Disclaimer: “Bass Fishing For Dummies” is not meant to be condescending in any way. What it’s meant to signify more than anything is a simplification of your approach to catching more bass. And while this is easily aimed at the beginning bass angler, I also believe that it behooves ALL of us to take a step back sometimes and take a look at what we’re doing and how we approach this great sport. I hope that my forthcoming articles will help someone in their bass fishing endeavors. Good luck!
The Angle of the Dangle-
an important aspect to successful Bass Fishing
It seems sometimes that we take the simplest things in life for granted, yet some of these seemingly simple things, especially when it comes to something like bass fishing and all of its nuances, can be hugely important to our continued success. As an example-
I was made aware again of this issue last season when I took one of my eighteen year-old daughters out in a bass boat for the very first time, and again the very next day when I had a sixty-five years-plus old gentleman along for a guided trip. Now note that my daughter, while she had fished ponds with me out of a Jon boat before, is mostly a bank angler. But my guide client fishes exclusively from a boat, which lends credence to the object of this lesson and story.
Without fail, both of these anglers exhibited the same behavior of, after making a cast, not “free falling” the bait to the bottom (if it was a bottom contact bait to start with, of course). Now, here’s the deal- with the guide customer, we were mostly fishing lily pads and milfoil mats. Although we did throw some frogs and buzz baits and such, the bulk of our bass came on Texas-rigged worms and live rubber jigs and trailers pitched and/or flipped (there’s a huge difference, but that’s for another article) into the cover. My daughter on the other hand was throwing to rocky points and some individual cover like logs and tree tops. Two totally different kind of presentations, yet they both made the exact same mistake. When their lure hit the water, they would immediately engage their reel and generally lift their rod to the “ready” position of about ten o’clock or so.
Now, think about this- my daughter, while throwing generally towards the bank, and generally towards shallower water, is now essentially tight-lining her lure upon entry into the water, which means it’s also falling back towards the boat. And in some instances with the boat just a medium distance from the bank, yet setting in twenty-plus feet of water, that lure may not ever have even come in CONTACT with the bottom. Yep. You could see it in her face- she was trying to retrieve a lure that she had almost zero reference to, and never really could get caught up with. If a bass DID strike her, it would have had to make a Kamikaze run on it for her to notice.
The same thing happened when she made a perfect cast to a big lay down log that was just off a steeper, almost bluff bank. The lure hit just past where the log stuck up out of the water, in about six feet of water. The other end of the log was on the bottom just a few feet off of the bow of the boat, in about sixteen feet of water. But when her bait hit the water, she strapped on her race face, put the reel in gear, and that plastic worm didn’t see the bottom until it was at least half way down the side of that tree. If that’s where the fish were, well, good deal. But since we were still looking for the bass (aren’t we always?) we need that lure working every inch of the available cover.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Now, back to our buddy Harry and those lily pad bass. He’s experienced enough to know that long casts with bottom contact lures is a mistake in the pads (I mean, if you actually want to LAND any of them!), although he has little to no experience in short presentations like pitchin’ and flippin’. It was why he wanted a guided trip to start with.
So he’s trying these short casts, less than twenty feet or so, but again, the bait hits the water, the reel is engaged, and the bait begins to slip forward towards the boat as it falls. We were in generally six to ten feet of water, so basically his bait was a third to halfway back to the boat before it hit bottom. And that’s IF it hit bottom- many (most) times in the pads the lure is going to contact a stem before it hits bottom, and suddenly the trajectory of the presentation is changed. This is fine if it’s what you intend, but with guide client Harry, well, he had that same look as Abby did on his face as he searched out trying to find his lure. Sometimes he had no clue where he was at in relation to the boat. And on those short pitches in shallow water the tightlined bait almost became a topwater lure as it came back towards him, never coming even close to the strike zone
So folks, it’s simple. Except for swimming bait presentations where you begin the retrieve as soon as or shortly after the bait hits the water, I believe it’s huge important to get that bait to fall vertically to the bottom. First off you’ll be more aware as to its location in the water column, and secondly I also believe that a lure falling vertically is a more natural presentation and that it also brings the lure more in line with the bass’ strike zone. If a bass is on the bottom at the base of a tree or a lily pad stem and you throw directly over his head yet pull the lure away right at the start of the retrieve you are making it hard for a fish to get a chance at said lure.
Now as an argument- bass fishing 101 tells us to cast PAST the target so that this doesn’t happen, and that’s a true statement. If you are fishin’ very shallow water, anyway. If that’s the case, by all means, throw PAST your target, then fish up to it. No doubt. But we’re talking about a slightly different scenario her, and I hope I’m not confusing you.
Sometimes I think that folks tight lining their lure to the bottom stems from the fear of losing contact with it. They’re afraid that they’ll miss a strike. Well, with experience those missed strikes will happen less and less, but there’s probably a whole ‘nother article on that subject alone. Suffice to say that if you’ll let a lure fall vertically on a fairly slack line that you’ll learn quickly how long it takes for the bait to hit bottom at whatever depth it is that you’re fishing. “Counting down” a lure comes into place here and is definitely a good habit to get into. You’ll also learn to watch the line for any uncharacteristic actions that it might show, and you will learn to set the hook when things appear a little out of the norm. It takes practice, but you will get there.
A bait falling vertically is simply easier to keep track of and makes a better presentation most of the time. How’s that for simple?
The same thing also works for bass fisherman plying waters from the bank- you make a cast out into oh, say, eight feet of water. The fish are in six, yet by the time your lure falls on a tight line towards you it’s at four feet when it hits bottom. That’s a little oversimplified but I think you’ll get it.
Finally, there’s suspended bass, and they’re everywhere. Bass that are not on the bottom at all. Actually, I’m pretty sure that except in the shallowest of water that bass are somewhat suspended MOST of the time. The great days fishing are differentiated from the just “good” days by the guy who catches on to this early enough to capitalize on it (again, another article!) A vertical presentation, or a cast that is left to fall vertically to that magic depth results in leaving your lure in that strike zone window that can be just inches in size, but is essentially so important to success. You can’t do this if you’re fishing your lure on a slant back to you, except when that “slant” fall happens to intercept a hungry bass. There is no doubt about this, at all.
So, the bottom line here is to keep in mind where your lure is at all time, and it’s relation to the bottom in the water column. Think “vertical”, and be on your toes as the bait is falling, ALWAYS. And learn to “check” your lure before you begin your retrieve too, because there are many times when a bass picks a bait up at or just before the end of its initial fall. Man, do they.
So there you go. But please remember and that I understand that nothing is set in stone when it comes to bass fishing. I’m just trying to get a few concepts out to you that may make a platform for you to start on, to build from, or maybe to help fix some issues that you may be having.
Hope this helps some of ya’ll. Stay on your toes, and go get ’em.