Around this time each year, In-Fisherman magazine releases its Bass Guide – a collection of articles custom-made for bass junkies covering everything from bucket-list destinations to the hottest new techniques. Here is where you’ll find original ideas, rather than the re-hashed norm, and contributions by some of the best minds in bass fishing. The Bass Guide is an anticipated, refreshing read each year; give it a shot, if you haven’t before.
The 2019 edition is no exception, as I found myself thumbing through reports of stuff even I’d never heard of. A usual, my mind, as well as my Tackle Warehouse login, were quickly off and running.
Mixed in with analytical technique comes a little commentary, normally from In-Fish front-man Doug Stange. I’ve expressed my enjoyment for Stange’s teachings here before; he serves as one of the few real story-tellers left in fishing, still capable of exciting the core feelings of anglers.
In any case, Stange has a tendency to grab a theme to his fishing and report his practices and findings as they develop. Often, much of his advanced teachings push the limits of accepted principles, which is a primary reason why I enjoy them so much.
Anyway, this year Stange has continued a theme he’s been reporting on for quite some time: the ability of predator fish to utilize all of their senses when feeding, most notably their sense of feel, as dictated by their lateral line. The article recalls scientific research of “fish footprints”, and how predator fish can follow trails of water displacement created by prey, often long after the prey has left the area.
I found this information incredibly compelling, and I’ll tell you why. Let’s start with a story.
As a teenager with limited time to fish, I was understandably disappointed when we got to the boat ramp. Recent rains had raised the lake level and made the water incredibly dirty. Clarity was a couple of inches, at best.
By the end of the day, my mood had turned around as a buddy and I unlocked the secret to scoring big: pitching magnum jig-and-pigs to shallow cover. Surprisingly, color made no difference, the overall bulk of the bait proving to be the key. I can still remember – some 30 years later – being baffled as to how those bass saw our jigs.
As it turns out, they likely didn’t.
The earlier mentioned research suggests that these “fish footprints” allow predators to determine if a prey fish is injured without even seeing it. It also gives reason to the affinity for bass to track, or follow, certain lures. In fact, even in clear water, it’s suggested that bass are “feeling” their prey when deciding whether or not to strike.
Though still lightly reported by the mainstream fishing media, here is where we may very well see the next revolution in fishing lure design and study. Are there forces at work – far beyond what we know – in terms of lure effectiveness? I believe so.
Think of other examples of feel, as I’ve found in my personal fishing. You likely have dozens more:
• When fishing at night, we’ve all been taught to use dark lures that supposedly silhouette against a lighter sky. Yet, my summertime bass fishing has found that, oftentimes, the best lure is a dark plastic worm fished on the bottom.
• Like any frequent bass angler, I have witnessed numerous times when a single crankbait outperforms identical makes and models by a large margin. We’ve come to accept that such is attributed to a unique wobble, i.e. “footprint.”
• By now, how many of us have visited heavily-fished waters, where catching any sizable bass can be difficult, only to throw out a big swimbait and have a giant follow it back within the first few casts? What is it that’s so unique about these lures?
• And what the heck is going on with lures like the Shad Rap, the original Wiggle Wart and the out of production Bass Pro Shops Swimbait? Despite constant attempts to copy or duplicate these winners, the fact remains that nothing touches the originals.
All of these, perhaps, can be attributed to a difference in water displacement, or this unique “footprint”, as illustrated in the Bass Guide piece. Again, your mind is likely full of other examples.
Where am I going with this? I have no idea, but I can’t wait. For it’s the unknown in bass fishing that really trips my trigger and gives reason to believe that the best is still yet to come.
(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.)