Cochran's Secret Strategies
Editor's Note: George Cochran of Hot Springs, Arkansas, one of the truly nice guys on the professional bass-fishing circuit and a longtime member of Strike King's Pro Fishing Team, doesn't call attention to himself. But when tournament day arrives, the quiet Cochran becomes one of the most fierce competitors on the tournament trail. Also the winner of two BASS Masters Classics in 1987 and 1996, Cochran has qualified for the Classic numerous times. Many anglers consider Cochran the master of finding overlooked places to fish and using under-utilized tactics to catch bass. A maverick who doesn't follow the crowd, he has proved he's one of the best shallow-water anglers in the nation.
Question: What secret strategy do you use to take bass in tournaments?
Cochran: I try to find bass in places and pinpoint patterns that other fishermen have overlooked or won't consider. I grew up on the Arkansas River and learned then that regardless of the time of year that you fish, you always can find bass holding in shallow water. I attempt to locate a productive shallow-water pattern anywhere I fish in the nation. In the 1996 BASS Masters Classic on Lay Lake near Birmingham, Alabama, I proved that shallow-water patterns will consistently pay off, regardless of the time of year or the conventional wisdom on the lake.
Question: How did you win the BASS Masters Classic in 1996 when all the other competitors struggled just to catch a fish?
Cochran: The other competitors felt they could win the tournament in 8- to 15-foot deep water. We were fishing in Alabama in August, and the bass were supposed to be on their summer hot-weather deep pattern. Although I located several schools of bass deep in pre-practice, I also knew that I might not find those deep-water fish holding on the spots a month later. I realized that if I wanted to win the Classic, I'd have to find bass the other competitors hadn't discovered. And that's another secret to catching bass no matter where you fish. If you can find a place where nobody else fishes, then oftentimes you'll fish for bass that haven't been harassed by other anglers and haven't seen very many lures. In a place like this, the bass often will be very aggressive and easy to catch, and that was the kind of site I found in the 1996 BASS Masters Classic.
Question: What made that place special, George?
Cochran: I motored so far back up a creek that the water was only about 8-inches deep. When I found the spot in pre-practice, I spent about a half day with a push pole trying to get my boat further and further back up this little creek. I could see that the creek eventually opened up into a small shallow pond with stumps in it. When I finally got back up in the creek during pre-practice, I caught a lot of bass that weighed 1 1/2- to 2-pounds each. Most tournament fishermen look for sites that will hold 1- to 4-pound bass. Those size fish are what's usually required to win a Classic. However, after fishing many Classics, I've learned that if fishing conditions are tough, then the man who brings in a limit of 1 1/2- to 2-pound fish for three days can win the tournament.
So the first day of the Classic I decided to get my boat up on-plane and run up that shallow creek with only about 8 inches of the motor and the hull in the water. When I finally reached the pond, the water was so shallow that when I throttled back on the big engine, the boat bottomed out. I had to use my trolling motor to get my boat in the channel so I could fish. I'd catch a limit of bass in 8 inches to 3 feet of water on a Strike King spinner bait and a blue/gray ribbontail worm. Then I'd leave the creek and go out to my deep-water holes to try and catch bass big enough to allow me to cull my catch.
Davy Hite who finished second in the 1996 Classic didn't catch a limit every day. If he'd caught two small fish, he would have beat me. But the secret to winning that tournament was fishing in a place where no one else would fish and in water that everyone thought was too shallow to hold bass. Many times you may overlook the easiest and best way to catch bass because everyone knows that you can't catch bass in a particular area or with a specific technique.
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