While weather and water conditions constantly change at Lake of the Ozarks, Denny Brauer’s approach to catching bass rarely wavers.
Whether the skies are sunny or cloudy or if the lake is low and clear or high and muddy, one certainty of any situation at the lake is that Brauer will have a jig tied on at least one of his rods. “It is probably the most versatile bait in fishing,” said Brauer of his confidence lure. “One of the main reasons I use it is because I like to catch big fish. I don’t know of any other bait out there that appeals more to quality fish than a jig does.”
A jig allows Brauer to slip the lure in and out of heavy cover easier than other lures. “It also hooks and holds a high percentage of fish to where you can land those bigger fish,” he reveals.
The former Bassmaster Classic champ from Camdenton, MO, relies on a jig in practically all weather and water conditions since he fishes the lure from top to bottom at the Lake of the Ozarks. “A lot of times I’m going to use whatever bait I think is the most efficient,” Brauer admits. “I have so much confidence in a jig that I feel it is an appropriate bait in more circumstances than some other people do. A lot of people won’t fish it if they don’t consider it perfect jig fishing conditions.”
An expert jig fisherman such as Brauer learns how to apply the lure under various conditions. “Take for instance in the fall when there are a lot of baitfish up and a lot of bass suspend on targets,” says Brauer. “A traditional angler who really hasn’t spent a lot of time with a jig will pitch it out and let it go to the bottom. Then if he doesn’t get a bite he’ll try something else like a crankbait or spinnerbait. Whereas a guy who often fishes the jig realizes that if he starts swimming it rather than letting it go to the bottom, his lure is going to be in the same zone as the fish are and he is going to start generating some strikes.”
Even though he sticks with the same lure throughout the year, Brauer varies the speed and motion of his retrieves depending on the seasons and the mood of Lake of the Ozarks bass. In colder water, he fishes the jig at a slow and methodical pace and as the water warms up throughout the spring Brauer speeds up his retrieves and imparts more erratic action to the lure.
“Everybody’s willing to try a different color jig if they don’t catch fish, but very seldom do they ever try a different speed or motion,” advises Brauer. “A lot of times it’s not the color, it’s what you are doing with the bait, the size of the bait and the speed of the fall. It’s a lot of things that all come into play.
“Normally I’m either working the jig on the bottom figuring out the proper speed of fall–because a lot of the strikes are going to come on the fall—or I’m figuring out how fast I need to move it across the bottom. I also pop it off the bottom or swim it. Those are the basic retrieves.”
Cold Water Tactics
The touring pro opts for a slow-falling jig and snail-pace retrieve during the prespawn when Lake of the Ozarks bass are still sluggish from the cold water. He creates the slow fall by matching a 1/4 – or 3/8-ounce Strike King Pro Model jig with a plastic chunk. Since he wants his lure to emulate a crawfish, Brauer opts for jig-and-chunk color combinations of chameleon craw and brown for clear water, black and blue in stained water and black and chartreuse in muddy conditions.
Once his jig hits the bottom, Brauer crawls the lure by moving his rod tip in a motion similar to the standard plastic worm retrieve. He moves the lure 4 to 6 inches at a time while making sure the jig keeps contact with the bottom “Obviously the less you move your rod tip the less you are going to move your bait,” says Brauer. “You have to be real careful and just kind of quiver your rod tip. The colder the water the slower you should move the bait and the longer you want it to stay in the strike zone. The warmer the water the more I am going to experiment with hopping if off the bottom and moving it a little faster.”
Cold water also prompts Brauer to take a slow approach when fishing a jig in cover. “There are times when I actually dead stick it,” he says. “I pitch it in there and don’t move it. I just wait and all of a sudden there it will go. That happens a lot with dock fishing.”
Warmer and Faster
Following the spawn, Brauer keys on bass along summertime structure and switches to a fast-falling jig. “I’m usually not fishing for suspended bass that time of the year. If the fish are suspended I feel I can catch them better with a crankbait because the fish are going to be suspended deeper and it’s hard to swim that jig at the proper depth,” suggests Brauer. “But if they are relating to the bottom during the warmer months than I love to fish a heavy jig (1/2- to 3/4-ounce Strike King Pro Model) and I do a lot of hopping and sweeping it. I think that really helps generate a lot of the strikes. Once you hop it up off the bottom because it is a heavy jig it will really pop off well and then it will fall real fast. Then you get the reflex strike out of those fish on the bottom.”
Hopping his jigs at various heights, Brauer lets the fish determine which presentation works best. Most of the time he pops the lure with his flipping stick and sweeps it 4 to 6 feet off the bottom. “ A lot of the strikes come as soon as it starts to fall again,” warns Brauer.
Suspended Fish Tricks
Any time bass suspend under docks, Brauer chooses a 1/4-ounce jig that he retrieves in a swimming motion.
“By swimming the jig you are giving the fish a different look than what they are used to seeing,” says Brauer. “They see a lot of spinnerbaits and buzz baits but they don’t see a lot of jigs swimming by.”
Autumn is the prime time for swimming a jig at Lake of the Ozarks. Brauer relies on this tactic when he finds schools of baitfish congregating on flats and bass start suspending closer to the surface.
His favorite jig combination for swimming is a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce model and large plastic chunks. Since he wants the lure to emulate a shad, Brauer opts for white jigs and trailers, except he switches to an electric blue jig on cloudy or rainy days in clear water.
Brauer creates the lure’s swimming action by pumping his rod tip while reeling in line at the same time. “The main thing is to find a combination with the proper weight ratio where you can keep the lure up and don’t have to move it so fast,” recommends Brauer. “If you’ve got to move it too fast than you are not going to be able to give it that pumping action.” Keeping his rod at a 45-degree angle allows Brauer to swim the lure properly and still have his rod in a good hook-setting position.
Whatever conditions he encounters at Lake of the Ozarks, Denny Brauer usually finds a successful way to retrieve his confidence lure and catch a heavyweight limit of bass.
For information on lodging and other facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 162-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.