The surface was tortured glass. Baitfish took flight through this dark, twisted interface all around the boat. Smallmouths broached in pursuit. For several hours, as the sun sank and darkness rose, active, aggressive smallmouths pursued scads of bait on the tip of a point of land so windy it was unapproachable most of the day. As the wind subsided, smallmouths were engaged in a visible shallow frenzy.
A stunned shiner on the surface. Confidence. Smiles. Topwaters. No brainer, right? Nothing happens. Not to worry. Suspending baits. Wrong again. Smile is gone. Ol’ trusty, then. Son-of-Sam killer plastic bait that always works here. Bam, sock, pow. A weak smile returns. Son-of-Sam never fails. So, back to the grand experiment. Tubes? Nyet. Shallow crank? Nope. Plastic worm? Uh-uh. Soft stick? Zip. Senko? Try again. Drop-shot rigs? Almost. Spinnerbait? Rattle Trap? Cheeseburger? No. No. NO.
Son-of-Sam is actually a homemade, sand-colored, 5-inch, action-tail grub. So I tried other 5-inch grubs. After ripping up 8 or 9 baits without so much as a bump, the hair on my neck began to rise. These bass will strike one bait, one size, and only one. Very specific. Color. Son-of-Sam is very subtle. No bright color or metal flake. As it grew darker I opined that brighter colors absolutely had to work better. After the sun sets, bass can’t see color much anyway. Right? Don’t ask me. At this point, I’m no longer certain the earth revolves around the sun, but I set about the task of force-feeding gaudy plastics to these picky things. Another half hour of utter failure and I turned once again to Son-of-Sam. One more cast, just as complete darkness settled over the puzzling scene and “whack,” a four pounder. “What are you?” I barked at the poor creature. “Crossed with a trout?”
I don’t know everything (not even close), but I know this lake and its crazy smallmouths fairly well. I know a lot of presentations that take smallmouths here when they’re biting. And, on this day, out of all the things I know that will catch smallmouths in that body of water at that time of year, in the middle of a feeding frenzy, only one thing worked. In one color. In one size. At one speed. And one depth.
Bass aren’t supposed to be this selective. Bass shouldn’t act like this. Yet, sometimes they do. (The horror.) When? Why? We don’t know. But don’t let it bring you down. It’s only theories burning. So what, exactly, do smallmouths get picky about?
How easy is it to bypass seemingly innocuous details and miss the bite entirely? Frighteningly easy at times. Dion Hibdon knows. He and his father Guido are two of the finest smallmouth anglers anywhere and just might be the best tube fishermen on earth. “One of the first things I do before a smallmouth tournament is walk the shoreline and turn over rocks, looking for live craws,” Hibdon says. “The variation in color that can occur among craws is amazing. I want to duplicate the color and the movement of these animals precisely. More often than not, a precise imitation will outfish every other pattern, even when fished exactly the same way.
“I’m a firm believer in matching the hatch,” Hibdon says. “If it looks like something they’re used to chasing, it comes time to eat and they approach the bait closely, I think natural colors, shapes, and sizes produce best most of the time. Yet I seldom use a jerkbait that doesn’t have a pink or chartreuse belly with a naturally colored back. It’s hard to find lures with a pink belly, but when they’re following baits and rejecting them, I paint a pink stripe down the belly of that bait. For some reason, aggressive or fairly hot highlights will trigger smallmouths at times better than an all-natural pattern. I’ve got a whole compartment on the boat that’s nothing more than rubber-lure paints, paint pens, permanent markers, fingernail polish, dips, dyes and powder paints. Playing with color wins tournaments. Just putting a spot on a lure can make the difference between a fair bite and a hot bite.
Continued — click on page link below.