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A Day on the LakeDean Rojas: Fall/Winter Transition

Updated: December 4, 2007, 1:03 PM ET
By Don Wirth | BASSMASTER Magazine, December 2007
Ever wonder how a BASS pro would fare on your home lake— that little body of water down the road where you and your buddies fish for bass? That's the premise behind Bassmaster's reality series, "A Day On The Lake." Here, we put the top names in competitive bass fishing on small lakes they've never seen before, then give them seven hours to figure out a viable pattern, logging everything they do to find and catch bass.

This month Dean Rojas takes the Bassmaster challenge. The 35-year-old Grand Saline, Texas, pro holds the BASS single-day weight record (five bass weighing 45 pounds, 2 ounces on Lake Toho, Fla., in January 2001) and has eclipsed the 100-pound total weight mark twice. In his nine years on the BASS tour, he's qualified for six Classics and won two events. Here's what happened on December 5, 2006, when Rojas took on Lake Y, a 700-acre reservoir. Readers intent on catching bass during the often-tough late fall/winter transition period should find what follows extremely helpful.

> 7:49 a.m. I hook up with Rojas at Lake Y's deserted launch ramp. It's sunny and 18 degrees — the coldest conditions any pro in this series has encountered since it began in 1998. "This is one monster cold front!" Rojas says as he unhooks the transom tie-downs from his boat. "But Northern-strain largemouth bass will bite in really cold weather.

Based on experience, I'd say the morning will be really slow, with the best bite coming from 11 to 3. We've got winter conditions and a full moon — that'll make morning fishing tough anywhere. I'll spend the first couple of hours evaluating the lake and hope by the time it warms up a little, the bass will have moved up tight to cover. I've always been one to let the day play into my hand; I like to just get out there, fish and see how it unfolds."

> 7:58 a.m. Rojas launches his boat, a Skeeter 20i equipped with a 250-hp Yamaha V MAX outboard, MotorGuide trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. He digs into the rod locker and fans an arsenal of Quantum rods and reels across the front deck. He's got several small crankbaits tied on: "These usually work great this time of year, but you've got to fish 'em slow; I use a 5.2:1 reel to slow myself down. A lot of guys only fish jig-type lures in cold water, but I'm under a time constraint, and I need to cover some water."

I ask Rojas if he plans to throw a surface frog, his signature lure that's won him a ton of money: "It's the wrong time of year for it, but I'll probably give it a try anyway."

> 8:05 a.m. Rojas opts to begin by fishing a 45 degree bank with scattered wood cover near the boat launch, joking, "Actually this spot doesn't look all that great, but it's too darn cold to run down the lake!" He makes his first casts with a 1/8-ounce blue and chartreuse Luhr Jensen Speed Trap, rooting it around the wood. "I love small lakes," he says. "I grew up in San Diego, and the little lakes there have produced some giant bass."

> 8:08 a.m. "My rod guides are freezing up," Rojas mutters as he dips his cranking stick in the water. "The surface temp readout on my graph says it's 41 degrees, but it may take it a minute to adjust and get a more accurate reading."

> 8:09 a.m. Rojas hangs the Speed Trap in a sunken tree and retrieves it.

> 8:12 a.m. He continues cranking the bank; his temp readout has settled in at 43 degrees: "A lot of guys hit the water early this time of year, then give up and go home if they don't catch anything by noon. Actually you're better off sleeping in and fishing during the midday and afternoon, after the sun has had a chance to warm the water and the fish have moved up shallower."

> 8:15 a.m. Rojas is still working slowly down the bank. He's casting the lure past visible cover, pulling it with his rod, reeling up slack, and then pulling it again: "This retrieve, combined with a slow-speed reel, forces you to slow the bait down."

> 8:22 a.m. He attempts to cast the Speed Trap beneath an overhanging limb, but his line loops around a branch. When he retrieves the lure, he laughs, "Between the air and the water, this bait's so cold you can hardly stand to touch it!"

> 8:28 a.m. Rojas moves to the opposite shoreline, casts the Speed Trap, and a bass smacks it halfway back to the boat. His first fish of the day weighs 2 pounds, 8 ounces: "I didn't feel wood or the bottom — that fish hadn't moved up to shoreline cover yet. I was slow-pulling the bait and then stopped it; then when I went to pull it again, the fish was on. This is a killer retrieve in early winter."

> 8:34 a.m. "Really cold water has never bothered me on a small lake like this where there's not a lot of fishing pressure," Rojas allows as he continues cranking the shoreline.

"It'll hurt you on a big lake, however."

> 8:42 a.m. Still cranking. I ask Rojas about the Speed Trap, one of his favorite artificials: "It's one of the first square-billed crankbaits — this design is awesome for deflecting off shallow wood. A lot of manufacturers have taken this concept and refined it. But it's tough to outfish a Speed Trap. Plus, unlike many of the boutique crankbaits, it's got a thick, durable bill that won't bust off easily."

> 8:45 a.m. It's warming up a bit, and Rojas' guides are no longer freezing. He's cranking his way out of the boat launch cove toward the main lake.

> 8:50 a.m. Rojas puts his trolling motor on high and moves into the extreme upper end of a nearby tributary, cranking the Speed Trap to shallow wood as he goes.

> 8:52 a.m. Rojas pauses to retie the Speed Trap. He's fishing it on 12-pound Izorline Triple X copolymer: "This is the limpest line I've ever seen — you don't want to use a stiff line in cold conditions 'cause it'll have too much memory and backlash easily."

> 8:55 a.m. He pulls the crankbait off the bank and it stops dead, but there's nothing there when he winds down: "I think one just bumped it."


> 8:59 a.m. "Man, it's really cold," Rojas shivers. "You have got to fish really slowly on a day like today!"

> 9:02 a.m. Some baitfish dimple the surface nearby: "That's the first bait activity I've seen."


> 9:06 a.m. "The water's up to 45 degrees here," Rojas comments as he continues slow-cranking his way up the creek arm.

> 9:15 a.m. A slight breeze is blowing out of the south: "Cold is one thing, but cold and windy is really miserable!"

> 9:20 a.m. Rojas spots a hornet's nest in a tree on the bank he's fishing: "Good thing it's only 20 degrees out!"

> 9:36 a.m. Rojas ties on a shad pattern 1/2-ounce Spro Aruka Shad lipless crankbait: "There's a big flat here, and this lure runs horizontal instead of diving."

> 9:39 a.m. "I'm having to reel this heavy bait too fast to keep it off the bottom," Rojas says. He switches to the same lure in 1/4 ounce. No takers.

> 9:50 a.m. Back to the Speed Trap. Rojas cranks a shallow point, but can't come up with a fish: "It's warmed up a little, so let's take a ride downlake," he says. He turns the ignition key; the Yamaha turns over, but won't start.

> 9:58 a.m. Try as he might, Rojas can't get his engine started. "Good thing we're still close to the ramp," he says as he lowers his trolling motor. "If I had to choose a day when my engine wouldn't start, this would be it, 'cause this lake's not big enough for conditions to vary drastically from one end to the other. Might as well go fishing and not spend a lot of mental energy worrying about it."

> 10:05 a.m. He moves to the opposite bank, where it's shady, and cranks the Speed Trap: "You just can't let a situation like this get you down. There's plenty of cover to fish within trolling motor range."

> 10:10 a.m. "Looks like I'm gonna have to bear down and get serious," Rojas says as he rigs up a generic green pumpkin craw tube. He's fishing it Texas style on a 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook and a 3/16-ounce tungsten sinker.

> 10:12 a.m. Rojas makes a couple of test pitches with the craw tube and adjusts the cast control knob on his reel: "I'm gonna use this when I come up on a particularly good-looking piece of wood."

> 10:15 a.m. He pitches the craw tube repeatedly to a big laydown tree: "I can't believe there's not a fish there!"

> 10:18 a.m. Rojas is moving down the bank, alternating between the Speed Trap and the craw tube.

> 10:23 a.m. Approaching a bank with multiple overhanging trees, Rojas expertly pitches the Speed Trap beneath the limbs: "This is the way I fish a frog —get it way back where the fish are lying."

> 10:35 a.m. He moves to a steep bank and switches to a firetiger Norman Deep Baby N crankbait: "This lure is about the same size as the Speed Trap, but dives deeper and has more wobble."
> 10:38 a.m. Rojas sweeps back his rod, but hauls water: "Man, I rammed the bait into a tree, stopped it and a bass absolutely crushed it! How could a fish hit that hard and not hook up?!"

> 10:50 a.m. Still working the steep bank. Rojas' boat is in 12 feet of water as he pitches the craw tube to a laydown tree.

> 10:55 a.m. "That stump's as big as a Volkswagen!" Rojas exclaims as he bangs the Deep Baby N off the cover.

> 11:07 a.m. The bank gets deeper as the channel swings closer to it. Rojas is alternating between the Deep Baby N and the craw tube.

> 11:10 a.m. He tries to crank his outboard again, but it won't cooperate.

> 11:12 a.m. Rojas pitches the craw tube into a tree, sets the hook and connects with a good
fish. It swims into the cover, but the pro carefully works it into open water and swings it aboard. His second keeper of the day weighs 3 pounds, 3 ounces: "I dropped the tube into the tree, felt it hit the cover, held it there for just a second and BANG! She thumped it! You gotta be patient when a good bass digs down into cover  just ease it out, don't try to force it, or you'll tear out the hook. In the winter, you expect every bite to be light, but occasionally a good fish will whack it even when the water's frigid."

> 11:18 a.m. He continues working down the steep bank: "This spot's perfect; there's deep water access close by and tons of cover."

> 11:31 a.m. Rojas enters a shallow pocket; the water here is 47.1 degrees. He immediately catches his third keeper, 1 pound even, on the Speed Trap: "That one was off the bank and hit on the pause, like my first fish."

> 11:35 a.m. It's warmed into the low 40s, but the wind has picked up, making it seem as cold as it was when we started. Rojas is cranking the Speed Trap around the pocket.

> 11:44 a.m. Rojas has fished completely around the pocket and is back on the steep main lake bank. Craw tube time.

> 11:57 a.m. He cranks a dilapidated boat dock with the Speed Trap.

> 12:06 p.m. "We're gonna catch one here," Rojas says confidently as he enters another pocket. The water here is 47.7 degrees.

> 12:14 p.m. Rojas pitches the tube to the bank, his line tightens and he catches his fourth bass of the day; it's a carbon copy of his last fish (1 pound even).

> 12:16 p.m. "The water's 48 degrees back here, and they oughta be tearing it up!" Rojas laughs as he presses deeper into the pocket with the craw tube.

> 12:25 p.m. "I've never seen so much laydown wood in my life!" Rojas exclaims. "This would be an awesome frog lake in warmer weather. I have my best luck with it when the water's in the 60s."

> 12:54 p.m. Rojas bags his fifth keeper, 2 pounds, 1 ounce, on the craw tube: "That fish was suspended off the wood; it hit the tube on the way down and swam off with it."

> 1:11 p.m. He exits the pocket, moves to a main lake bank and bags his sixth keeper, 1 pound, 2 ounces, on the craw tube; this fish culls one of the 1-pounders caught earlier: "It picked it up when I bumped it off a log."

> 1:15 p.m. He cranks the Deep Baby N down the bank without success.

> 1:23 p.m. Rojas speed-trolls straight across the lake toward a good-sized tributary arm with a steep bank, devouring a ham sandwich and a bag of chips as he goes. What's his take on the day so far? "It's about what I expected; I had one fish early and have caught five keepers since around 11 o'clock. I'm gonna keep pounding the banks like I have been and hopefully do some culling to get my weight total up."

> 1:29 p.m. "Forty-nine degree water in here," Rojas says hopefully as he roots the Norman crankbait around a laydown tree. "They oughta be jumpin' in the boat!"

> 1:35 p.m. A 14-foot channel runs against the bank where Rojas pitches his craw tube:

"This is the kind of place a big fish would use in winter."

> 1:39 p.m. There's a stiff breeze blowing down the bank; I notice Rojas uses the wind to drift into casting position: "I try to be as stealthy as possible when fishing close to cover, especially when the bite is slow. Every time you step on the trolling motor power switch, you run the risk of putting the bass on red alert. There's no need to keep stomping on the trolling motor when the wind is pushing you where you want to be anyway."

> 1:46 p.m. We enter a snaggy pocket and Rojas can't help but break out a topwater frog, a lure of his own design made by Spro. He skips and pitches it under a series of overhanging limbs, then when it hits the water, retrieves it with rapid twitches so it blips and sputters across the top like the real thing: "When conditions are right, this is the most exciting lure you can fish. They can't stand it when you start hopping it over their heads! When I fish it in tournaments, I stay keyed up on every cast, just waiting for a strike. After a day of this, my mind is like Jell-O!" He fishes the frog on braided line with his signature Quantum frog rod.

> 1:52 p.m. "All right, back to reality," Rojas says as he continues down the channel bank with the Speed Trap.

> 2:04 p.m. With slightly less than an hour remaining, he tries the Spro lipless crankbait on a long point.

> 2:10 p.m. I ask Rojas what he did prior to becoming a bass pro. "I did some guiding in the San Diego area, and before that I was a peanut vendor at the football stadium. I started doing that at age 16."

> 2:13 p.m. He pitches the craw tube at an isolated tree.

> 2:18 p.m. Checking his watch, Rojas moves to within sight of the launch ramp with the trolling motor: "I wanna go back to that steep bank where I caught the 3-pounder."

> 2:25 p.m. Rojas arrives at his destination and pitches the craw tube around every stick of wood he encounters along the bank.

> 2:37 p.m. He cranks the Speed Trap down a laydown log: "C'mon, big fish! Bite!"

> 2:48 p.m. Rojas moves into the cove where the ramp is located and roots the Speed trap around the shoreline.

> 2:54 p.m. With minutes remaining, he casts the craw tube at another laydown.

> 2:58 p.m. Rojas' day on Lake Y is over. He's boated six keeper bass, the five biggest of which weigh 9 pounds, 14 ounces.

THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE

"This was a typical winter pattern, with the bass relating either to the main lake or to pockets adjacent to the main lake, and with most of the bites coming in the middle of the day," Rojas told Bassmaster. "There was no activity at all in the backs of the pockets. I wish I could have explored more of the lake, but engine trouble kept me within a pretty limited range. If I were to come back here tomorrow, I'd hit the steep banks with wood on them even harder. Considering how cold it was and the ultra-high pressure conditions we had today, I'm not unhappy with what I caught."

Where and When Dean Rojas Caught His Five Biggest Bass

1. 2 pounds, 8 ounces; open water adjacent to bank in shallow cove; 1/8-ounce blue and chartreuse Luhr Jensen Speed Trap crankbait; 8:28 a.m.

2. 3 pounds, 3 ounces; submerged tree on steep bank; green pumpkin generic craw tube Texas rigged with 4/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook and 3/16-ounce tungsten sinker; 11:12 a.m.

3. 1 pound; pocket off main lake; same lure as No. 2: 12:14 p.m.

4. 2 pounds, 1 ounce; steep bank with wood cover; same lure as No 2; 12:54 p.m.

5. 1 pound, 2 ounces; bank leading into shallow pocket; same lure as No. 2; 1:11 p.m.

Total: 9 POUNDS, 14 OUNCES

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A Day on the Lake Dean Rojas: Fall/Winter Transition