury and Gustafson echo those words. “Working with Bagley has just been great,” says Canterbury. “Their baits simply catch fish and in this game that’s what it’s all about.”
Gustafson adds, “Bagley baits have long been part of my arsenal on tour but to now be part of that team that works hand in hand with testing and development, well, that’s super cool. They listen to us and are open-minded to tweaks and ideas for new fish catchers. That says a lot in this business.”
Charlie Peterson, Northland Fishing Tackle and Bagley’s pro staff coordinator, is thrilled with his team’s performance in Florida and wishes Benton and Gustafson the best at the upcoming 2022 Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. “Benton, Canterbury and Gustafson are all very consistent anglers who have really helped promote the Bagley Baits brand. We’re rooting for them in every event and proud to see them weighing fish caught on our baits! Looking forward to the Bassmaster Classic and what that brings. It should be a crankin’ tournament” comments Peterson.