Catching Huge Bass with Ryan Swope

Sasser: Bass fishing experts give thoughts, tips to landing 10-pounders

Every angler who picks up a fishing rod and casts a lure dreams of catching a big fish. Most never accomplish the goal and must satisfy themselves with reports of Toyota ShareLunkers, the Texas Parks and Wildlife big bass program that accepts largemouth bass weighing 13 pounds or more for the hatchery program.

There already have been four ShareLunkers — three from Lake Fork, one from Lake Athens. About 75 percent of ShareLunkers are caught from January through March.

To help achieve your dream, we’ve asked 10 bass fishing experts — five Lake Fork fishing guides, three tournament pros, the owner of a popular lure company and the owner of a Mexico bass fishing business, to give us a few tips. Between them, they’ve caught or guided clients to more than 2,000 largemouth bass weighing 10 pounds or more.

Much of their advice is repetitious. Some, like bass pro Keith Combs, disagrees with the norm on how to present a lure to entice a big bass. Most of the experts move their lure as slowly as possible. Not Combs. Before becoming a touring pro, he guided anglers at Falcon Lake, where his clients in some months landed 25 or more double-digit fish.

“Concentrate on fishing early and late in the day and during the week when fishing pressure is light,” said Combs. “Fish with aggressive lures. I think baits that displace a lot of water and contact the bottom or underwater cover draw the biggest bites. My top picks are three-quarters ounce to one-ounce jigs, big spinnerbaits with big blades and deep-diving crankbaits fished on a fast retrieve.”

According to Bassmaster Classic champion Alton Jones, where you fish is just as important as how you fish.

“The three most important things in catching a big bass are location, location and location,” said Jones, who has twice caught three 10-pounders in a single day. “Your odds of catching a big fish increase dramatically if you’re fishing at a lake known to produce big fish.”

Mark Pack, who figures he and his clients have caught more than 400 10-pound-plus bass in 28 years at Lake Fork, said big bass like the security of having deep water close to their spawning areas. The experts agree that the upcoming spawning season is the best time to catch a lunker.

“Anglers in the spring need to fish points and banks where deep-water channels swing in close,” advised Pack.

Most big fish spawn in deeper water rather than right next to the bank, said Gene Snider, another prolific guide who’s spent the last 30-plus years figuring out Lake Fork’s big bass.

“More than 90 percent of the big fish we’ve caught during the spawn have come from water 5- to 15-feet deep,” Snider said. “I usually fish with a jig and don’t expect to get a lot of bites.

“One March day that I’ll never forget, I positioned the boat so my clients could cast to the bank, and I pitched a jig out into deeper water. The first bite I got was a bass weighing nearly 13 pounds. I only got one more bite all day, but it was a bass that weighed 111/2 pounds.”

If you have confidence in a particular big bass fishing spot, don’t give up on it, advises Mark Stevenson. He caught the former state-record bass from Lake Fork in 1986. It weighed 17.67 pounds. Named Ethel, the fish was displayed for several years at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield, Mo., where it became an ambassador for Texas fishing.

“Once you’ve found good structure where you have confidence in catching a big fish, don’t give up on it just because you fish there for a while and don’t catch anything,” said Stevenson. “Revisit that area at different times of the day. I’ve caught a lot of big fish on the second or third visit to the same spot.”

Along the same lines, John Barns likes to cast repeatedly to good cover. Barns is the president and majority owner of Strike King Lure Company, one of the market’s most popular brands.

“Be patient,” advises Barns. “Fish slowly and thoroughly, especially in an area that has produced big fish in the past. I believe that many times you have to aggravate a big bass into biting by making repeated casts to a particular area or by changing lures multiple times.”

James Caldemeyer, another Lake Fork guide who’s guided customers to a lot of trophy-sized fish and caught quite a few of his own, says anglers in general fish too fast.

“The majority of big fish caught from my boat bit the lure when it sinking or sitting still,” he said. “Big bass prefer a slow presentation. When you think you’re fishing slowly, slow down even more — it works.”

While fishing at the best bass lakes in Mexico, fishing outfitter Ron Speed Jr., has caught his share of big ones. He’s also helped hundreds of anglers catch a personal best largemouth and learned much from their tales of dreams realized and the big one that got away. Speed also has enjoyed tournament fishing success in Texas lakes.

“I think the biggest fish are generally the first fish to spawn,” he said. “When the water is still pretty cold, I target the warmer banks and coves — usually the north banks that have water that’s protected from the north wind and warms a little sooner.

“A couple of degrees may not seem like much to us but it can make a big difference to a fish. Don’t forget that bass make their spawning beds not just on the bottom but in the forks of trees or on top of stumps or flooded treetops. They can be 4 feet beneath the surface in 30 feet of water.”

James Niggemeyer, a Lake Fork guide when he’s not competing in Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, likes fishing during the spawning season, but he also likes the pre-spawn and post-spawn periods.

“Water temperatures in the high 40s to high 50s is the time to catch the biggest bass of the year by fishing in or around heavy cover with a depth change or transition area nearby,” said Niggemeyer, who notes that bass are heaviest before they spawn.

“Post spawn is my favorite time to catch surface feeding bass — big bass. I like a Strike King Sexy Dawg topwater lure in either bluegill or green gizzard shad colors. Big bass eat large prey items to recover from the spawn.”

Whatever the fishing style, Snider cautions anglers to take care of their fishing line and keep it fresh. It could become, after all, the tenuous link between the angler and a prize catch.

“Retie your knot after every hook set,” Snider added. “A big bass has every advantage to start with. When you finally do hook a big fish, why lose it because your line was old or worn or because you were too lazy to retie your knot?”

Several ShareLunkers have been caught by novices. As Lake Fork fishing guide David Vance said, nothing beats spending a lot of time on the water when big bass are most vulnerable, and that means during the pre-spawn period of January and February and during the spawn in March and April.

Vance should know. Relying on the axiom that big lures tempt big bass, he’s personally caught about 150 bass that each weighed 10 pounds or more.

A Boy and His Goggles

Photographing from his insect-like paraglider at an altitude of 500 feet, George Steinmetz is known for his beautiful aerial photography of places like the islands of the Ari Atoll in the Maldives, above. But even when he keeps his boots on the ground, he’s equally adept at searching out and capturing storytelling moments.

This post is about one of those moments.

I worked with him as his picture editor on “Rising Seas,” which appeared in the September 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine. The coverage for the story took him to Manila, Philippines, where some 625,000 people are squatting in crowded riverfront shanties extremely vulnerable to rising seas exacerbated by subsiding land and the threat of the next typhoon. The government hopes to relocate everyone out of harm’s way, but funding, the search for suitable locations, and construction of new housing projects are still in the works.

George was making headway by air but found the going tough in the crowded and cramped shantytowns. He was a white, six-foot-two-inch-tall foreigner who stood out just as you would expect a white, six-foot-two-inch-tall foreigner would. We discussed his frustrations by phone and agreed that he should take more of his precious deadline time and go after the elusive moments we both so wanted for the story.

Time is everything to a photographer.

Eventually, George found himself below sea level, knee-deep in a mudflat below stilt shanties that look as if an ordinary wind could blow them out to sea.

As this contact sheet shows, George happened upon and began following Rodello Coronel, Jr., 13, one of nine children. Rodello spends each morning picking through the floating trash looking for recyclable plastic that he can sell for 35 cents per kilo to help his family. According to Denis Murphy, head of Urban Poor Associates and whose workers helped George on assignment, each family has five persons on average and earns about $6 a day.

Rodello Coronel, Jr., the second of nine children in his family, spends the morning picking through the trash on shore in Manila looking for recyclable plastic.

Rodello looked far older than his 13 years as he focused on the task at hand, but then something unusual caught his eye—a pair of swimming goggles. His face lit up with joy, and my eyes with tears, as I felt for the boy whose spirit transcended his situation. This was my favorite picture of the story, yet it did not make the pages of the magazine, and it has never been published until now. Giving George the precious time on the ground paid off.

George wrote that on the next day he saw Rodello, “in his smart-looking school uniform with a small briefcase holding his homework papers.”

Lord of Miracles Festival Lima Peru

Lord of Miracles Festival,
Lima, Peru

Photograph by Pilar Olivares, Reuters

2013 Best Fall Trip #5

When a copy of the sacred Señor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles) image is carried on an elaborate, two-ton litter from Lima’s historic Church of the Nazarene, tens of thousands of purple-clad faithful follow. Their 24-hour procession—accompanied by incense, drums, hymns, and throngs of spectators—launches ten days of devotion and, just maybe, a few miracles.

When to Go: Mid to late October; feast day processions are October 18, 19, and 28

How to Get Around: Jorge Chavez International Airport is about 8.5 miles northwest of central Lima (where the festival is centered) and 10.5 miles northwest of the major tourist hotels in Miraflores/San Isidro. Taxis are ubiquitous and the most convenient way to travel between districts. Lima’s fledgling mass transit system does include the Metropolitano tandem bus route connecting Miraflores/San Isidro to center city via a partitioned lane.

Where to Stay: The luxurious, 82-suite Miraflores Park Hotel is located in a parklike setting overlooking the Pacific and is within walking distance of Larcomar. This upscale shopping and entertainment complex (more than a hundred stores, 12 theaters, 17 restaurants) is tourist-heavy but worth a look, if only for the cliff-top ocean views.

What to Eat or Drink: Throughout Mes Morado (the Purple Month) Lima’s street vendors hawk traditional Peruvian foods like anticuchos (skewers of seasoned grilled beef, cow heart, or chicken) and ring-shapedpicarones (pumpkin fritters). The festival’s signature treat is turrón de Doña Pepa, a melt-in-your-mouth layered pastry that’s sticky-sweet and topped with colorful candy sprinkles. It’s available prepackaged but best bought fresh (with extra napkins) from a local bakery like Pastelería San Martin.

What to Read Before You Go: The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, by Orin Starn, Ivan Degregori, and Robin Kirk (Duke University Press, 2005), and National Geographic Traveler: Peru (National Geographic, 2009)

Helpful Links: Peru Tourism and Lima Easy

Fun Fact: The Lord of Miracles is the image of a crucified Christ painted by an Angolan slave in the 1600s. The original wall mural—attributed miraculous power when it survived multiple earthquakes—is enshrined in Lima’s Church of the Nazarene.

Excavation of Human Ancestor Fossils Begins in South African Cave

Photo of Dr. Lee Berger at a dig in South Africa.

Andrew Howley

National Geographic

Published November 6, 2013

A harrowing expedition into the tiniest recesses of a cave system begins today in South Africa. The effort aims to recover recently discovered fossils of a yet-to-be-identified member of the human family.


Over the next several weeks, the expert team, directed by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Lee Berger of South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, will delve into the Rising Star cave system outside Johannesburg to carefully retrieve the fossils.


Berger‘s team made headlines in 2010 with the announcement of the discovery of two skeletons of a new, two-million-year-old hominid species the scientists named Australopithecus sediba. Those finds were made at a site called Malapa Cave, northwest of Johannesburg. (See “Malapa Fossils.”)


Working under Berger’s direction, local cavers made the latest discovery at a site several miles from Malapa. The fossils will be excavated by a team made up of experienced caver-scientists from around the world. All have passed Berger’s requirement of being small enough to fit into and out of cramped cave passages.


Without knowing exactly which species the bones come from, the team hopes their arduous recovery helps answer a broad list of deep questions about humanity’s origins.


What Did Our Ancestors Look Like?


South African sites have long been important to understanding human evolution, beginning with the discovery near Taung of a little skull in 1924 by Raymond Dart, also of the University of Witwatersrand. Dart believed the skull was too primitive to be placed in our own genus Homo, so he gave it in a new genus name: Australopithecus, or “southern (as in Australia)  ape.”


Since then, many other specimens of Australopithecus have been recovered in southern and eastern Africa, dating from between four million and two million years ago. The most famous of these is “Lucy,” a 2.8 million-year old skeleton discovered at Hadar in Ethiopia in 1974—still one of the most complete hominid skeletons ever found.

Like other australopithecines, Lucy’s species Australopithecus afarensis walked on two legs, but had much more primitive anatomy and smaller brains than members of our own genus Homo, which gets its name from the Latin for “same” (as in “homophones”).

The earliest specimen of Homo, also from Hadar, is believed to be around 2.5 million years old. It evolved from one of the Australopithecus species, but there is much debate over which one. Many researchers contend thatAustralopithecus afarensis is the most recent ancestor to Homo. Recently, however, Berger and his colleagues have argued that A. sediba deserves that recognition.

Whichever australopithecine gave birth to Homo, its descendents eventually left Africa at least 1.9 million years ago. Fossils belonging to the species Homo erectus have been found in Africa and across Eurasia. Other than our own species Homo sapiens, the best known group within the Homo  lineage is the Neanderthals, who inhabited Europe and western Asia from as early as 600,000 years ago up until around 32,000 years ago.


Some scientists also refer to a third genus of hominid, called Paranthropus. The name combines “para” meaning “next to” or “not quite” (as in “paranormal”) and “anthro” meaning “man” (as in “anthropology” or “android”). Paranthropus had huge, flat teeth and massive jaws. Other scientists prefer to group theParanthropus specimens in with australopithecines with similar characteristics. Whatever you call these robust specimens, their lineage went extinct some 1.9 million years ago.


How Are We All Related?

Given all the hominids on the scene before our genus, how do we know which ones are actually ancestral to us?


Researchers have spent generations drawing and redrawing a family tree that could connect all the known hominid fossils. Each new find has the possibility of clarifying the picture—or further muddying the water.


Berger’s Australopithecus sediba fossils are without question among the most complete skeletons ever found, rivaling even Lucy. His contention that they are the best candidate to be the immediate ancestor of Homo is based on a suite of features, some even more humanlike than even those of Homo habilis, considered by many scientists to be the earliest member of our genus.


At the same time, A. sediba showed other similarities to much more primitive, tree-dwelling primates. (See “Human Ancestor May Put Twist in Origin Story.”)


It was only the luck of finding the complete skeleton of a previously unknown species that made anyone consider such combinations of traits.


“[With A. sediba,] you have a heel bone and an ankle bone that if you found them independently, you’d put them in different taxa,” said paleontologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


So does that make it more or less likely to be our ancestor?


“These sorts of issues really need to be worked out by finding a suite of fossils that have some time depth to them,” said Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program.


Then “you can begin to understand what sort of combination of traits would occur in a small isolated group,” or that would be found in “a lineage with integrity to it [that] you see over and over again for generations.”


These issues are present in a lesser degree for almost all hominid fossils. Each have unique combinations of traits that make them seem so close and yet so far from being a definite ancestor for us. This brings up the next big question.


Who Exactly Were Our Ancestors?


The story of human evolution was once pitched as a search for the “missing link,” an ancient creature that would exhibit traits somewhat like a human, but somewhat like the other great apes. (Also see “New Studies Shake Up Human Tree.”)


After a century of discoveries, it’s clear there wasn’t just a missing link, but rather a whole continuum of different forms, only some of which are directly ancestral to us. Like all species, those in our family tree were shaped by their environments.


“There are multiple places within sub-Saharan Africa that were probably undergoing quite a complex series of responses to environmental variability,” said Potts. It was not just gradual climate change, but rather the kind of instability that is now seen as playing a critical role in driving adaptation and speciation (the formation of new species).


The environmental instability of the time “creates a much more experimental world,” Potts added. “Not a ‘cradle of humankind’—that’s too nurturing. I now prefer the term ‘cauldron of humankind.’


“And it’s much more of a series of broiling events and a churning process full of this sort of experimentation.”


As the landscape changed, diversifying populations could meet back up and essentially jump back into the gene pool together, creating hybrids.


Potts doesn’t suggest hybridization explains all the mixed characteristics in fossils like A. sediba, but says it’s a piece of the puzzle that shouldn’t be forgotten when trying to trace which species absolutely did or did not contribute to the human family line.


What Don’t We Know?


The final driver for continued pursuit of early hominid fossils is the growing awareness of just how much we don’t know.

A. sediba was not only an unknown species until a few years ago, but the place it was discovered also was considered exhausted of all fossils. Berger stresses that our understanding of human evolution is nowhere near complete. We haven’t even finished looking at the things we thought we knew, he says.


“It’s not just a question of finding more fossils,” says GWU’s Bernard Wood. “We need a better understanding of how reliable morphology is for telling us about relationships.”


Follow the New Expedition

The latest chapter in the search for answers is about to kick off in the Rising Star caves, but for now the emphasis is wholly on the search.


“Our aim is to get the fossils out carefully, study them, compare them to other fossil material from around the world, and then proceed to analyze and describe them,” said Berger. He hopes to publish the team’s findings in late 2014. A National Geographic/NOVA documentary will tell the full story of discovery and analysis next fall.

Follow the team’s progress on our Explorers Journal blog.

Hartbeespoort Dam


Hartbeespoort Dam, North West Province

The Hartbeespoort Dam

The Hartbeespoort Dam

Once you’ve booked your hotel orHartbeespoort Dam accommodationexplore our destination pages below for info on attractions and what to do in Hartbeespoort Dam.

Roughly 45 minutes’ drive fromJohannesburg and Pretoria, surrounded by the beautiful Magaliesberg mountain range, Hartbeespoort Dam, or Harties to locals, has become a hive of activity and is a very popular weekend getaway for the two cities.

The beauty of Hartbeespoort Dam is what draws people here – the dam literally cradled in the lap of the mountains – and many regard this as a retreat from the concrete jungle of city living. The 1620 hectare Hartbeespoort Dam functions both as a source of irrigation for farms in the area and as a resort, and the peace of the hills and valleys, the warmth even on winter days and the charm of the surrounding countryside, make this a place to restore the soul.

Take the scenic road from Johannesburg to Hartbeespoort Dam, along curving roads that meander between aloes in flower during the winter months, and you’re sure to pass the breakfast run of Harley-Davidsons – their drivers part of the Jo’burg exec set hell bent on nothing more than enjoying their machines in the sunshine.

The Hartbeespoort Dam offers an array of water sports, a local bird sanctuary, challenging hikes and gentle rambles. There is a collection of restaurants in Hartbeespoort that range from Tan’ Malie se Winkle, a local institution where you can eat to your heart’s content on traditional Afrikaans home-cooked meals, to the local Pick-a-Pancake, which takes pancakes into a new league. This restaurant lies literally in the heart of the Welwitschia Market – a range of African arts, crafts, novelties, curios and other at the fourway crossing at Hartbeespoort that makes a visit here imperative.