“To catch the owl, study the mouse,” said Rick Clunn. Educating anglers, he meant: to catch the bass, anglers should study what it eats.
It’s yet another guru-like profundity for which Rick is known—and trust me, there’s no bigger Clunn fan than me, specifically on bass fishing’s mental and strategic fronts. Still, while the idea has a profound air, it lacks a certain applicability.
“What’s on the bass’ menu varies little from place to place,” said the late Ken Cook, former BASS pro and fisheries biologist. “Baitfish, crawfish, insects—anything small enough and slow enough in the water is fair game.”
And there it is, the key term: “anything.”
Anything means: as bass grow, as their ability to hunt and to physically accommodate larger prey increases, more and more items are added to the menu. Ultimately it means—snakes, birds, moles, ducks, rats, mice, frogs, all and more having been discovered in bass maws and livewells—the bass is a fiercely indiscriminate predator.
In regards to bass hunting and eating, there are two applicable-to-fishing realities anglers need to recognize. First, bass aren’t choosy when on the hunt. Example: schooling bass. Pick-up whatever’s lying on the deck, throw it in the middle of a surface frenzy, and you’d better hang on. Bass are aggressive and reckless, and not at all selective.
And bass don’t have to be aggressively schooling to be on the hunt, either. Lying in an old root system or laydown, they can be just as aggressively on the hunt. And in either circumstance—schooling or stationary, bass aren’t critical of any prey item that presents itself, or inclined to reject it.
“Anything” is fair game and viewed as an opportunity.
Second, when in a negative mood, or when neutral and inactive, bass don’t abandon their characteristic make-up and become food critics. They just aren’t hunting. They’re passive, uninterested, aloof. And in fact, bass and their prey often occupy the same space without incident.
It’s true; bass are opportunist and can almost always be provoked to eat—aka, a reaction strike. But sometimes—actually, way more often than not—hunting and eating aren’t atop their priority list.
This is a rather significant fact considering anglers take to the water with the idea of making bass bite, or eat, and with the expectation bass want to eat, and that they will eat. It’s a rather significant fact considering anglers make five thousand casts and presentations in a day for a mere six or eight bites. And what does this particular reality say?
It says: way more often than not, bass aren’t in a hunting and eating frame of mind.
We marvel at anglers when they do something unconventional to catch bass. Like, say, throwing a crankbait around extremely snaggy cover where everyone else uses something weedless, say, a jig or worm. The unconventional approach catches bass when the more applicable method does not, and everyone marvels. And in fact, such innovators are written into bass fishing lore for their pioneering and perceptive superiority.
It’s true; bass will sometimes prefer one lure over another. It’s also true that a unique approach will work when the conventional approach does not. But in neither instance are bass changing their overall perception of food. Based on their mood, they likely just prefer one action over another—the listless, straight-falling worm and jig lack excitement and intrigue, while the more erratic, horizontal-tracking crankbait is a trigger.
For example, I saw a pair of bass suspending near the surface. I threw a small jig well past them and straightly, steadily reeled it through them. They ignored it. I made another cast, reeled the lure to them, and stopped it abruptly beside them. It sank; they ignore it. I made another cast and, this time, twitched it sharply and erratically. Once in proximity, they attacked, and fought over it.
The point is, bass don’t look at the straight falling worm, or the erratic, horizontally-tracking crankbait, or my multiple jig presentations and think: No, no. That’s not a potential foodsource.
Why? Because everything is fair game and viewed as an opportunity.
The decision to strike and eat is based on mood, on the bass’ frame of mind, which, unfortunately for anglers isn’t set on hunting and eating most often. As Cook astutely noted, “[Bass] don’t go around hungry all the time, or we could reel a spinnerbait straight through the water and catch them all the time.”
Opportunists though bass may be, they clearly have an “off” switch when it comes to feeding.
So bass being in this way indiscriminate—meaning, food is food, and mood dictates response, what’s with all the sport’s lure doctrine? Further, why do anglers stress over things like lure choice, and color, and texture, and realism? Whatever anglers throw, bass aren’t assessing the lures fitness and genuineness. Bass view the lures as potential targets, and as food. And the evidence for this wholesale view lay in few simple realities.
Bass are caught on an extremely wide variety of lures. How expansive is the variety? Well, take a look at the pages of a Bass Pro Shops catalogue. And realize bass eat them all.
Don’t believe it? Look at each lure’s respective advertisements. The bent poles? The smiling pro shoving a behemoth bass towards the camera? The lures work. And really, one doesn’t need the bent poles and dramatics to know this.
Two, every year there’s a new crop of lures to replace the old, antiques that are still catching bass, incidentally, and that will always catch bass—i.e. the spinnerbait and jig. So not only are bass caught on an extremely wide variety of lures. The variety continues to expand—and is actually boundless.
So then, this idea bass become accustomed to lures? Why, still doing a majority of the tournament heavy-lifting every season, the spinnerbait and jig disprove that claim. Bass are accustomed to antique lures, alright—accustomed to eating them. And using them, anglers are accustomed to the paychecks.
The point is bass don’t fuss over lures as much as the lure industry would suggest. Bass simply sit there in whatever confines they’re using currently and, when something from above plops through and descends, or sashays overhead, or drifts or races past, or comes slithering through, mood-driven bass are either on the hunt or are more and less dismissive of it.
Topside, however, the angler has his cerebral panties in a twist: Am I throwing the right thing? The right color? Maybe if I dyed the pincers orange? Perhaps a few more strands of chartreuse? Click, click, click go the gears …
The results not coming fast enough, it isn’t long and anglers are all spun-out. Are they considering the bass’ mood as a potential problem? Is that crucial and pertinent variable receiving any deliberative focus at all?
No. The problem is lure choice—and color, and texture, and realism.
Countless are the occasions I’ve fished an area for a long time without success, only to have the fish start biting. The late-developing phenomenon reveals two important truths. One, the fish were there all along. And two, finally accepting the same lure they had seen and supposedly rejected all day, the lure wasn’t the problem.
The bass were the problem!
Their mood and frame of mind were the problem.
Timing and conditions were the problem.
Ultimately accepting a lure after having been exposed to it repeatedly, and after having supposedly rejected it all day, makes a very clear point. Bass weren’t rejecting the lure for it being the wrong choice, color, texture, and too unrealistic. They were simply ignoring it for not being in a feeding frame of mind favorable to their exploitation.
Hence the point: it’s a waste of time for anglers to stress over lures and lure doctrine. More importantly, it is an unnecessary drain on an their confidence.
Given anglers can’t see bass, yet must locate them, and often in great expanses and depths of water. Given that bass operate on their own moody schedules. Given bass are most often not in the mood to eat, and that anglers have but a brief window of time to catch them in the right mood—a mood, again, by far the least common. Fishing for bass is challenging enough to an angler’s confidence. Anglers don’t need to manufacture things to challenge it further.
Now. There certainly are some realities behind lure doctrine, or some practicalities. Primary of which is using the right lure for the situation. For example, do anglers work a spook or Pop-R over thick surface vegetation?
No. Such lures aren’t suitable or efficient. A weedless frog works much better.
Will anglers reach 20-foot ledges with a square-billed crankbait?
No. They need a deeper-running crankbait, and other lures and presentations more suitable and efficient.
Application is a reason anglers need a variety of lures. Cover-oriented creatures, bass hole-up in and relate to a variety of things they use as cover, and in an equal variety of depths. Hence, the sport, via necessity and the ingenuity of anglers, has created an assortment of lures and presentations to exploit each circumstance, and to fill the application need.
And what about color? Do anglers need a variety of color?
The short answer is, no. Given bass are indiscriminate predators, lure color is a simple factor of contrast and visibility. In dirtier water anglers want to help bass both see and locate their offerings, which is done not only thorough color, but vibration, too. When visibility is good, natural hues help to mask what bass can see clearly, and thus challenge its sense of intrigue and provoke interest. That’s the color issue in a nutshell.
Thereto, it’s helpful to some extent that bass see something they’re used to seeing and eating, not that that’s terribly important with a fiercely indiscriminate predator. The truth is color, and a great many other things regarding the more fruitful harvest of bass, is made such the crucial factor for commercial advantage.
What about texture? Is that critical?
I marvel at pros in lure commercials smiling as they mash a particular lure between their fingers and say, “… and it has the texture bass love! It’s sure to help you catch more bass!”
Knowing bass crush both hard and soft baits. Knowing every texture—and scent, for that matter—known to mankind is represented on the shelves at Bass Pro, and that bass willingly, and indiscriminately, accept them all. And with the visions of a nasty surface feeding frenzy in my head, and anglers able to catch bass with whatever’s lying on the deck. I give the cheesy lure mashing an eye-roll.
And the outrageous sums for these custom and super-realistic lures?
Uh, no. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy the pricey imitations. It means I know that bass couldn’t care less how supremely genuine they are or that purchasing them requires a mortgage.
Further, they aren’t a factor towards my angling confidence, because my angling confidence is rooted in the fact bass are fiercely indiscriminate, if moody, predators that don’t give a damn about the cheesy lure mashing, the lure industry, or the commercialism that drives it all.
Still, I’m a huge fan who, as part of my passion, enjoys investing.
The fact is bass anglers head into a day of fishing with both the intent and expectations of catching bass. Problem is bass are more commonly not in tune with those intentions and expectations. And the resulting challenges and difficulties aren’t a lure problem; they’re a mood problem, a frame of mind problem, one not often favorable to meeting anglers’ intentions and expectations.
In terms of confidence, and in terms of its maintenance, anglers can help their cause tremendously by forgoing all the lure doctrine that surrounds bass fishing. In fact, given the inherent challenges, trials that defy confidence and that all-too-easily defeat anglers, confidence is the one thing they cannot afford to compromise. Indeed, it’s the one thing that must keep at a premium.
And remembering how basic and unassuming bass are behaviorally, and not lending the sport’s commercial aspects more respect than they deserve, is a primary way to keep that confidence at a premium.
Indeed, anglers should think like a bass, and less like a bass pro.
Fish With Confidence!