October 01, 2022
There’s really not a wrong way to catch a bass; after all, a bite is a bite, right? Well, yes; but a recent outing with Bassmaster Elite angler Greg Hackney demonstrated a simple, yet often overlooked principle that can lead us to greater bite consistency—listen to the fish.
To nutshell this, Hackney’s Strike King Sexy Dog topwater walker tempted a solid fish, but the take was lackadaisical—kind of like the fish said: “Oh well, if no one else wants the last piece of pizza …”
Suffice it to say, you know when they really want a bait and this was not that.
Following his intuition, Hackney switched to a popper and scored three good fish in short order. Complementing the numbers — each fish absolutely smoked that smaller, disruptive bait.
“I caught a 5-pounder on that walking bait, but it was the way they were getting it,” Hackney said. “It was like they were hitting at it, but they didn’t really like it. So I switched to a popper and the bites were more aggressive.
“If we had stayed with the walker, we probably would have gotten another bite, but by switching to the popper, we got lots of bites.”
So why not start with the right bait? In fairness, sometimes we do and it works out splendidly. But just like a dinner party, conversation starters like “How’s work going?”; “How’s the family?”; or “Come here often?” often lead to a more meaningful engagement.
“We have to start with something; we always have an idea of what we should use—color-wise, bait choice, or whatever,” he said. “But it could be a situation where I’m using a shad imitation, I catch one, but there’s a bluegill tail sticking out of his mouth.
“Even though I caught him on that shad imitation, I know he’s eating bluegill. Chances are, the other bass around there are eating bluegill, so I’ll immediately make that switch. Anytime you can get that telltale clue of exactly what they’re eating, go ahead and make that decision. You’ll always get more bites when you’re perfect.”
Other examples of taking clues from fish and the habitat in which they live:
Go With the Flow
Moving water always stimulates fish, but lacking prominent current, you’ll usually find the fish responding best in places and periods of concentrated current. Might be a pinch point such as a bridge, the cut between two islands or a wrap-around point—or it could be a manmade deal.
During the recent Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River, Hackney placed second and noted that much of his activity came during periods of moving water. Now, summer on the Red River usually finds minimal movement, but Hackney found some consistency by targeting hard cover during periods of concentrated surges from lock openings.
He noted that these windows were hard to predict but paying attention to when/where the fish were most responsive helped him overcome the tough conditions of hot weather coinciding with the always tricky summer/fall transition.
Acknowledging a mistake, he points to his 25th-place finish at the Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell, Hackney wishes he had listened to the fish when changing weather conditions made the fish shy away from the 1/2-ounce Strike King Redeye Shad that had tempted prespawners so well in practice.
“I caught them under perfect weather conditions—a warm front, windy,” he said. “That was exactly what I was looking for, but I never really had that weather the entire Classic.
“Because I didn’t have the wind and the conditions I needed to get that full-size (lipless bait) bite, I wish I would have downsized to a 1/4-ounce Redeye Shad or thrown a swimbait.”
No question, noting how fish respond—or don’t—to recently productive baits following a meteorological change is critical to success. As he noted, size matters, but so does sound. Maybe you go from a rattling crankbait to a silent version, or you replace that topwater with the high-frequency rattles with a walker rocking the one-knocker.
Bite Response: Are they slapping at it and getting hooked in the tip of the mouth—or outside the mouth—or are they choking it? If the latter, you doing what you should be doing. If the former, try different colors, different bait forms and/or different retrieves.
Oddly enough, frog fishing—bass fishing’s most thrilling pursuit—may need a little finessing. Sounds contradictory with a technique given to ruthless aggression, but when they’re just “bumping” the grass mat or boiling below the frog in more open areas, you might be going too fast. Throttle back, inch the bait through the target zone and you’ll often trigger the beast.
Also, when tiny baitfish run the edges of grass mats, bass can become so focused on a mouthful of these silver shards that they ignore bigger presentations. Here, rig up a spinning outfit with braid and sling a tiny frog like the 1 1/2-inch SPRO Bronzeye Pop 40 toward the baitfish buffet—and hold on tightly.
Color Code: This one’s a little more subtle, but largemouth bass coloration makes a big difference during the prespawn. Basically, a “white” (light colored) fish has just arrived from deep water, whereas a darker fish has been up shallow long enough to start acclimating to the shallow water environment. This tells us a lot about their mood and likely spawn stage.
Also, Hackney’s keen to note crawfish colorations. If he’s flipping a green pumpkin bait and catches a bass with a different color crawfish in its gullet, it’s time to change. “If that crawfish is black with red dots, I’ll immediately make that black neon change, or vice versa.
“I make my color decisions based on water color from past experience and how we like something that looks natural in the water. But anytime that fish can show me exactly what I need to be using, that’s when I make that change.”
Summarizing, he said: “You can catch a bass on anything, because he’s an opportunist. He’ll bite something that’s not necessarily in his everyday diet, like a baby bird falling into the water when shad are his main diet.
“Always let them tell you what they want; don’t ever force feed them. You may only get two or three more bites, but that could be the fish of a lifetime, the fish that wins an event—it just makes the whole experience better.”