WOLAK'S MIXED BAG FORMULA
Story by Matt Pangrac - Lead photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Wake Forrest, NC - Brown or green? That’s the question that many tournament anglers face when fishing mixed species lakes holding both smallmouth and largemouth bass.
The third FLW Tour Open of the year on Lake Champlain this past September was a perfect example of how a mixed species fishery can play mind games on tournament anglers looking for the top spot on the leader board.
Gary Yamamoto opened the tournament with a record setting limit of largemouth weighing over 24-pounds but was unable to maintain that pace throughout the tournament, finishing in 2nd place. Glenn Browne also keyed exclusively on largemouth to finish in 4th, but the other three anglers in the Top 5 all relied on a mixed bag to stay in contention.
Few were surprised to find Dave Wolak’s name at the top when the tournament concluded. With 81-pounds of largemouth and smallmouth, Wolak captured the title and solidified his place as one of the most dangerous anglers on mixed species fisheries.
The win was Wolak’s second victory at Champlain in as many years (in 2010 he captured the Bassmaster Northern Open title with over 54-pounds). It was also Wolak’s fifth Top 10 finish on Champlain in FLW EverStart, FLW Series, and FLW Tour competition.
On the B.A.S.S. side, eight out of Wolak’s 13 Top 10 finishes have come on fisheries boasting a population of both largemouth and smallmouth including Lake Champlain, Oneida Lake, Lake Texoma, Table Rock Lake, and Smith Mountain Lake.
Champlain Comfort Zone
Wolak’s success at Champlain has come from a mixture of trail and error and the conclusion that in order to be consistently competitive on the massive fishery, keeping an open mind when it comes to targeting either largemouth or smallmouth is almost a necessity.
“More than any other place that I fish, Champlain has taught me to think on the fly,” said Wolak. “I know that whatever strategy I choose for the day I will have a lot of alternative plans that are necessary. There’s lot of thinking that goes into it for me and I try to think my way through each day just based on weather forecasts.”
Making adjustments based on weather conditions played a major factor in Wolak’s FLW Tour Open victory on Champlain that featured cold nights, high winds, steady storms, sun, and calm conditions over the course of the four day event that commenced on the heels of a cold front.
“I knew that there was going to be a massive series of weather changes that I wanted to take advantage of,” he said. “I knew that the largemouth would turn on in the afternoon so I forced myself to stay out and hunt for a big smallmouth until then. I tried to choose areas that gave me that ability to adapt and change and I also made the call each morning out of the gate based on my experience.”
Out of the 20 bass that Wolak brought to the scales, two-thirds were largemouth but it was the smallmouth that he said made all the difference. “That may not seem like it makes sense, but those one or two good smallmouth bites that I got each morning allowed me to go and target largemouth for the rest of the day,” he explained. “In all reality, I wouldn’t have won the tournament if I didn’t have those smallmouth in my bag. I was able to survive a day where I would have only had 15-pounds of largemouth by weighing in a mixed bag for over 18-pounds.”
Fans who follow the sport closely may remember that when Wolak captured the 2010 Bassmaster Northern Open title on Champlain, he did it by weighing in 15 largemouth. While the green fish proved to be the difference maker, he actually spent time targeting smallmouth and then culling them out as the day progressed.
“A guy who can go out and catch a quick limit has a good baseline to start off of and that allows them to go flip for big largemouth bites,” he said. “Basically, you’re just playing the averages. Catching the smallmouth first made me feel better about fishing for largemouth the rest of the day.
“I think that especially on lakes where you are equally apt to win on either species, over the course of a multiple day tournament you’re going to have to chance species and zone in on that change.”
The Jig Factor
When hunting for a mixed bag of largemouth and smallmouth, Wolak believes that lure selection is a critical factor. In many cases, his go-to offering is a jig. “The arsenal of baits that you choose to attack a fishery with both species is one of the biggest things,” he explained. “Overall, the jig has always played a big role in my fishing up north because you can pretty much bomb a jig out in the grass in any direction and you’re just as apt to catch largemouth as you are smallmouth.
“Mentally, the jig plays a big part for me because on a mixed species lake the law of averages takes over and you can catch a lot of largemouth and smallmouth on the same bait at any time. When you stumble into a mixing scenario, there’s no better option than a jig,” Wolak continued.
He likened his confidence with a jig to Kevin VanDam’s confidence in and affinity for cranking. “I guess it’s like Kevin and the crankbait,” he said. “You just get a feel for it and learn when to change colors, size, profile, action, and fall rate. I just kind of have a method to my madness.”
Wolak’s method has been refined over years of experience on bodies of water holding a healthy population of both largemouth and smallmouth bass in the northeast. “I was fishing a jig up there even before my big tournament days,” he explained. “I can honestly say that probably over 80% of my local wins came on a jig.”
One of his overall favorite jigs for mixed bag lakes like Champlain and Oneida is a Fin-tech Title Shot jig which allows him to fish a variety of Texas-rigged trailers while still maintaining the profile of a jig. While the Title Shot often gets the nod, Wolak carries a wide variety of different jigs with him to all mixed species fisheries.
“When I get to these mixed lakes, I simplify my approach a lot by trying to make that jig bite work. I think that the reason I excel sometimes at these lakes is my overall prowess with a jig. You can fish it around grass and rock and you can put one universal tool in your hand and just go fishing.”
When the Elite Series last visited New York’s Oneida Lake to conclude the 2009 season, Wolak relied on a single jig throughout the competition, plying both deep grass edges for smallmouth and flipping ultra-shallow water for largemouth. “It simplifies what could play with your head a lot when it comes to bait selection,” he explained.
It may sound like a simple game plan, but Wolak carries hundreds of different jig combinations with him to every tournament where both largemouth and smallmouth could play a factor. “I have like four boxes of jigs in my boat at all times with big ones, small ones, exposed hooks, different color schemes, and different skirt materials like rubber and silicone.
“I’m a fanatic about my jigs and I spend all kinds of time making different skirts during the wintertime,” he continued. “You hear these stories about Aaron Martens’ boxes of plastics that are all super organized and perfect. If you ever look at my jig trailer boxes, they’re a lot like his worm boxes. I’m just totally obsessive about that stuff and over time I think that it has worked to my benefit.”