Perhaps the best piece of bass fishing advice I ever received was to slow down when the fishing gets tough. In my early days of bass fishing, I would have rather stayed home and knitted a sweater than drag a worm slowly across the bottom of the lake. I’m a little lacking in the patience department, so slowing down never appealed to me from the start and I wasn’t in a hurry to change my ways.
I had always enjoyed throwing fast moving baits like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, buzzbaits or anything that I could chunk and wind and cover a lot of water quickly. When the fishing got tough, I would get impatient and fish even faster in an effort to cover more water. If I didn’t catch fish, I would run all over the lake searching which only wasted my time. In reality, I was only working against myself by zipping past fish that were in a negative feeding mood that could have potentially been caught with the right approach. Once I learned how to slow down and really understand the meaning, my fishing success improved by leaps and bounds. There is a lot more to slowing down than just presenting your lure at a slower pace.
In the winter, the metabolism of bass drop and they become lethargic and less active in an effort to conserve energy. They also become less active in the summer when the water temperatures soar into the 90s. Other factors make fishing tough as well, such as post-frontal conditions, post-spawn conditions and cold fronts moving in during the spring. Under these conditions, bass are less likely to chase faster moving baits and you can catch a lot more by slowing down. For example, in the summer, when the water is in the 90-degree range, I like to fish a V&M Pro Mag worm and drag it painfully slow along the bottom. I will let it sit for as long as I can stand, sometimes up to 20 seconds before dragging it again. I have found that under tough conditions, long pauses can sometimes be the key to catching fish.
When bass are less active, it’s likely that the forage and other creatures in the water will be less active as well. If you are moving your bait too fast, it’s not going to appear as natural to the bass. Creatures in the water do not constantly move at a steady pace under any conditions; they swim or crawl for a little ways, stop for a period, then move some more. So, moving your bait slower and pausing it will appear more natural and more accurately mimic the activity of the forage.
To make your presentation appear as realistic as possible, try to visualize your bait coming through the water and mimic the forage’s natural movement as closely as possible. A great way to fully understand the action of your presentation is to practice casting your bait in a swimming pool. It is hard to mimic the natural forage if you don’t know what your bait does with every movement you impart. This is something that I always do when trying out new bait and the looks I get while doing this in my neighborhood pool are priceless.
Another thing to consider is that bass are opportunistic feeders by nature and are hard-wired to feed on easy meals like dying or injured prey. A great bait to help you slow down and resemble dying prey is a soft plastic stickbait like the V&M Chopstick. Stickbaits have grown in popularity over the last few years for one simple reason…they catch fish! Not only do they catch fish, but they catch big fish. I often read the Lunker Club section in Bassmaster magazine and there have been many 10-pound plus bass caught on stickbaits. I believe these baits are so effective because they resemble dying shad twitching and slowly falling down through the water column. I mention this bait, because it’s a good way to force you to slow down and is great at triggering inactive bass. Another thing you can do to slow down is to fish more thoroughly.
When I first started fishing, I would set the trolling motor at a high speed, hit a target, retrieve, and move on to the next target. Even if I caught a fish, I would keep on moving down the bank to the next target. A huge part of being successful at bass fishing is understanding bass and their behavior. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that certain areas hold bass for a reason, and if there is one bass present then there are likely to be more. There are many reasons for this: food supply, oxygen levels, cover, water depth, current and many other factors, but that’s for another article. The key is to fish the area thoroughly after catching one fish, and you will more than likely catch more.
Last season I was fishing a tournament and caught 12 bass on a very small stretch of bank with a crankbait. Once I found the fish, I worked the bank back and forth until the fish stopped biting. I spent over two hours fishing that one stretch of bank. Ten years ago, I would have probably caught only one or two from this same spot because I would have caught one or two and kept moving down the bank. Back then, I didn’t fully understand how numbers of fish can group up in small concentrated areas, so I would fish these potentially productive areas too fast. When you find fish in areas like this, fish the area thoroughly until you stop getting bites. Once you stop getting bites, try a new bait to show the fish something different and you will likely catch a few more. On that particular day, after they stopped biting the crankbait, I fished a V&M Wild Thang (plastic worm) and caught three more fish.
Another aspect of slowing down is making multiple casts to the same piece of cover. Under tough fishing conditions, the strike zone becomes significantly smaller. On days when fish are active and in a positive feeding mood, the strike zone can be as large as 10 feet. Conversely, when they are in a negative mood, it can literally be inches. So, if you are fishing a bank and come across a piece of cover, like brush or a laydown, you should make multiple casts hitting every piece of the cover as possible. Many novice anglers make the mistake of making only one cast then moving on to the next target. If I see a piece of cover that looks like it would hold bass, I try to visualize that there is a fish present and make as many casts as possible. In many cases, the fish are there, you just have to entice them. I was surprised to learn that sometimes it will take five, six or more casts to get a fish to bite.
I recently attended a seminar and the instructor mentioned that he went scuba diving in a lake that he fished often. He was amazed at how many bass were living around deep submerged trees that he frequently fished. He found that some of the trees had up to 25 bass around them. These were trees that he would previously make only one or two casts to and move on. Many great looking pieces of cover that look like they hold bass probably do, the key is getting them to bite, which might mean slowing down and making multiple casts.
Slowing down involves more than just presenting your bait at a slower pace. It takes a shift in mindset to accomplish if you are accustomed to fishing fast. The next time you are on the water and the fishing is tough, focus on slowing down, fishing more thoroughly, and making multiple casts to cover. It will pay off in huge dividends and make those tough fishing days more enjoyable. Give it a try; you’ll be glad you did!
See you on the water. Go Vols!
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