I was saddened to see recent news of the passing of Glen Lau. For those of you relatively new to the sport, possibly unfamiliar with Lau, his contributions to bass fishing stand near the top. Considering that, it’s shocking there wasn’t more reporting on his death.
Lau was best known for his largemouth bass documentaries, "Bigmouth" and "Bigmouth Forever", filmed in the placid waters of central Florida’s springs in the 1970s. This period served as a turning point in our sport for a variety of reasons. Organized bass fishing was blooming, as was the desire of more Americans to spend recreational time outdoors. And for the first time, a cinematographer went below the surface to confirm or deny all of our theories surrounding the largemouth bass.
Over the course of several decades, Lau spent nearly 15,000 hours underwater, much of it studying the lifecycle of the largemouth bass. Through his camera, he took us all below with him. The resulting footage is iconic; schools of giant bass swim unmolested in a pristine environment. There’s bass eating ducklings and turtles. Shots below the water of giants gobbling a fisherman’s lure and immediately spitting it out, treble hooks and all.
My generation of anglers, and likely those before and after, took all that footage with us each time we hit the lake. We pondered the way bass held deep in the seclusion of a shady dock, the way Glen showed us. We wondered what that slight tap was during the retrieve of our crankbaits. Could that just have been a missed opportunity at the fish of a lifetime? We’d never know.
For me, Lau’s contributions present more than just a learning tool. Instead, they represent a naturalistic approach to fishing that appears to be declining. More about that in a minute; let’s turn back to the lessons of Lau.
Through his determined work below the surface, Lau was able to observe aspects of the lifestyles of wild fish that no one had seen before, or maybe since. This gave him incredible validity. Lau was the first and only person I ever heard who acknowledged the role of female bass during the spawn. He reflected that, in order for a bass nest to be successful, both parents must stay and guard against predators for as long as a week after the eggs are deposited.
Regarding feeding windows and lunar influence, Lau reported watching bass in a relative state of rest suddenly turn on en masse, at a predictable time. “I’ve seen it. I’ve laid there for hours,” Lau reported. “Then the solar period starts and all at once they start moving around.”
Laid there. For hours.
Much of the magic of Lau’s creations were the way they were filmed, from the perspective of the bass. The footage immediately changed the thought process of the viewer. For starters, we are by no means a sneaky predator of bass. Just the disruption of the environment created by a bass boat – the massive shadow and the trolling motor and shiny prop, when seen from below – proves it’s amazing we catch any fish at all. And the way fish disregard our lures is nothing short of shocking. Lau later credited this non-interest to dormant areas of the fish. Observing as many as 30 giant bass in one spot, Lau watched repeated casts with various lures go unanswered every time he visited the lunker lair.
During the time of Lau’s breakthrough films, there was no media whatsoever bringing us this stuff. If you wanted underwater video, it was Jacques Cousteau somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.
Recognizing the breakthrough of Lau’s work, many manufacturers would later hire him to produce footage of their products being used successfully underwater. Early commercials for lures, trolling motors, footage of big bass feeding underwater; those were nearly all Lau clips.
Digital media and modern recording has changed all of that. Today, anyone with a GoPro has the potential to be an underwater cinematographer. In fact, a percentage of the media that my parent company produces is this exact thing.
But I’m careful not to get in over my head, no pun intended. Filming below the water’s surface is extremely difficult and makes me appreciate truly good material. Lau made it all look so easy.
And I wonder where we’re headed in bass fishing, with the absence of a presence like Glen Lau, or the desire to learn more simply for the sense of learning. Earlier, I alluded to the naturalism. By definition, naturalism is the study of the interactions of all things and the natural laws that govern the universe. That includes us.
The best outdoorsmen understand this, study it, and immediately recognize how little we know. You’ll likely have a person in mind who fits this bill; the guy who always catches fish, or shoots a big deer, or seems to know the weather without checking the news. Naturalism – the recognition of the interaction of all things – can be the most important aspect of life outdoors.
Yet, what fills our information highway today? How to get more reaction strikes. The best baits for bedding bass. Ways to “Kick Their Basses.”
That’s a far cry from naturalism and the days of Bigmouth.
Maybe what’s to blame is a general shift in the overall perception of bass fishing, and the bass itself. Maybe we just need another Glen Lau. A few sources remain where we can get below; Kim Stricker’s "Hook-N-Look" show does a good job of introducing us to fish in their natural environment.
But with the passing of Glen Lau, so goes a little more of our innocence. A pioneer, influencing decades of bass fishermen, Lau deserves credit. Here, I’ll leave it to one of our greatest historians, Ken Duke:
“If there was a Mt. Rushmore of bass fishing, I’d put Glen Lau on it.”
Thanks, Glen, for being there when I need a fix.
(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.)