Mark Zona: Hunting the Elusive Donkey

Published Spring 2014

Photo of Mark Zona holding two smallmouth bass
Mark Zona loads up on big smallmouth regularly.(James Overstreet photo)

I'm a freak outdoor show watcher. When I watch the Outdoor Channel, I’m amazed at people like Michael Waddell, Lee and Tiffany and Chris Brackett who target then harvest big deer each fall.

There's a reason they shoot deer that big. No. 1, they put themselves in places to shoot deer that are big. The other thing is it’s that time of year when the biggest deer are the most susceptible to being shot. It's when they're most active.

You don't drive around from February to August and see giant bucks. There's a two- to three-week window around the rut when those deer are harvested. The same thing goes when trying to catch the biggest bass of your life.

In the back of Bassmaster magazine, I always read the trophy page, where everyday anglers send in their big catches. I also check out for anglers’ big bass and BoatUS ANGLER’s Braggin’ Board. When you see the really giant bass caught, it's generally this time of year, from early spring to late spring.

That window of opportunity is better than the rest. Now you can go out the rest of the year and catch a big bass, but spring is the prime time to catch a giant. To target the biggest bass, you have to have that mindset.

Most everyone has been penned up with this winter, not being able to get out of the house. Now you want to go out and catch as many fish as you can, and spring is one of the best times to do that. But the minute you decide that you are going after quantity, rarely are you going to chase down the biggest bass in the lake.

To catch the biggest, you need to fish for it. You need to have the mindset of one of those big-game hunters; that you're going out potentially for one bite: The Donkeys of the water world.

The other side of it, at least in my history, is the biggest bass in spring sometimes come on the nastiest days with sleet, snow and wind. Chase the wind, it’s one of the key, key deals in spring. We all want to be comfortable in the boat, not fighting the wind, but there is something about the wind that absolutely ignites the biggest bass in the lake.

Unfortunately, you’re going to be uncomfortable the majority of the time, but you’re fishing in an area of the lake that is going to be active.

Because of that, do not be scared to throw the biggest stuff you own. If you like throwing a half-once lipless crankbait, throw a three-quarter ounce lipless crankbait. If you like throwing a quarter-ounce swim jig, throw a half-ounce swim jig. If you like throwing a four-inch jerkbait, throw a six- or seven-inch jerkbait. Up your odds on a giant by upsizing your tackle.

Last but not least, and this is probably the most important thing, just be patient. That is the No. 1 key to catching a big bass.

Just like those hunters, every big bass angler must have the mindset you're fishing for one bite, and waiting out your biggest bass ever will be worth it.

Previous Articles by Mark Zona

Mark Zona: Don't Be That Guy

Photo of Bassmaster Elite angler Jeremy Starks fighting rough water on Lake ErieI have one recurring nightmare. It dates to the first time it happened to me – a bass boat stuffing through a wave. It’s a blessing and a curse having that nightmare, because it taught me what not to do. I learned it from “that guy.” Anybody reading this article has been in a boat with that guy.

I was in my late teens and I fished with a guy on the Great Lakes who would absolutely, positively run rough water like a bat out of hell, like he was trying to get to the edge of earth. Read More

Mark Zona: Pick Your Poison

Photo of Mark Zona with a nice catch of smallmouth bassSmallmouth bass are the only reason I live in the state of Michigan. My wife would not disagree with that. Sure it’s a nice state, blah, blah, blah, but there’s a lot of nice states. There’s not a lot of nice states that have the population of smallmouth bass that Michigan has. Yep, there’s a few. I'm not discarding the fish in New York and Minnesota. And Wisconsin, let’s not leave them out. Strange folks, but good smallmouth. But smallmouth are by far the reason I live in the state of Michigan. Myself and my family endure incredibly harsh winters to chase that fish. There’s just something about them. Read More

Mark Zona: Smell The Mud

Photo of a bullfrogI pretty much need to start this one by saying I’m not a very sentimental person. I’m not. I’m really not. I think a lot of my family members would probably agree with that. But that’s a weird way to start this blog.

What’s weirder are the things that get me out of the Michigan winter funk. Generally, I go into it right after Thanksgiving. I can’t sugar coat this enough -- I do not like cold weather. Not at all. I don’t like snow. I don’t like ice. Yeah, I grew up ice fishing, but I think really the only reason I did it so much was to consume time. And I was fishing. This might sound strange, but to me spring is always like the start of life is coming. It’s all right around the corner. Read More

Mark Zona: Color Me Amazed

Photo of Mark Zona and his cameramanThe Bassmasters has been my favorite TV show since I was 9 or 10.What's weird is, I can still remember some of my favorite episodes from the early 80s, where I was like, "Wow, that's the coolest thing in the world!"

I was an oddity growing up in Chicago because none of my friends watched anything that had to do with bass fishing. That being said, one of the most-asked questions I get, whether I’m at a seminar or an Elite Series event or wherever, is how does the whole slick production comes together? Read More

Mark Zona: Two Days That Stick In My Mind

Photo of a man with a fishing lure stuck in his thumbThe rash of anglers getting hooked in B.A.S.S. tournaments of late brings to mind two days that sucked. Well, one for sure. And what I take from both, besides some scars, is a lesson learned.

The first was probably 20 years ago when I was getting ready for a tournament in Michigan. It was one of those magical “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” deals, a calm summer day where every single pleasure boat was out and I was in the boat alone. Read More

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BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff member, Bassmaster Series co- host, and host of "Zona's Awesome Fishing Show". Click Here to read Mark Zona's blog