I just finished another fascinating read from In-Fisherman magazine. From what I understand, studies indicate bass are quite capable of learning, and pass their life lessons on to their offspring. Some of the subject matter includes avoidance of fishing lures.
Yes, in a piece by Steve Quinn, we catch up on of a number of tests in both natural and artificial environments that conclude bass are learning to avoid being caught, and have been doing so for some time. The article goes on to summarize that each generation of fish is better equipped for such avoidance, thanks to genetic factors.
Naturally, this is concerning. Will a time come when bass become uncatchable? Not likely. As the article again points out, the catch and release practices of today ensure some suckers are always left in the lake.
But I ponder a missing piece. What about the lures we use to catch those fish? Are they responsible for this conditioning? And how should that influence our selection?
Here’s where I’m at with this, so follow along with me. Scientific study is indicating bass quickly learn when they are being fished for and avoid fishing lures as a result. Yet, as we’ve all seen at some point in our lives, those same bass go bonkers for lures they haven’t experienced prior. A new bait, color, scent or sound is often enough to fool wary fish.
Taking these factors into consideration, I have to assume that “new bait” success comes from the fact that a population of fish has simply not been taught to avoid the fake. Sure, those same fish are educated enough to avoid the same old cranks and spinners, but they can’t say the same about a new creation.
What’s more, each year, more fish are exposed to more lures, while also passing on skeptical traits to their young. So, “new lure syndrome” theoretically wears off faster than ever.
Immediately, I wonder: What about the old stuff? Will there be a time when the lures of yesteryear become the hottest baits of today? There could be support for such logic.
We all have lures that made an early imprint. For me, it was the original floating Rapala. And yet, despite tremendous fish-catching memories, most of us have disregarded some of our favorites, replacing them with swimjigs and spybaits.
Now, according to my logic, there should come a time when these lures are forgotten by the bass, and become new again. I can think of dozens of examples that would fit the bill. Inline buzzbaits. Do-Nothing worms. Jointed minnow plugs. Silver Minnow spoons.
All have been forgotten, but offer an incredibly unique profile and action.
Have you ever caught a big bass on a Jitterbug? Of course, we all have. If you’re like me, you wonder why this lure never comes up in tournament talk when a lure like the Whopper Plopper gets so much ink. You may also find it interesting to know that other “plopping” baits, complete with the spinning tail, were around nearly a hundred years ago.
Spinnerbaits seem to be making a comeback. Coincidence?
Did you hold on to your pork rinds? I swear, if I ever have to buy more pork rind, I’ll scream. I bet I threw away a hundred jars several years ago. But, maybe.
How many bass in your lake, do you think, have ever seen a Slug-Go? A Mann’s Little George? Not too far off from today’s stickbaits and underspins, I’d say. But just far enough.
What happened to plastic lizards? French Frys? I can remember when a neutrally buoyant plastic lizard could catch a bass that wouldn’t bite anything else in the world. I wonder how that will work once fish grow tired of Neko rigs?
In 1983, Larry Nixon used a Gatortail worm to win the Bassmaster Classic. Thirty-six years later, Rick Clunn used the same bait to win the Elite Series event on the St. John’s River. Fact.
Is there a Carolina Rig in your rod locker? How about a Cordell Spot?
An old Wiggle Wart? No, that’s not a trick question.
Certain old-school lures have always been hot, while others get retired for no apparent reason. You know, there was a time when guys would pay anything for an original Bagley B3, back before the modern cranking movement. I bet you’d mop up with one today. That lure casted like a rock and would ricochet off anything.
I wonder just what it is bass learn about a lure. While the obvious stands out, like rattles in a Rat-L-Trap, what about the swimming profiles of silent runners, or thump of a big blade? Or the way a lure deflects off cover.
When was the last time a bass heard a metal lip drag across the bottom, I wonder. At one time, all diving baits had metal lips. And then, of course, came Buck Perry and his Spoonplug, as effective as dynamite, at the time.
Have you ever used one? Me neither.
But I could probably dig up a few Jitterbugs.
(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.)