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posted: 7/25/2012 2:37 PM

Rock bass deserve more than a sneer

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It all began when I lived in Madison, Wis., but kept my fishing boat moored on Lake Geneva.

I was a live bait aficionado most of the time, especially when I was chasing walleyes and smallmouth bass. And Geneva was famous for both.

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I caught my share of smallies but didn't do that well in the walleye department unless I fished certain areas at night.

And then I discovered rock bass, those red-eyed little devils that played havoc with my nightcrawlers.

Many of the "rockies" I caught ran between 8-inches and 10-inches.

Many of the guides, including Spencer Petros, didn't have any use for these bait stealers, but I was willing to be more "liberal" in my thinking.

It was on a trophy smallmouth outing with Babe Winkelman on Mille Lacs Lake in north-central Minnesota when my eyes really opened all the way.

The smallie bite went from fantastic to zero because of a massive Mayfly hatch. The lake's surface was carpeted with the jumbo snacks, but we kept fishing. The smallies must have gorged themselves on the Mayflies and chose to ignore what we were serving.

As the boat drifted over a rather shallow rock reef, my spinning rod doubled over. The rod tip kept vibrating like a guitar string. The fish came to the surface after a short fight, and lo and behold it was a jumbo rock bass. I'm talking about a fish close to 2-pounds.

It has been my experience that many anglers become thoroughly disgusted once a rock bass bite goes into high gear and invades the usual large and smallmouth bass hangouts.

Not me. I enjoy the action because it's readily available. At times the bite is hot-and-heavy, because the schools can be quite large and aggressive. The Mille Lacs rockies have a tendency to grow larger than those fish that inhabit lakes down here.

And now it's summer, 2012.

I didn't fill the boat's gas tank, nor did I even hook the trailer to the truck the other day. My right arm continued to ache as the result of being involved in a recent accident. I didn't want to push my luck, so I instead drove to Lake Geneva to meet a friend who lives there and suggested we do some shore fishing.

He also suggested we take along some patio chairs from his back yard and walk out to the long dock a stone's throw from his place.

Out came the nightcrawlers and leeches. I had one rod and reel setup with a Lindy Rig and another tricked out with an ultralight slip float and tiny hook.

The amazing thing about Lake Geneva is that quite often anglers will find 30-foot depths right off the end of those long docks. That was particularly true in this case.

I sent my first cast and the Lindy Rig about 35-feet beyond the dock's end. It wasn't more than a minute before I felt a light tap. I opened the bail on the reel and allowed some line to run free. I set the hook, and felt a sharp response up through the rod.

The first rockie of the day measured close to 12-inches. My friend and I caught and released close to 4 dozen scrappy rockies along with two smallmouth. He kept four fish for dinner, and I went home a happy camper.

The biggest problem I've experienced with rock bass is not the fish, but rather the fisherman, the person catching these willing critters. Sneers and jeers, I call it.

I've known several Geneva guides who became enraged with rock bass when largemouth and smallmouth aren't cooperating. I've seen rockies going after Little Action Macs, Mini-Mites, Power Baits, and other artificial offerings.

Petros will most certainly throw me a smirk or two if he reads this because he's dedicated to finding big largemouth for his guide customers.

For me, I'm not overly enamored with them, but I'd take a rock bass over no bites at all any time under the hot sun.

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