PAMPA, Texas -- Dallas businessman T. Boone Pickens bought and groomed his Mesa Vista ranch for quail hunting, and it probably deserves the title "world's greatest quail hunting ranch."
Though Pickens readily admits he's not much of a fisherman, he took advantage of the enormous Ogallala Aquifer hidden just under the surface in the Canadian River bottom, constructing a chain of lakes that seems unworldly in this otherwise sere landscape.
What was once a busy place during hunting season has thus become a year-round outdoor playground -- a veritable Disney World for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching.
It's also a great place to test fishing lures. The fish are easy to locate and there are lots of them, so you know that you're showing the lure to fish on a regular basis. It's a matter of whether the fish will bite.
By the same token, you can figure out new ways to fish old lures, which is what my wife, Emilie, and I did recently.
Since they first came onto the market, I've been a huge fan of topwater plastic frogs. These are lures designed to buzz across the surface with their legs kicking like Michael Phelps swimming for Olympic gold.
There's something about the fast-moving frog that elicits explosive strikes from largemouth bass, but only when the bass are in an aggressive mode. When Emilie and I fished at Mesa Vista, the fish were definitely not aggressive.
That became apparent while I was trying to catch fish by buzzing a frog along the surface in a crystal clear lake. The water was so clear that fish were readily visible, which creates another unusual learning experience.
Bass would turn to look at the surface commotion and maybe even move on a collision course with the speeding lure, only to turn away at the last moment. Out of frustration, I paused the lure near a three-pounder and allowed it to sink. The fish swam up casually, flared its gills and ate the frog.
For whatever reason, the vast majority of those bass did not want the frog fished on the surface. Slow down the retrieve so the lure was swimming beneath the surface like a soft plastic crankbait, and it was a different story.
Another effective subsurface tactic was fishing the frog like a jig, allowing it to sink beside cover, then twitching and swimming it a few feet before letting it sink again.
Since the buzz frogs first became available in the form of a Zoom Horny Toad, I've heard from anglers who fished them beneath the surface, but I was so hung up on the big surface bite that subsurface fishing didn't appeal to me. That's still true as long as the topwater bite works.
Any soft plastic lure can be made to do things it's not designed to do, sometimes with amazing success. I frequently catch fish on a big plastic lizard swum near the surface, for instance. Like the plastic worm, the plastic lizard is intended to be fished with a slip sinker on or near bottom.
My favorite lizard is Strike King's Iguana, a 10-inch, slow-sinking chunk of plastic with a curly tail that undulates whenever the lure is moved. Rigged with an eighth-ounce sinker or no sinker at all, the lizard swims efficiently through thick vegetation without hanging up.
I often get bites well away from the cover, probably from fish that followed the lure until they could no longer resist it. If you stop the retrieve periodically and let the lure sink slowly, that unexpected change of pace often triggers a bite.
These are basic principles that fishermen tend to forget. We all have favorite lures and favorite methods of fishing those old standards. Changing the pace can make a big difference. Of course, it's easier to figure that out when you can see what the fish are doing.