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Swimbait Tips and Tactics for Big Spots with "Triton Mike" Bucca

Date: 4/2/08
Interview: "Triton Mike" Bucca
Location Atlanta, Georgia
Interviewer: Cal



Triton Mike with a nice 6.2lb Lake Allatoona Spot caught on a Huddleston Deluxe

Introduction: If you hang around much in not just ours, but any of the online fishing message boards, youíre bound to have seen the name ďTriton MikeĒ bandied about. Afterall, heís an Internet addict. But what many may not know or realize, heís also a trophy spotted bass fisherman. Thatís right, I said trophy spots. In an era dominated by trophy largemouth bass, the more aggressive and harder fighting spotted bass is often underappreciated and is even considered by many bass fisherman a nuisance. Not so here at TackleTour where we enjoy the hard fighting, aggressive nature of the largemouthís smaller cousin. To learn more about big spots, we sit down with Triton Mike Bucca to gain insight of his appreciation for these feisty fish and learn how he targets what he refers to as the ďSchool Bus SpotsĒ  

Cal: Hi Mike, thanks for sitting down with us. Let's start off with a little background. Why not share with our readers a little about yourself and how you came to be a guide in Georgia? 

Bucca: Awesome to talk with you Cal. Well some may not know this, but my first guide trip was for redfish and trout when I was like 14-15 years old. My best friendís dad was a guide in the Louisiana Marsh and had over booked that day with a corporate trip, so he gave us a boat and used me and my friend to take out the clients. We spent every summer down there off of school and knew the area and the fish very well so he had extreme confidence that we would be great in putting that party on fish. We caught over 20 red fish and 150 trout on my first guide trip and got paid for it so I was hooked after that!  

After graduating from college, I moved all around the US working in the restaurant business and I lived everywhere from Amarillo and Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi to Huntsville, Alabama and finally Atlanta, Georgia. While in Huntsville I guided on Lake Wheeler briefly and then when I moved to Atlanta I picked up Lake Allatoona and have been guiding here for Spotted Bass for 8 years. I have actually been fishing for Spotted Bass for over 20 years as we had an abundance of Spotted Bass in the Pearl River Basin in South Mississippi where I grew up, so Iím very familiar with spotted bass not only in a lake atmosphere but also in rivers and creeks as well.  

Triton Mike back in 1984 with a small spotted bass caught in the Pearl River Cypress swamps of South Mississippi. Man, equipment sure has come along way from Ugly sticks, Abu 5500Cís and 12ft jon boats.

Cal: Are you strictly guiding now or do you fish tournaments as well? And if you are still fishing tourneys, how many a year do you average?  

Bucca: I am strictly guiding now but I do fish a tournament every once in a blue moon. To be honest with you I wasn't born with that Tournament competition gene that most bass anglers have although I have won 2 boats through my tournament efforts. I don't think it's a lack of skill but just a lack of motivation in fishing competitively. My passion has always been teaching (guiding) and being the best guide that I can be. I honestly get a bigger kick out of teaching anglers to become better and more successful anglers than I ever did in winning those 2 boats.  

Cal: So let's get down to it. What are you doing to target trophy sized Spots and how big of a fish are we talking about here? 

Bucca: In Georgia, a trophy spotted bass is anything over five pounds. Iím targeting spots that are six pounds and over. Even though our state record is just over eight pounds, I have only heard of three other fish seven pounds or greater in Georgia. We just don't have the seven to nine pound spots that some of your lakes in North California have. A six pound spot here in Georgia is the equivalent to a seventeen pound largemouth if you do the percentages to the World Record largemouth. Even Lanier hasn't produced but two fish that I know of over seven pounds. Here in Georgia we are more known for the real potential of a five fish sack of Spotted Bass in excess of twenty pounds. Actually, me and my partner won a boat with 20.3 lbs of Spotted Bass a few years ago. Funny thing is, I lost a spot in the five to six pound range that could have culled our three pounder!  

As for catching them, itís no secret the only way I have consistently caught the "School Bus" Spots is with big swimbaits. I have been on this swimbait kick for five years now and it has been a very long learning curve. One of the biggest things I have learned is to match the forage that the bigger spots are feeding on. Our primary big bait forage here in Georgia by far is gizzard shad. I like to call gizzard shad "Our Trout of the South".  

A bottom view of a Huddleston Deluxe Trout that Triton Mike has put a stinger hook on for fishing in the upper parts of the water column. Notice the hooks and crimp are painted white to match the white belly of the forage, but he didnít paint the hook points tips to insure good hook penetration.

Another key consideration with spotted bass is that the smaller spots are extremely aggressive. No largemouth can compete with the smaller spots when it comes to their energy level. To give you an idea, I often catch fourteen inch spots on ten inch Triple Trouts. Having said that the big baits are still somewhat intimidating to the smaller spots so what I am trying to do with the big baits is to wean off the smaller spots and give the bigger spots a chance to get to the bait. Itís not uncommon to see, when we catch a spots on traditional sized lures, a large wolfpack of other spots following our hooked fish. A lot of times, I noticed that those following spots were significantly larger than the fish I was reeling in. It was definitely frustrating and I had to find a way to reverse that trend. So that is one reason why BIGGER swimbaits traditionally work better than the smaller ones when hunting trophy sized spotted bass.

One last tip on why swimbaits work so well out here is because nobody throws them. Even though the swimbait trend is moving very rapidly to the east, we still don't have many hard core big bait guys here in the South. Being in the Metro Atlanta area our fish are very very heavily pressured and they have seen every bait under the sun at least twenty times! So sometimes the key is throwing something they haven't seen which brings us back to big baits. When things get tough, most folks downsize their offering. Well, I kinda go the other way.  

I will say that prior to throwing swimbaits I would average only one or maybe even two fish five pounds or better per year. Fast forward to today where I average sometimes over a dozen spots over five or better in that same time frame. There has been a huge difference between then and now. My largemouth catches have also increased in size with one going into the nine pound range. Last year I caught three spots over six pounds on my home lake (Lake Allatoona) all on swimbaits and quite a few anglers go a lifetime without catching a single five pound spot much less a six pound spot.  

The bottom Huddleston is what Triton Mike uses for suspended fish or when he is fishing the upper part of the water column. So when a fish hits the bait it is usually hitting it from the side or from the bottom and the first thing it gets is hooks. The top Huddleston is rigged hooked for bottom bouncing for Spots. By rigging the hooks on the top your increasing your odds of hooking up on a fish that is coming down on your bait and of course by having the hooks on top your preventing from hanging up and losing your $35.00 bait. Typically he uses a ROF 5 for suspended fish and a ROF 12 for bouncing the bottom.

Cal: What kind of areas on the lakes and techniques that you fish when you are searching for these ďSchool Bus SpotsĒ? 

Bucca: As far as areas to fish. That depends on the seasonal migration of the fish. Usually in Winter, we spend most of our time in the main lake and just inside the creek arms. As you know we have been in a drought this past year so most of our lakes are either very low or they are drawn down to winter pool. So this kind of concentrates alot of our fish in the main lake areas. I do a lot of bottom dragging with Huddleston type baits. It's a very painful way to fish but it can be extremely rewarding. When I am in the trophy fish mode that is the single best way I know of to catch them in the winter. Also, during the winter, I have found it very key to try to keep your bait coming up hill versus traditionally casting at the bank.  

Here is why I fish uphill! Big fish, in general are more comfortable moving shallow to feed. If you're casting shallow and a bass is following your bait; it's leaving cover to swim to open water. What makes more sense to you? Following food into the open; or following food into a corner? Food goes into a corner; it's your's! Food goes into the open; it can go anywhere to get away from you and it requires using more energy and that is why you sometimes see bass crashing bait up onto the shoreline itís trapping itís prey. The same thing can be said about subsurface baits. The bass can trap itís prey on the surface of the water hence spend less energy chasing. So the theory is a bass will be more secure if chasing your bait into shallow water than out deeper. It's more natural. So when you make a long cast out in deep water and you have a big fish following you from deep to shallow this is a natural occurrence. The fish feels like itís cornering the bait (your swimbait) in the shallow water or at the surface. It's all about creating a natural presentation. Also, fishing a bait uphill allows the angler to cover a variety of water depths in one cast. In one cast because you're fishing deep and shallow water and you can also hug the bottom with your baits better by fishing them uphill. 

Come Spring the water rises back up and we start heading into the creek arms. Then come summer we are back into the main lake bottom dragging again and actually fishing for suspended fish within the thermocline during mid to late summer. You think bottom bouncing is challenging try fishing for suspended fish with swimbaits! Then as fall approaches and the temps start to drop the fish migrate back to the shallow creek arms. We fish alot of long points, humps and deep brush. We also starting to have a significant amount of laydowns to fish thanks to a few DNR/COE projects that I am heavily involved with where we are dropping over 1500 trees yearly into the water for fish habitat and shoreline conservation (to prevent erosion).  

A Gizzard Shad tail (Trout of the South) sticking out of the gullet of a nice 4lb spot. Notice the small size of the mouth!!

Cal: What do you do when you reach a good spot, to maximize your chances of getting these fish?  

Bucca: By FAR the key is BOAT POSITION. Even to this day it has been a constant struggle to get that perfect boat position to avoid getting too close. It's easier to do while fishing points and humps but it's still a tough deal. It gets even harder with visible structure believe it or not.  

Let me explain. Spots are notorious followers and also very notorious for slapping the bait and playing with it. I honestly believe some of the best topwater anglers alive are spotted bass anglers because it takes an extreme amount of patience to watch a five or six pound spot hit a topwater four, five and six times without getting hooked. If you set the hook on the initial topwater explosion, you will lose everytime due to their playful nature. So due to the fact that spots like to follow baits and slap at the bait you need to give them as much room as possible. So SUPER long and accurate casts are mandatory to give them room and time to commit to your offering. Lets face it if you get one of those following and playful %$#*!$* Spots on a short cast youíre going to bring him right within site of the boat and he's going to see you standing in your boat and swim away. This is the story of my life! I have honestly seen seven pound spots following my bait that I might have caught but didnít due to not having good boat position.  

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