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Right Rod Proves Paramount
Stephen Browning performs swimmingly with Legend Tournament Bass Swim Bait rod

The right place, the right time, the right bait. Sounds like the formula for the type of success that leads to a major tournament victory, right? Well, Stephen Browning certainly had all those elements lined up, but to close the deal on his Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open at Ross Barnett Reservoir he needed one final piece of the puzzle — the right rod.

First, the background: warming weather had spurred a pre-spawn movement on this central Mississippi reservoir and that meant the bass were staging in prime feeding areas near their spawning grounds to bulk up for the forthcoming spawn. Browning targeted an eel grass flat because this type of vegetation grows on the firm bottom that bass prefer for spawning.

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His bait of choice was a 3/4-ounce Z-Man Jack Hammer ChatterBait with either a Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ or RaZor ShadZ trailer — a provocative package that allowed him to cover a lot of water and create a lot of vibration that helped the fish identify and locate his bait in the vegetation. Using a black and blue DieZel MinnowZ early to best fish the morning’s low light conditions, he later switched to a white RaZor ShadZ in brighter conditions that best matched the shad that pre-spawners were targeting.

So, Browning fished the right place at the right time with the right bait; but still, something was not “right”. And here’s where his knowledge of rod design afforded him a game-changing adjustment.

“The key was a 7’10” heavy-power, fast action St. Croix Legend Tournament Bass Swim Bait casting rod (LBC710HF),” Browning said. “The first day of the tournament, I used a 7-foot medium-heavy-power, moderate fast Legend Tournament Bass Sweeper Spinnerbait rod I just didn’t feel like I was getting a very good hook set. I was trying to make long casts and cover a lot of water and I missed several fish that first day.”

“Going to the longer rod not only allowed me to cast my Jack Hammer ChatterBait farther, it also allowed me to move a lot of line on a hook set. I think the biggest adjustment I made throughout the course of the tournament was changing to that longer and a little heavier rod.

“The longer rod gave me a huge advantage on days two and three.”

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Browning could have adjusted his bait selection, but for pre-spawn fish, a ChatterBait is one of the most effective offerings for shallow vegetation because the combination of noise, flash and tantalizing tail wiggle is a deadly combination for bass with a heavy feeding priority. ChatterBaits may not be truly weedless, but the design bumps and plows its way through the grass better than the treble hook baits commonly fished during this pre-spawn season.

“A ChatterBait is a reaction-style bait,” Browning said. “Those pre-spawn fish feed up pretty heavily before moving into the spawning areas. The ChatterBait represents the shad, bluegill and sunfish that they feed on right before they do the spawning ritual.”

ChatterBaits do most of the work for you, but Browning described a presentation technique that he believes helped him trigger strikes. “I like to reel the bait steady and when I kill the bait with the reel, I’ll use the St. Croix rod to pull it and then I’ll start my sequence again. It gives the bait a little dying flutter.”

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“The other thing I do is use my reel to vary the retrieve cadence. Every four or five turns of the reel handle, I may reel it a just a little faster to give that bait a different look than the standard retrieve.”

Did it work? Browning’s winning three-day total of 44 pounds at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on Ross Barnett Reservoir certainly indicates so.

His winning Legend Tournament Bass Swim Bait casting rod is St. Croix model LBC710HF and retails for $290.