June 2012 B.A.S.S Times Feature Article
The Lunker Hunters: Sean Rush
June 2012 B.A.S.S. Times
Ken Duke Senior Editor B.A.S.S. Publications
When a bass fishing legend calls to tell you about an angler who is "head and shoulders above every other bass guide" he's ever fished with and that he has "the best system for targeting big bass" he's ever seen, you take notice. That's exactly what Glen Lau, maker of the classic film "Bigmouth" and member of more angling halls of fame than you can shake a flippin' stick at, said about Sean Rush.
Rush, 40, has been a bass guide on Central Florida waters since he was 17 years old and has been fishing there since he could hold a rod and reel. His grandfather, the late Gene Moore, guided on the same fisheries for decades and tutored his young protégé, so Rush has a strong pedigree to go along with his great skills and passion for the sport.
Florida has been famous for trophy bass for as long as anglers have chased them. It probably reached the height of its fame in the 1960s and '70s. Back then, guides like John McClanahan and Dennis Rahn guaranteed a 10 pounder or the trip was free. Things aren't that easy today, but Florida still produces more double-digit largemouths than any other state, and Rush produces as many or more of them than any other guide. He even has a "no fish-no pay" guarantee that he's never had to honor.
If you're a "purist" about your trophy bass fishing and consider the use of live bait or trolling to be "unsporting" or "unfair," stop reading now. But if you're serious about catching big bass, especially big bass in heavy vegetation like that found in Florida, you'll want to hear what Rush has to say. He believes live golden shiners will out-produce artificials by a wide margin, and he's more interested in catching big bass than looking down his nose at methods others disdain. Besides, the effective use of live bait can be just as demanding, just as exacting and just as technical as the use of artificials.
Rush's clients have caught more than 400 largemouths weighing better than 10 pounds. His personal best came from Lake Jumper in the Ocala National Forest and weighed 14 pounds, 4 ounces. The best fish boated by one of his clients weighed 13-1, and when he's guiding, his customers do all the catching.
Virtually every one of those giants came on shiners, and most of them came from Rodman Reservoir. Rush has been extremely successful, and Rodman seems to be getting better with age. In the first two months of 2012 on Rodman, his clients boated 3,350 bass. One hundred fifty-one of them weighed better than 7 pounds; 95 were over 8 pounds; 40 were better than 9 pounds and 19 cracked double digits, with the best weighing 12-2.
A live bait primer
"Golden shiners are God's perfect trophy bass bait," says Rush without a hint of hyperbole. "They're the right size, relatively easy to get, hearty on the end of a hook, and lunkers love 'em. They're better than artificials for several reasons. First of all, they're what the bass actually want to eat. Second, you can put them in places you could never get an artificial. Third, they send out vibrations and other signals to the bass you can't duplicate with a lure. And finally, the shiner can send signals to an experienced angler that will tell him a lot about the spot he's fishing. No other bait of any kind can do all that."
When Rush has a guide trip booked, he starts the day with 8 to 14 dozen shiners ranging from 7 to 10 inches. He purchases the bait (his busy guiding schedule doesn't permit him to catch them himself) for about $14 per dozen, though in some areas of Florida the going rate is $22 per dozen for the same shiners.
To keep his bait lively all day, Rush has a custom-built bait tank in his 20-foot SeaArk Super Jon that holds 112 gallons of well-aerated water. "It's no problem to keep them alive and doing well all day long," he says.
There are three ways that Rush rigs shiners. The most basic is "free-lining." It utilizes just the shiner and a 4/0 Eagle Claw 084 hook that he runs through the middle of the upper back of the baitfish, just aft of the midpoint. This is his rigging method when he wants his bait to swim near the top and draw attention by struggling near the surface.
When he wants to put a shiner in and around heavy or matted vegetation, Rush often fishes it beneath a 2-inch egg-shaped Styrofoam float pegged to his line just a few feet above the hook. For this rigging, he puts the same Eagle Claw hook just fore of the anal fin on the underside of the shiner. He's careful to run the hook through the shiner below its lateral line to reduce bleeding and keep the bait active. By keeping the hook point underneath the shiner, he avoids hang-ups when the baitfish swims under a canopy of vegetation.
Finally, there are times when Rush trolls a shiner to cover more water than other methods allow. Then he takes the same 4/0 hook and runs it up through the bottom lip of the shiner and out one of the baitfish's nostrils. This will keep it moving straight and looking natural when pulled behind the boat.
The first two rigging methods keep the hook toward the back of the shiner. This is important because after the bass strike the bait, they flip it around in their mouths to swallow it head first. Though the shiner is a soft-rayed fish, bass instinctively know better than to swallow them tail first and risk the dorsal fin getting lodged in their throats. With the hook pointing backward, it's headed just the right direction once the bait gets flipped. It's why Rush waits three to five seconds after the strike to set the hook — hard and with both hands.
The bait whisperer
"I can tell everything about my shiner just by watching my line," Rush says. "I like to make an underhand lob to get the shiner into the right area, then I'll strip off three or four arms lengths of line, kind of like pulling out a backlash, to give the shiner some slack to move. If the shiner starts to swim back toward the boat, it's a good indication you're in the right place and he's trying to get away from a bass. The same is true if the shiner tries to bury up in cover. When that happens you have to gently pull the shiner and get it back in position where a bass can hit it."
When Rush wants to reposition his shiner, he does it with a little reverse psychology. By tightening his line slightly and pulling the shiner in one direction, he can usually make the shiner resist and swim back in the opposite direction. All the while, he's got his eyes on the line, the float (if he's using one), the vegetation and any sign of bass movement.
"If the shiner's getting nervous and going to the surface or trying to get into heavy cover, something good is about to happen. Big bass will usually 'roll' the weeds when they come out to get the shiner," he explains. "Then they'll strike and head for deep water."
Tips for 10s
Rush has four key tips to help the average angler catch the bass of a lifetime.
(1) "Use live bait. It gives you a much better chance of catching a big bass. When you use artificials, it places a lot of emphasis on casting, presentation, boat control and other factors that are more likely to scare a big fish away than put one in the boat."
(2) "Go big. I like 7- to 10-inch shiners for most of my trophy bass fishing. You know what they say, 'big bait for big fish.' I believe it's true. A large person doesn't want half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if they can get a 16-ounce steak, and a big largemouth doesn't want a little minnow if she can have a 10-inch shiner."
(3) "Use heavy gear. I like the Shimano Curado 300E on a 7 1/2-foot Shimano Compre heavy-action rod. For line, I use 20-pound-test Berkley Big Game in moss green. You need stout tackle to turn these fish and get them to the boat."
(4) "Slow down. Trophy bass didn't get big by making mistakes. That's why relatively few are caught on artificials despite the fact that most anglers are using them. If you feel like you've found a good spot, be patient. Really big bass will often watch a bait and stalk it longer than other bass. While most guys will give a spot five minutes, I'll usually give it 20. If I've waited that long without a bite or my bait getting nervous, it's time to move."
To book a trip for a big Florida bass, call Sean Rush at (352) 843-0939 or check out his website at www.floridatrophybass.com.
We are a full time Florida Bass Fishing Guide Service and fishing charter service. We have been guiding clients to trophy bass all over Florida for over 25 years.