Story by Matt Pangrac - Christie photo courtesy of FLW Outdoors Communications, Lee photo courtesy of LureNet
Moore, OK – Over the past two decades, Oklahoma’s Grand Lake has gained a reputation as one of the best fisheries in the country to fish a Suspending Rogue in early spring. With the Bassmaster Classic kicking off on February 22nd on Grand, there’s a growing buzz that the jerkbait bite could play a critical role in crowning the next Classic champion.
The BASS ZONE caught up with four Classic competitors to get their take on the Rogue, and the role it will play on Grand Lake in the upcoming week:
Jason Christie’s love affair with the Smithwick Rogue dates back to well before he became a fixture at the professional level to the days when he dominated the local tournament scene in Oklahoma.
“When I started fishing Grand Lake with my uncles, there were two things that we did in the early spring,” explained Christie, who posted three consecutive BFL Okie Division victories on Grand in early March of 2006, 2007, and 2008. “If the water was in the bushes we were either flipping or throwing a spinnerbait. If the water wasn’t in the bushes, we were jerking a Rogue.”
While Christie has close to two decades of experience fishing the Rogue, it wasn’t until he spent time in the boat with a close friend that he really realized the Rogue’s potential. “I learned a lot from my uncles and I taught myself quite a bit, but I pretty much beat the bank with a Rogue for the first five or 10 years,” he admitted. “I caught fish, but I was fishing for one or two as opposed to fishing for schools of bass.
“I went fishing with one of my close friends who grew up fishing with Bud Guthrie, the guy who pretty much invented the Suspending Rogue. In an eight hour time span I learned more than I had in the previous 10 years about how the bass react to the bait and where they set up,” Christie divulged.
As Christie experimented over the years with finding the right depth to fish a suspending jerkbait, what cadence and action to employ, what colors proved to be the most productive, and what areas to use the bait, he kept returning to the fact that there was just something magical about the Rogue bite.
“I tried other jerkbaits, but around the Ozarks and in Oklahoma, I kept coming back to the fact that the Rogue just caught bigger fish,” he stated. “I think that one of the main reasons why a Rogue works so well in the early spring is because the shad are big and a Rogue has a slow action that is about as close as you can get to looking like a dying shad. If you throw it in the right places, it’s going to catch the bigger fish in the school.”
He’s quick to point out that while the Rogue may target the bigger fish, getting five bites over the course of the day isn’t a guarantee. “The toughest thing is consistency this time of the year,” he admitted. “It has nothing to do with the actual bait, but instead more to do with the fact that the fish move around and you have to be able to stay on top of them and locate the schools each day.”
Out of the “couple thousand” Rogues that the Oklahoma pro keeps under lock and key, he does have a handful of favorites that have been in his tournament rotation for over a decade. “You can tell by the hook hangers and the scratched up paint that some of them are pretty old,” he said with a chuckle. “I still throw them, and if I hang up one that’s really catching fish I’ll do just about whatever it takes to get it back.”
On the first morning of the Classic, Christie will have one of his “go-to” Rogues ready for battle. “One rod, one Rogue, one color. It’s my ultimate confidence bait this time of the year,” he stated. “If you’re throwing a Rogue in the right places and get five bites over the course of a day, I guarantee that people will be clapping for you when you walk across the weigh-in stage at the Classic.”
Like Christie, 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion Alton Jones also considers a Rogue to be one of his primary weapons in late winter and early spring when the water temperature is anywhere from the upper 30s to the low 50s.
Jones first discovered the magical qualities of the Rogue years ago during a tournament on Lake Seminole, located on the border of Georgia and Florida. “It was one of those tournaments where the water temperature had dropped down to the 40s,” he remembered.
“I was flipping and pitching around the edges of a deepwater hole in a backwater area and my co-angler was throwing a Rogue out in the middle. I chalked it up to luck when he caught his first five-pounder behind me, but it got my attention when he put a second five-pounder in the boat. That was the first time that I realized just how good a Suspending Rogue could be in extremely cold water.”
While he prefers to fish in warmer weather for the simple fact that it’s much more comfortable, when the tournament schedule forces him to launch his boat under extreme conditions, Jones keeps a select stash of Rogues within arm’s reach. “I’ll put it this way,” he explained. “When it’s cold, I throw a Rogue a lot. It’s the ticket when you have the right conditions with cold water and fish that are either shallow or suspended over deep water.”
Jones believes that the Rogue’s effectiveness is in its subtlety. “It’s not a bait that darts wildly from side to side,” he explained. “Extreme cold spells lead to shad kills, and bass are predators that take advantage of dying shad because they’re easy meals. The Rogue does a great job of imitating the action of a dying shad, so when you put it in the mix it becomes the easiest meal of all.”
The Texas pro has a plethora of closely guarded secrets when it comes to fishing a Rogue, but he reluctantly divulged two tips just prior to the Grand Lake Classic. “In clear water, I’ll drop down to 10-pound-test or even 8-pound-test line when I’m throwing a Rogue. It allows me to get the bait a foot or two deeper in the water column,” he explained. “I also like to make really long casts so that the bait spends as much time in the correct zone as possible.”
From past experiences fishing the Rogue in extremely clear water, Jones said a bass will often slowly swim up to the bait as it suspends and hover with its nose an inch away from the offering. “I want my Rogue to have slight positive buoyancy,” he stated. “If it’s rising about an inch every 10 seconds, that subtle movement can be all it takes to trigger a strike.”
In the past, Jones said that it took skill, time, and experience to fashion a Rogue with the perfect action and buoyancy. “That advantage has all but disappeared,” he stated. “Now when you pull one out of the package it’s ready to catch bass in cold water.
“Regardless of the conditions and what happens during my Classic practice on Grand, I’ll have at least two rods on the front deck with Rogues tied on,” he concluded. “You don’t go fishing in cold weather without them. Based on the extended forecast, it’s going to be cold.”
Terry “Big Show” Scroggins also has an affinity for throwing a Rogue in cold water, but the Florida pro isn’t nearly as detailed as Christie and Jones when it comes to the logistics of the bait. “I know that the Rogue is probably going to be a major player for me in the Classic, but I don’t know which ones are going to work and which ones aren’t,” he explained.
“I’ve got an arsenal of them, but I’m not married to any individual bait. If I break one off, I’ll just tie another one on. I have one box filled with a bunch of cool Rogues, so it’s no big deal if I lose one.”
With the recent influx of high-dollar import jerkbaits, Scroggins said that even though the Rogue may not be the topic of discussion at the boat ramp, it remains as one of the most deadly options.
“When the water is in the low to mid 40s, it’s hard to beat a Rogue. The bait doesn’t have a really erratic ‘side-to-side’ action like a lot of the Japanese jerkbaits. It’s subtle, and that’s what the bass prefer in cold water situations. Another big key with the Rogue is the fact that there’s a lot of room to play and tinker with each bait. You can add weight to make the bait drop slowly, change the hooks to make it lighter, and tweak the bait to do different things depending on the water temperature. That’s something that you can’t do with the high-dollar baits,” he explained.
One thing that Scroggins does pay close attention to while fishing a Rogue is line size. “I’ll probably have two or three Rogues tied on at all times throughout the Classic, but I’ll have different line on each rod. I’ll probably have one Rogue tied on 8-pound-test, one tied on 12-pound-test, and one tied on 15-pound-test just for fishing different depths and to create different actions.”
While Christie, Jones, and Scroggins are veteran anglers with years of experience when it comes to fishing a Suspending Rogue, Matt Lee, who will be representing Auburn University as the college angler in the Grand Lake Classic, spent the winter taking a crash course in Rogue fishing.
“Jerkbaits aren’t my favorite lures in my boat, but I like to consider myself to be a versatile angler,” he stated. “I’m not afraid to throw them, and I spent all winter learning how to fish the Rogue because I know that there’s a lot more that goes into it than just the standard ‘jerk, jerk, pause.’”
Even though the water temperatures were up in the 60s this past fall, Lee said that he worked on perfecting his technique with the Rogue, knowing that it would be a player in the Classic. “I gained a lot of confidence throwing it on Lake Martin and Smith Lake. I also threw it a lot when I pre-practiced on Grand Lake in early December.
“I honestly don’t have enough experience to know why the Rogue outfishes other jerkbaits at times, but it has something to do with the body style and the action. It just seems to be a bait that the bass get on, and I’m hoping that they’re on it at Grand next week,” he concluded.