Last week, we discussed the X-factor in tournament fishing, noting how some competitors seem to lock into the secret far more often than plausible. This week, we’ll do the same for the rest of us mortals.
In a piece entitled “Light ‘Em Up”, found in the March/April edition of In-Fisherman Magazine, editor-in-chief Doug Stange discusses how slight variations in lures and retrieves can turn an otherwise bleak fishing day into a memorable one. As evidenced by his writing, for some time now Stange has been experimenting with going against the grain of traditional fishing methods, often employing large, aggressive tactics for fish that are tentative to bite. Contrary to common practice, Stange has found that going big, and away from finesse, can often be the key.
I found the recent article interesting and immediately began drawing parallels to my own fishing. We often hear the term “reaction bite” in our bass fishing circles, as if we’re forcing the fish to feed out of defense or territoriality, but I wonder how often we’re wrong in such thinking.
A case in point: I vividly remember fishing a number of small cattail clumps amongst a great deal of angling pressure. My first pass through the reeds yielded a few decent fish, but the bite quickly ended. Switching from a typical-size plastic to a monster 1-ounce jig turned things around instantly. Despite fishing in shallow, clear water, the big jig fired the largemouth up, and the result was a day I’ll never forget. Nearby anglers, employing standard practices, never caught on.
It’s likely we’ve all had similar experiences. Big cranks, monster spoons and Alabama Rigs have recently allowed anglers to tap into a realm of fishing they never would have believed.
Another example: During the infancy of national tournaments on the Great Lakes, TV show host Mark Zona and others employed huge jerkbaits to catch monster smallmouth and cash in. At a time when most of the bass fishing culture was getting initiated into Northern bonzebacks with "fairy wands" and tube jigs, the west Michigan crew was grinding them on pike plugs.
So what is it about certain techniques that seem to trigger big fish to bite when others fail? Is it just a matter of digging out the biggest bait in the tackle box and believing in it?
Leaning on science to solve the mystery, it’s important to understand one core principle of bass fishing: The larger the lure, the larger it’s imperfections. Such gives explanation as to why, in general, small, discreet lures catch fish more often than large, gaudy baits. For example, it’s much more difficult for a bass to find a flaw in a 4-inch grub than a 10-inch plug.
This also points to the reason why live baits seem to work regardless of size. Here in Florida, I fish quite a bit with huge golden shiners. Often times, bass in the 2- to 3-pound class will attack a bait weighing nearly a pound itself, yet those same bass will never hit a lure the size of the shiner. The live bait presents no negatives, while the lure is full of such, as immediately evident to the bass.
So how do we explain today’s leading principle, that “cranking up the volume” can often lead to phenomenal fishing with artificial lures?
Perhaps the answer, or at least part of it, lies in more studies conducted by In-Fisherman staff in the field. In many recent articles in the publication, it's been suggested that game fish, especially bass, use their lateral line and sensory mechanisms around the head for feeding purposes. Specifically, the theory is that the eyes of the fish do most of the work – the fish see a baitfish, see that it’s shiny, see how it swims and pursue. But once a bass locks in on its prey, these same theories suggest it’s the hydrodynamic “feel” of the prey that triggers a bite. Perhaps this explains why so often bass follow our lures but don’t commit. They like what they see; they chase what they see. But the bass don’t get the right feel.
And maybe this helps explain why, often at the most unlikely of times, a switch to a large, aggressive tactic yields phenomenal fishing. Maybe it’s the feel rather than the sight of the large lures and fast retrieve that the bass just can’t resist.
In any case, we’ll likely never figure it out. But it sure is fun to try.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)