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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.

George CochranQuestion: 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?

George CochranCochran: 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?

George CochranCochran: 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.

Strike King LuresDavy 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.


Too Much Running - Not Enough Fishing

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.

George CochranQuestion: Can you think of another time when fishing a weird tactic has paid off for you?

Cochran: The 1987 Classic I won almost was identical to the 1996 Classic win. All the pros were fishing the Ohio River, which wasn't noted for having a lot of bass in it. Everyone knew the tournament couldn't be won within 30 to 40 miles of downtown Louisville, Kentucky, where we launched our boats. During practice, I ran 50 miles downriver and calculated the amount of time I would need to run downriver, go through the lock and come back. I realized I'd only have about three hours to fish. I knew three hours wasn't a very long time to try and win a BASS Masters Classic.

The next day of practice I went about 30 miles upriver, but I still didn't have much time to fish. The last day of practice I stayed within two miles of the boat launch and caught about 10 bass. My son caught three or four. George CochranOn that day, I made the decision that instead of taking the long run like the other competitors, I'd stay close to the launch area and spend 7 1/2-hours fishing in downtown Louisville where no one else believed you could catch bass.

I fished a top-water bait, and then later in the morning I threw the Strike King spinner bait by bringing it down small channels in the weeds. Toward the last hour or two of each day of the competition, I fished small weeded points on the main river channel with a plastic worm. By the end of that Classic, I'd caught more bass than any other competitor in the tournament by fishing an area where everyone said there weren't any bass. Even though this section of the river probably didn't have as many bass as there were 30 to 50 miles up the river or down the river, because I had more time to fish, I could fish slower and catch the fish that were there.

Strike King LuresQuestion: How did you keep the other anglers from knowing where you were fishing?

Cochran: At the take-off, all the other contestants would throttle down and run their boats wide-open either up river or down river. I'd run with them for about a mile. Then I'd pull over to the side of the river and act like something was wrong with my boat until they went out of sight. Then I'd return and fish the area they just left. On all three days of the Classic, most of the time I remained within sight of the boat ramp. Most people spend way too much time running their big engines up and down the river and not enough time fishing.


Cochran's Three-Pattern Days

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.

George CochranQuestion: What are you doing that is different, George, to keep from running your boat so far?

Cochran: I pick an area that I have confidence in to fish every day of the tournament, and I'll rarely leave that region. I may fish three or four miles off the shoreline, but I'll stay in that section of the lake. I'll run my big engine very little when I'm fishing and instead spend most of my time running the trolling motor.

But always remember that you can't catch bass everywhere each day. Decide where you want to fish, and spend your day fishing not running. I'll spend one whole day in one creek trying to develop a pattern. Once I've developed a pattern and know what type of structure the bass are holding on and what kind of lure I need to catch those bass, then the second day I'll stay in another creek that looks just like the first creek. I'll also fish the same lure pattern in the second creek.

Question: Are there any secrets in the baits you use that you believe gives you an edge?

George CochranCochran: I always fish three patterns during the day. I fish the top-water pattern early, a mid-water pattern after the sun rises and then finally a deep-water pattern. Many anglers either will fish deep water or shallow-water patterns all day. However, I've found that many times I can win by throwing a top-water bait early in the morning when most fishermen won't even have top-water baits in their tackle boxes.

Question: If you're fun fishing, how do you fish to catch the most bass?

Cochran: I'll fish a top-water lure early in the morning. When the sun rises, I'll fish a buzzbait or a spinner bait. From about 10:00 a.m. to about 3:00 p.m., I'll fish a Carolina-rigged worm or a jig-and-pig. Around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., I'll go back to fishing the spinner bait. Just at dark, I'll cast a top-water lure.


Patience Pays Off

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.

George CochranQuestion: What do you do when you're struggling, nothing is working for you, and the bass just won't bite?

Cochran: I never give up. I keep an open mind and continue to fish. You have to realize that sometimes during the day bass will quit biting, and you just can't catch them. However, if I know I'm using the right tactic and the best bait, then I'll stay with that strategy until the bass start to bite. The fish have to feed sooner or later. I've won a number of tournaments in the last five minutes of fishing time because I won't give up until I've fished every bit of time that I have.

I believe in using the solunar tables. When the weather is normal, I consistently have seen bass bite when the solunar tables have said the time is best for catching fish. I've also learned that the solunar tables are extremely helpful to let you know when a big bass is going to bite. I believe solunar tables can predict when a big bass will bite better than anything else I know.

Strike King LuresQuestion: How critical is mental attitude to your success as a professional angler?

Cochran: I believe that mental attitude is critical not only to your success as a bass fisherman but also to your success in life. If you don't have a positive mental attitude, you can't compete to win in a tournament or in life. I know if I only fish 10 tournaments a year, I can fish really good and be successful in at least six of them. Therefore, the more tournaments I fish, the more I'll win. The real key to success for me is to fish enough tournaments so that I can establish a consistent winning pattern.

Question: How do you come back mentally after a major loss in a tournament?

George CochranCochran: Being a tournament fisherman is like living on a roller coaster. You have many big highs and a lot of low lows. One day you're great, and the next day you may fish terribly. I've learned that after each tournament is over to put it behind me. If I've had a bad tournament, I don't think about it anymore. I only concentrate on what I can do to try and catch more bass in the next tournament. I've learned to stay with the type of fishing that I believe I am strongest at -- shallow-water fishing. If the tournament is going to be on a lake that has productive shallow-water fishing, I can usually do really well. If the tournament takes place on a lake with very little or no shallow water, then I go out and do the best I can.


Fishing The Backs Of Creeks

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.

George CochranQuestion: George, is there any secret strategy that you have that will help our readers consistently find and take more bass?

Cochran: I believe the easiest way to pattern bass and to catch bass is to choose one creek on a lake or a river and learn to fish that creek first. Although you can't learn how to fish a whole lake, you can learn how to fish a creek. I go as far as I can to the back end of the creek, turn the boat around and then fish from the back of the creek toward the mouth.

Most anglers will fish from the mouth of the creek toward the back, but rarely do they get to the very back of the creek. So the bass in the back of the creek generally will experience less fishing pressure than the bass in the front of the creek. By fishing from the back to the front, I'm looking out of the creek instead of into the creek, and I'm presenting my lure from a different direction than most other fishermen.

I'll fish three or four different types of lures as I come out of the creek, like a crankbait, a spinner bait, a plastic worm and/or a jig. I'll fish a variety of cover too because in the back of the creek the cover and the structure are much closer together than you'll find at the mouth of the creek. George CochranYou'll find faults, deep banks, woods and creek channels in very close proximity of each other. So you quickly can fish a wide variety of structure and cover in a very short time. By using this technique for a day, I almost always can figure out how to catch fish in that creek.

If your readers will learn to fish the backs of creeks, they usually can determine the depth of water the bass want to hold in, the type of structure they want to hold on and the lure they want to bite quicker and easier than if they run all over the lake trying to put patterns together.