(Editor's note: This is part 1 of a 2-part column that works to disprove common myths about big bass behavior.)
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but here goes: Your father was wrong. Your father, our fathers, nearly everyone's father led us astray about catching bigger bass. It wasn't their fault because they simply repeated bass-fishing maxims that were universally accepted as truths.
Then we fell into lockstep behind, certain in the belief that time and other fishermen had proven these proverbs to be correct. Unfortunately, those who could catch the bigger ones weren't talking. The few who did speak up were viewed more as curiosities than sages.
Instead of embracing the knowledge that did come our way, we chose to ignore it. The excuses were as varied as the fishermen who voiced them: It is a regional deal. It is a time-consuming, low-percentage aspect of bass fishing for guys who double-anchor on points all day. The list goes on and on.
To make matters worse, anglers amassed a catalog of big-bass commandments that were rarely questioned. In fact, they were so totally accepted as fact that fishermen have long adjusted their strategies and explained away their failings based on this misinformation.
The most insidious part of these big-bass factoids is this: They all have a sliver of truth to them. Viewed from a certain perspective, they make sense. The problem, however, is that history hasn't proven their worth. If the big-bass rulebook tips the scales in our favor, we would have seen the results by now.
Here's a sampling of what we've been told.
1. Big bass require deep-water access.
Is the dominant predator in most freshwater environments really scared of anything out there? Does it need an escape route every time a boat passes overhead? Do they actually require deep or remote sanctuary to feel secure?
Think about it. A large bass can find its comfort zone anywhere it chooses to inflate its swim bladder. They can park it at whatever depth or temperature range makes them happy.
If cover and structure are not prerequisites for security, then what? Although bigger bass may tend to suspend more than their smaller brethren, this is not a complete picture of what makes them so different. In reality, the difference lies in their ability to use the entire water column to their advantage. Big bass go where they want to go when they want to go there. This is why big bass don't need deep-water access. They need deep-water ambush.
As evidenced by their impressive size, they are consummate hunters. Somehow, they have learned how to use the underwater topography to their advantage. To think in those terms, rather than use the fright-and-flight theory, delivers a new level of awareness.
Instead of evaluating areas based on how a big bass could escape, an angler can now look at an area's potential to provide optimum feeding opportunities. It's a subtle, but very distinct difference.
This brings up the next issue, which is:
2. Big bass command prime areas.
Yes, but they can command all prime areas. They go where they want, when they want. When a big bass chooses to feed, it does so. If excessive boat traffic or sloppy presentations create a negative response, it doesn't mean that a big bass won't use a prime area at another, more favorable time. What it means is that you screwed up.
To make the right approach, to recognize the proper casting angle and to deliver the proper presentation – these are the crucial elements. As they say, there are few "second acts in life." With big bass, the chances are even slimmer.
Furthermore, what constitutes a prime area for big bass may not be nearly so perfect for a smaller fish. With their advantage as bully of the block, big fish can ignore some of the safety requirements demanded by smaller predators. What they can't ignore are those things that make for efficient feeding. Since they're less restrained by cover factors, bigger bass can make ambush zones work for them in ways that smaller fish cannot.
For instance, big bass don't have to cruise the shallows to chase down prey. They may exercise this option at times, but it is clearly not where their hunting strengths lie. Rather, these larger customers use contour changes and other structure elements to restrict avenues of escape for prey – not to create escape routes for themselves.
If you apply basic hunting tactics to this issue, it isn't much of a stretch to see that herding baitfish from shallow to deep is a low-percentage strategy. Especially when the movement of baitfish regularly intersects the contour changes that provide bigger fish with key ambush zones. The prey comes to them.
When it does, the terrain now favors the predator because it limits the escape options for its victims. Unfortunately, far too many anglers view these ambush areas as holding areas. Under ideal conditions, they can be one and the same. More often, bigger bass move to these zones when feeding and – as stated previously – move elsewhere when not in the full-on hunting mode.
Since big bass have the unique capacity to find comfort zones wherever they choose, fishermen often position their boats directly over the fish they're trying to catch. This dependency – the need to make the exact right cast to the right spot at precisely the right time – goes a long way in explaining why most anglers can't catch bigger fish on demand.
Even though their sonar shows huge arches below, fishermen have been trained to ignore them. They have been taught that bass away from contact points or over open water are suspended, non-aggressive and difficult – if not impossible – to catch. In essence, they have given up on the largest area in any waterway or impoundment including that narrow, fish-holding sliver of real estate less than a cast away from prime feeding areas.
- End of part 1 (of 2) -