The 2x2 Matrix, A Simplified Approach To Choosing Your Arsenal
by Rich Troxler
Been awhile since I posted. It’s that time of year where time management becomes problematic at best LOL.
A short time ago, one of our members asked me to elaborate on something I had referenced in one of my articles. That something was the 2x2 matrix I use when I think about what to load my plug bag with. In short, the 2x2 matrix is based on the idea that bass are either looking up, or they’re looking down, and they’re either on large bait, or they’re on small bait.
So when he asked me to explain it, I endeavored to give him a quick answer. Except there was none to be had. It then occurred to me that the quote “behind every simple solution, lies a complex reality” applies to this approach, as it does in many aspects involved in the pursuit of Roccus. Translated, this simple approach assumes a level of knowledge of your local bait patterns. And bait patterns are, IMHO, the most important element in getting on a bite.
So how does this 2x2 matrix work?
I can’t tell you what plugs will work for your area, so I won’t even bother. Ultimately, your plug choices will be based on what you know about your local bait patterns throughout the year, what plugs you are most comfortable with, and what profiles you wish to add to your arsenal (read develop confidence in). What I can do is give you my entire seasonal approach on how I select my baits/profiles, utilizing the 2x2 matrix as it pertains to my area (South Shore of Lung Guyland). Hopefully it will give you some insights into how to approach your area throughout the year.
Early Spring (beginning around mid-April)
My neck of the woods is blessed with a bay system that stretches from Queens to Southampton and includes 5 inlets, well over a dozen bridges, many miles of open ocean beach, and more fishable structure than a person can get to know in a lifetime. And throughout the season, all of these places will hold fish at one time or another. For me, in the early spring, it’s all about the deep bay locales. This is where the water warms first and where the food chain kicks into action first.
Almost all of the early fish I catch are non-migrating fish that have wintered over in the bay, and the action is all centered on the outgoing tide. It is important to note this because it factors heavily in my choice of plugs. Why? Because the outgoing water pulls the warmest water off the flats and drains and into the channels. And because warm water is lighter than cold water, it will stay in the upper water column. And the microorganisms that fuel the food chain will first appear in the warm water, or upper water column.
So you get a microorganism bloom in the upper water column, the local non-migrating white bait (spearing, etc) start feeding on the microorganisms, and the bass feed on the white bait. A basic food chain event. At night, all you need is your ears to know if fish are around LOL
So right off the bat, this tells me that those fish are looking up and they are on small bait, and I limit my choice of profiles to those that will match those conditions. For me, this would be Bomber long-A’s or A-salts, 5 ¼” SS needlefish, and teasers in front of either. Colors depend on the moon phase or cloud cover. I stop there and don’t give it a second thought, because I know that those simple combinations cover that portion of the 2x2 matrix and have produced countless bass over the years, during those bites.
So let’s move forward several weeks and get into early May. At this point, adult bunker usually settle in and make their presence known throughout much of the bay areas I fish. They are obviously a “large” bait (one quarter of the 2x2 matrix) so they represent a new dynamic that needs to be considered when I load my bag.
In addition, there are locale issues to be resolved, because at this time of year you will have some bass moving along the open beaches, on their way to where ever their particular imprints are taking them. Some filter into the bays, following the bunker in, or seeking other prey, but usually taking up residence at some place for the spring. Some just pass by heading north, providing a brief opportunity to intercept them along the beach.
My personal preference at this particular point in time, is to pursue the bass that are taking up residence in the bay. The reasons are many, but they are for another post at another time. Suffice it to say that for the areas I fish during this period, I need to choose my profiles according to the 2x2 matrix.
So what do I know about the conditions and bait. I know that the bite(s) are still centered on the warmer outgoing water, which means that the food chain is still predominantly in the upper water column. I still have white bait and now, I have bunker, all feeding on the same microorganism blooms. So plug that into the matrix and you come up with, the fish are looking up and they are on either small bait or large bait.
So I load my bag with same profiles from the previous scenario, and throw in a large bottle plug and a metal lip and hit the road. Once again, colors depend on moon phase and/or cloud cover. Now let’s add a new dynamic, that being wind. Bunker feed into the wind and white bait is blown with the wind. As I work my way through my catalog of bay spots, I pick those best fished for the prevailing wind conditions, and match my profiles for the bait I expect to find there.
Late Spring into Early Summer
This is a busy time with lot’s going on. The water temps in the bay have warmed considerably, so in many places the preferred water temps for both prey and resident bass, are varied and deeper. There is also a huge influx of ground fish under way, as they set up in their spawning or summering grounds. The ocean is also alive with a variety of early season prey items and big hungry migrating bass. But the matrix still determines what I fish with and once again, conditions have a whole lot to do with what I ultimately choose to put in my bag.
Let’s start in the bay. The areas around the bridges really start to wake up at this time. This is fast, deep, and many times, snaggy water. As deep as 42 feet in some spots, but mostly around 15-25 feet. Because it is fast and deep, the bass are not likely to be swimming around expending a lot of energy looking for something to eat. They are most likely laying low, behind structure, feeding opportunistically on the influx of new prey items, as well as the already existing bait.
So if conditions, or personal choice, find me fishing these locales, then I don’t bother stocking my bag with my earlier choices. I plug what I know into the matrix, and make my choices accordingly. The bass will be looking down, and it might be big bait, or it might be small bait. Now I’m thinking bucktails with #70 pork rinds, and lead-heads matched to slender rubber bodies for my small bait profiles, and 9” Tsunami or Storm swim shads for my big deep profiles. Skip the rest and fish them hard.
But if three days of hard southerlies put the adult bunker up on some channel flats and pinned at my feet, then I ditch the bucktails, adjust my profiles accordingly, and take my best shot. See where I’m headed here?
How about any of the 5 inlets? Ground fish and bait items are pouring into the bays at this time of year, with bass hot on their tails. And what better place exists to concentrate prey and predator, than an inlet? I fish these much the same as around bridges, because the conditions are much the same. The fish are looking down and the bait can be either large or small.
Now let’s really test the matrix and introduce a new condition, water clarity. On the open beach, water clarity can become an issue after a storm. In the bay, it can become a problem during algae blooms, otherwise known as red tides or brown tides, depending on the algae. Let’s start in the bay.
Something I learned from a diver friend of mine is that bay algae blooms, which happen deep in the bay first, and then wash toward the inlets during ocean exchanges, happen almost entirely in the upper water column, otherwise known as the warmest water. So when faced with this condition, forget fishing shallow water with top water profiles and focus on fishing the deepest water you can find. The bait and fish will also locate to those areas. Confine your profiles to the looking down, big bait, small bait concept and you’ll at least have a chance.
How about the open beach after a 3-day blow, with the water being the color of your morning coffee? Predator fish have highly attuned senses, so when sight fails them, they rely on some of their other senses. First sight. You can try bright colored plugs and bucks, parrot and chartreuse come to mind here, but there are better options most times.
For starters, look around. What do you see? Are there are a ton of washed up surf clams? Are gulls happily feeding on the cracked ones? Well maybe it’s time to stow the plug bag for a couple days and switch gears to bait. This is what I call a “rooting pattern” and it happens more often than most think. It fits into the matrix as, they are looking down and are eating a specific bait that opportunity has provided, or at other times, basically eating anything LOL.
Some bass are just rooters by nature. How many times have you kept a bass that you assumed was feeding on other items, cut open the gut, and found nothing but crabs. How many times have you caught a bass and it’s eyes are pointing down, and I mean fixed directly toward the ground. These are habitual rooters that set up on structure and/or fertile ground and literally never look up. Their entire feeding strategy is focused solely on what they find on the bottom.
Their matrix is easy LOL. They are looking down, period. Doesn’t matter what the size of the bait is, they’ll eat it. Lizardfish yum, crab yum, worm yum, flounder big yum, nothing ever more that 6 inches off the bottom. You can cast your entire bag over the heads of these fish, through an entire tide, and smell nothing but skunk when you leave in the morning. This is where chunk bait and live eels come into play. Granted, these are not plugs, but more big fish are caught on these two items, than all the plugs combined, so if catching bass, especially big bass, is part of your agenda, then factor bait and lives eels into the matrix where conditions dictate.
As for the rest of the season, it’s pretty much the reverse of what I described above. Bait will leave the bays according to the conditions nature programmed them with. Some will head directly offshore, others will migrate along the beach, it all depends on what bait and where you are. The conditions I presented above are just a sampling from my own back yard. Your territory will most likely differ.
The key element here is trying to match a few of your profiles to the bait, structure, and conditions prevalent at the time you go fishing. This entails having a working knowledge of your specific local bait patterns and breaking the baits down into large and small. It also involves understanding how conditions throughout the season affect the prevailing baits, and the predator/prey relationship. The last step of the process is to plug what you know into the 2x2 matrix and place your trust in a hand full of profiles that match the conditions.
Whether in fishing, or in business, or in any endeavor, I am a fan of the 90% rule. I try to take a complex set of conditions and break them down into a series of manageable concepts, or actions, that resolve 90% of the requirement, and then tweak from there. Every fisherman ultimately develops his/her own style of fishing, and it’s all good. The one thing I will say about this sport is that there are no absolutes, no hard and fast rules, and it can, and will humble us all.
As always, I welcome your viewpoints and comments, and thank you in advance for those you choose to offer.