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By Jim Porter

The bobber goes down, you set hard on the fish, and all you get back is a bare hook? Boy, that sure happens a lot and it's not always the angler's fault he did not connect with the fish.

If a bass strikes a shiner, it usually engulfs the entire bait and starts to move away from the strike point. The bobber normally goes down quickly and fully out of sight. A bass may stalk a shiner for awhile, which is detectable by the excitement level noted in the shiner and his erratic movements. Not having teeth to hold the prey, the bass must engulf the bait completely within its mouth cavity in order to hold it securely. That is very advantageous to us, in that it assures we will normally be able to hook the fish effectively. The key is to take your time and not set the hook too soon.
  • First, you must absolutely get the SLACK LINE up so that you have a direct link to the bass. Slack line means a weak hook-set.
  • Second, we want the bass to feel some resistance from our line and rod. Like fishing a plastic worm, we want to wait for a slight tug on the line from the bass. Then, we wait just a couple of seconds and, if the line is still tight, then set the hook firmly. The reason we wait is so the bass will start to swim AWAY from the resistance he feels. In doing so, we will be pulling the hook BACK INTO the bass's mouth and head area, rather than directly from his mouth. You will nearly ALWAYS connect with both shiner and worm if you do this. He WILL NOT drop that shiner, unless you make a sudden firm movement that scares him. He WANTS that shiner and he has it. He will not let it go.

Usually, when the bobber goes under gently and then is released, it is an indication of possible one of three species of fish after your shiner: a mudfish, a chain pickerel, a catfish, or possibly a big needlefish. Each as some distinctive characteristics in the way they often approach a shiner:
  • The mudfish (Grindle) may often pull the bobber just barely under the surface and swim off rapidly, looking a lot like Jaws pulling those barrels across the surface of the ocean. Other times he just sinks it slowly, but it stays close to the surface and within sight.
  • The chain pickerel looks a lot like his northern cousins, the pike and the muskie. His eyes are wild looking and, coupled with those wicked teeth, he lives up to the description of the 'wolf of the water'. The pickerel uses his teeth to grab and kill prey before ever engulfing it. Consequently, unless his first grab at the shiner happens to also get the hook, you will never set the hook into him. You will just tear the shiner off. The pickerel will pull the bobber down and swim off like a bass, but you will continually come up empty-handed (not to mention 'shiner-less') after the hookset. (Big needlefish do the exact same thing.) There is a shiner-saving solution, though. Unlike a bass whole has fully engulfed the shiner most times and does not want to let it go, the pickerel will drop your shiner if he feels significant resistance from you. So, you point the rod at the fish, take up the slack line and then DO NOT set the hook. You make the fish tug back on you at least twice. If it is a pickerel, he will drop the shiner. If it is a bass, he will keep going and try and take the rod away from you.
  • A catfish will nip and tug on the shiner's tail endlessly. If the cat is big enough, he may eventually get the hook. Most times, he usually nips enough that he eventually tears the shiner off.
You will save a lot of shiners and hook a lot more bass if you follow the above suggestions.


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