Join me in getting to know Virginia angler Ian Branson. We learn in this Dock Talk 365 Angler Profile interview all about Ian’s approach to tournament and recreational largemouth bass fishing.
First of all, tell us about the new boat.
I got a 2013 Z119 powered by a 225 ProXS. It’s a big upgrade from my first boat which was a 1999 Nitro with only a 75 hp tracker. My latest boat before the z119 was a R81vs. It was a serious upgrade from the nitro and had been great up until the computer issues late last year.
The new Ranger is only a foot longer than my previous Ranger. I had been in the market for awhile after paying off my other boat. I started to get desperate when we couldn’t find out what the issue was with my original Ranger. I looked at new and used boats. I finally stumbled across an older gentleman that bought the z119 brand new but unfortunately had some health issues. I was able to get a used boat practically brand new. The motor only had 7 hours when I bought it!
You fish a lot of tournaments. When did you first get into tournament fishing?
I’ve been tournament fishing for about 6 years now, but this is the 3rd year that I’ve really been fishing as a serious competitor.
What was you best tournament?
I’d have to say my best tournament ever was the Region 4 TBF Championship on Smith Mountain Lake in October 2016. It was an extremely tough day for everyone, I was only able to get four keeper bites but two of them were 6 pounds apiece.
I was able to take home both the win and big fish. It’s been my biggest money win yet of my tournament career. I started putting money on every open or benefit tournament big or small weekday or weekend it didn’t matter. I was hooked by the competition.
How was 2017 overall?
2017 started off strong, winning some tournaments early. It seemed like the rest of the year I couldn’t get all of the pieces put together, finishing just outside the money most tournaments. I was still able to finish top 10 in our region to qualify for the State team which I had never done as a boater before.
How has 2018 started for you for tournament fishing?
So far 2018 has been great. I was able to cash a few checks early in the year in January and February. As tournament season kicked off I was really set back with boat problems. It had been in and out of the shop and left me stranded during a few of my bigger money tournaments. Since getting my new boat, I’ve been very consistent finishing in the money and making up some serious points I missed out on while my boat was down.
I see you fish night tournaments. What do you consider the biggest differences between a night tournament and a day tournament?
Night fishing is a totally different atmosphere than day tournaments. It’s tough for a lot of anglers because you really have to be dialed in and be confident in your equipment. Fishing at night is not only knowledge of the body of water but knowing how you and your equipment preforms.
You need to know where each cast is going and how far. Fishing at night means no light. Using light will spook the fish. I would say that is the most difficult factor.
During the summer I think night tournaments are safer for the fish because of the lower water temperatures and less boat traffic. Both of those reasons lead to dead fish and most of the tournaments I fish they will not be weighed.
In order to prepare for night tournaments, you have to know the lake and know how to navigate the areas you’re fishing. You can’t rely on graphs or any other navigation which makes it dangerous.
What do you consider your top 3 confidence tournament baits?
Depending on the water temperature, I have a select few confidence baits. Without the conditions or water temperature perfect, I won’t throw them.
One confidence bait that’s always tied on my deck is a football jig. There’s never a time during the year that fish aren’t eating jigs, shallow or deep. You can flip it, crawl it, swim it, or stroke it.
If the water temp is above 50, I always have a topwater handy. Topwater is my absolute favorite way to catch them, which sometimes throws a tournament for me knowing I could catch them other ways to fill the limit but getting one bite makes it worth it.
Sometimes bass anglers avoid fishing in the winter with low water temps and inclement weather, but some of my heaviest bags have been when the eyes of my rod are freezing up and every part of my body is numb. In these conditions I like to throw a jig or jerkbait. During this time is when you can typically catch your best fish. Cold weather is not usually quantity, but the quality of the fish is absolutely worth the hardships.
What are your top 2 favorite tournament waters in Virginia?
Smith Mountain Lake is hands down my favorite lake to fish when money is on the line because that’s where I’ve won the most money. I know the entire lake like the back of my hand. I have certain areas that I can fish any time of the year in any condition.
My second favorite would have to be the Chickahominy River because it’s a tidal water where the fish are always shallow. I tend to fish shallow everywhere I go and in almost every condition.
A day of just going out for fun fishing in Virginia for largemouth…where are you going?
I’d have to say Smith Mountain Lake again because there’s just about every type of structure you could want to fish. Whether you want to master a certain technique or learn a new bait, there are quality fish from the bank to all the way off the shore.
Even fishing Smith Mountain so regular I am still learning new areas and techniques every outing. Smith Mountain may not be known for trophy bass, but you may see it more in the near future. As anglers, out of our own pocket, we stocked 61,000 F-1 Tiger Bass. As biologists keep up with their progress over the past three years the state has finally seen enough results to fund stocking these fish in 2018 and for years to come.
These bass grow faster, larger, and more aggressive than the native largemouth in the lake currently. The bass that were stocked three years ago are almost a full two inches longer and up to a pound to two pounds heavier than the native bass that hatched in the lake the same year. The lake has been on the ups for the past five years with average winning weights in the mid 20’s. I believe it will only get better and more popular over the next 5 to 10 years.
A day of just going out for fun fishing in Virginia for smallmouth…where are you going?
Although I fish a lot of different reservoirs, I don’t usually catch many smallmouth. I’d say the best smallmouth action in the state would be the South Holston Reservoir in Virginia and Tennessee. I’ve only weighed in 2 limits of smallmouth in my entire fishing career, one being there and the other being at Philpott in Henry, Virginia.
I love catching brown fish, but they tend to be culled out by largemouth in Virginia. Don’t get me wrong there have been plenty of 20 plus pound bags of brown fish weighed in on Smith Mountain Lake, but I have never found that pattern yet.
If I wasn’t tournament fishing and wanted to catch brown ones near me I would have to say the New River and James River are absolutely loaded with them. Its not uncommon to catch 20 to 40 smallmouth on a half day float.
Do you have any sponsors or pro staff companies?
I don’t currently have any sponsors or pro staff companies. However, I’m fortunate enough to have friends and family that help me out in different ways like tires for my trailer and truck. As that doesn’t sound like a very helpful sponsor, you don’t realize how much wear and tear you put on a vehicle fishing up and down the east coast.
I blame myself for not obtaining sponsorship’s due to my lack in effort. I could take the time to advertise, record catches, and bait reviews but I haven’t had the time between working 40 to 60 hours a week and traveling every weekend fishing tournaments.
Thanks Ian. Will be following your success in the new boat on Instagram.