A bass fishing acronym. Hmmm. I’m one of those guys who’s all the time thinking about subjects to write on. Having a “hook” (no pun intended) in story’s title can be important. So, I figured, today’s world is full of acronyms- we are getting good at using less to mean more. And since this is the way that younger fisherman, or newbies, have grown up, then what better way to “hook” someone (like a young beginner perhaps) to read an article than by using an acronym in the title?
Maybe I think too much.
So, before I explain what “SA” is, maybe a little story, or two, is needed. I like to tell stories about bass fishing.
It was June of last year and I was just fishing for fun and to get away from all the pandemic crap. The bass were done spawning and were starting to get just offshore. Not deep yet- they were really working the flats in four to ten feet of water, and in “wolf-packs”, small schools of feeding bass, were on the hunt. I was making my way down the bank of one of these flats, throwing a small crankbait and occasionally a topwater whenever the bass showed themselves. There was another bass boat was working the same area, and heading right towards me. Except the angler on the front deck wasn’t fishing.
As he got closer, I saw that he had his eyes glued to his front graph where his forward-facing sonar was keeping his attention. And I guess it was his FULL attention, because when some bass suddenly began surfacing on baitfish between us he never looked up. I grabbed my Spook rod, made a toss into the middle of the still chasing bass, and immediately got ate by a very nice three pounder. The other guy finally looked up.
On another day a few years ago, I was hot on the trail to win another month in the “IBass” competition ( Ultimate Bass forums ). The trouble was that it was late in the month and my fishing days were limited. Like, down to zero. The pressure was on to put at least one more good bass on the measuring board. “Good” meaning I needed something over twenty inches. A nice bass, maybe five or more pounds.
The bass that day were in the milfoil and lily pads, and they were in a funk. I fished for several hours with just one decent four-pounder that wouldn’t come close to helping me in my derby aspirations. I was getting a little frazzled and had almost given up on any last-minute heroics. It was hot, I was tired, and the bass weren’t cooperating.
I had moved out to a little deeper water and was plying the more isolated patches of pads. Suddenly, to the side of where I had just pitched my plastic worm, I saw a pad “twitch”. Just a little. I mean, a LITTLE. Still, something had obviously moved that pads’ stem, and you need to take any advantage you can get in this sport. So, my next pitch was to the shady side of that particular lily pad.
The big worm fell maybe three feet into the water, then it just stopped. Being I was in SEVEN feet of water, even my puny brain got the hint, and a few precious seconds later a twenty-two-inch, six pound largemouth was in my boat. I won that month’s competition because of that particular bass.
So, what does all of this have to do with a couple of letters? Well, “SA” in this case stands for “Situational Awareness”. It’s really an art that can apply to just about anything in life but is hugely important to an outdoorsman. Paying attention to detail is what it really comes down to, or like the guy watching his PanOptix, it’s NOT paying attention that causes the issues.
The smallest things can matter in bass fishing, Take that lily pad bass. That was actually TWO cases of being aware of where things were and what was happening. The first was the slight movement of that pad. What that told me was that quite possibly my presentation had caught a bass’ attention- all she did most likely was to move to get a look at that plastic worm a couple of feet away, and she bumped that stem of that pad when she did. But when my plastic worm quit its descent early, it would have been easy to dismiss it, you know, wait the normal time frame for it to hit bottom, then begin my presentation. Where most likely all I would have felt was that bass spitting my worm out, if I even felt anything at all. But by paying attention to my SITUATION, where I was, where my lure was, and the immediate surroundings, that bass made it to my measuring board.
Many folks tag instances such as this as “luck”. Maybe. But it’s amazing to me how many times over the years that I’ve gotten “lucky” simply by staying on my toes and being aware of what was going on around me.
I was guiding a couple of gentlemen years and years ago, and we got on one of those little spots that was just stacked with bass. Not big ones mind you, but my clients were getting hit on almost every cast while throwing small deep-diving crankbaits. This one man was winding his lure in, talking to me and his buddy, when suddenly a dandy bass jumps, maybe twenty feet from the boat in the direction they were casting. Well, both men didn’t have to be told to hurry up and try to get a cast to that bass- they both began to reel like crazy. Except the one man couldn’t, because when he finally caught up with his lure it was still in the mouth of that five-pound bass. It was funny to see his shocked reaction.
That man was so out of touch with his surroundings that he had that bass hit his lure, get hooked, and then was actually fighting the bait trying to dislodge it, all without the fisherman being aware of what happened. Now this is a pretty extreme example, but I’d bet just about anything that something like this happens to each and every one of us on almost every outing we make. We quit paying attention, we lose touch, and our Situational Awareness goes away.
There are so many things this can cover, but one that we all need to be aware of is baitfish. A school of sunfish can give away a bedding bass. Scattering minnows can indicate a feeding fish. A dyeing shad, flickering along on its side, can be indicative of a school of hungry bass below. Paying constant attention and keeping due diligence from the time that you make a cast to the moment you finish a retrieve is of the utmost importance. I watch, observe, and record everything I see (on a good day, anyway) from the moment I put a boat in the water or step onto a pond bank until I’m finished for the day. I watch the birds. I watch the water levels and current. I pay attention to water clarity and the wind. I pay HUGE attention to anything that changes during the day.
Another important part of Situational Awareness involves boat control. Or even your footing if you’re fishing from the bank. Tons of bass are lost every year because we are not in position mechanically to handle a bass when it strikes. SA is also important from the time a bass is hooked to when it is landed. What is in your way? Is there anything a hooked bass can get entangled in? Is your net free and clear? Is your boat sinking? Well, that might be taking the need for SA a little too far. Maybe.
Back in my tournament days my Situational Awareness also included other fisherman- what they did, how they acted, or what they said, both on and off the water. Clues to what was going on were everywhere and paying attention to the subtleties (while weeding out the B.S. of course) was another part of the art of keeping up my Situational Awareness.
If you want to catch more bass, then learn to manage your SA. If you don’t and if all of this seems like maybe too much work, then good for you. But I hope that someday when a five-pound bass eats your lure that he does what that bass did to my client that day so many years ago, and the bass takes your lure good enough that it actually makes it into the boat, where we all had a good laugh and some good-natured jesting. I hope it works out for you. Me, well I’m going to try to keep my “SA” on full tilt all of the time. Because I need all the help I can get when it comes to tracking down and catching these little green and brown fish. You bet I do.
See you on the water,