Like many of you, I follow all the latest tournament coverage, keeping tabs on the techniques used to take down big events. I’ve noticed that winning pros are often forced to make changes midstream that end up working out for the best. Adversity, it seems, is most commonly the winning formula.
It’s this adaptation that really interests me. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been clueless on the water more than once. And despite trying to keep an open mind and try new things, I frequently go back to what I’m familiar with and try to force a bite.
These are the same techniques that, mind you, haven’t worked up until that point.
Sure, it’s easy to expand on a new lure or retrieve when a fish bites the first cast. But when the chips are down, most of us throw what we know. This is especially true when money’s on the line; no pun intended.
So it’s with great admiration that I reflect on the recent win by Tai Au on Clear Lake. The event marked Au’s second Toyota Series win of the season and capped his Angler of the Year title on the Western Series.
To start the event, Au capitalized on a typical West Coast finesse bite with a Neko-rigged Senko. However, when things slowed down, Au turned up the heat with a lipless crankbait and capitalized on an overlooked reaction bite.
It should be noted that Au mentioned his fish were “nipping at the Neko Rig," yet unloaded on the crank.
Think about that for a minute. How many of us, given that scenario, would have the confidence to make that change midstream? I mean, the bass were too picky to eat a Senko. What could be worse?
For many of us, the most common move would have been to try other forms of finesse, or run to greener pastures. Yet Au stuck with his area and fired up the disinterested fish.
Thinking back, I remember a time or two when similar aggressive moves made me a hero; at least for the day. One cast with a magnum swimbait resulted in a 5-pound smallie that capped a sizeable victory. Five years later, picking up a punch rig when it shouldn’t have worked produced the biggest bass of my life.
And I’m always taken back to a specific pro event when I ponder the reaction bite game. A decade ago, Kevin Van Dam made it look easy as he dominated the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake with his RedEye Shad. Hardcore fans will remember this as the coldest Classic on record. Water temps dipped into the low 40s across the main lake; a few creeks had skim ice. Boats froze to the trailers. Yet VanDam kept slinging that lipless, ripping it out of submerged coontail – much like Au last week – and scored a half-million dollars worth of bass, not to mention a record-tying fourth Classic win.
But going against the grain has always been easy for guys like VanDam and a few of his cohorts. Not so easy for me.
I wonder what your stories are. What really opened your eyes to the realm of possibilities that don’t exist in the bass fishing textbooks? What worked when it shouldn’t have?
Oftentimes, speed and weight are the keys to increasing the appeal of a lure. Every good Midwestern basser knows that a slow-falling jig is tops in the early spring. Die-hard jig fans keep things going all year, but find it necessary to increase the weight, and thus the drop speed, of their lures to get more bites as summer warms the water.
So I ask you: Do the bass simply refuse a slow-falling lure that time of year? Or are they reacting by … reaction?
Or is it simply a drops per minute and casts per hour game? Are we merely able to show more fish our lures this time of year and catch more fish?
Getting back to the point, sometimes changing things up is easy. The lake is loaded with fish that see little pressure, or a front is moving in and the bass are jumping in the boat. Perhaps you’re on vacation or, worse yet, practicing for a tournament.
Yes, the old adage of “winning practice” is often the result of changing up on the fly. Think about it. You begin, fail, and realize it’s necessary to change up quickly in order to find fish for your upcoming event.
But it’s not so easy once that event is a reality and you have just 8 hours to figure things out all over again. Not so easy when you’re fishing beside a competitor who’s loading the boat.
Like you, I often put myself in the shoes of the pros and wonder how I would have adapted to the changing conditions they faced. And, once again, my hat's off to the guy who changed on the fly.
(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.)