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Jim Porter fishing articles


THE FABLES AND FACTS OF FISHING

by Jim Porter


"I can catch bass any time and any place", the Big-time, Weekend Semi-Pro boasted. "Yes sir, I got those fish figured and if I don't limit out, there ain't no fish in the lake."

Now, that's got to be a fable. But, you and I have both heard some hotshot make that comment at one time or the other. You remember the guy. HE was the one who got skunked in the last club tournament. If you'll think back, you may also recall that he had a list of excuses as long as the big one that got away, too. The sad part is that he may actually believe some of them, especially if he has used them too often. Even worse, he may be responsible for someone else starting to believe his 'fairy tales'.

If you question any successful guide or professional fisherman, there is one very explicit truism about bass fishing that comes to light: it is a thinking man's sport. A North Carolina angler, Buck Perry, started the move towards educated fishing when he encouraged us to reason out, when we caught a bass, why the fish was in that specific location, at that specific time and why he took that particular lure. Buck said that we, as anglers, tend to come up with complex excuses for not catching fish, when what we SHOULD be doing is eliminating the fables and homing in on the real facts about the sport. Positive thinking and knowledge, Perry intimated, catch more bass than any super lure.

During the course of this writing, we're going to explore some of these bassin' 'fables' and try and relate them to bassin' 'facts.' My job is to express this exploration in a reasonably coherent manner. YOUR job is to read with an open mind and, THEN form your own opinions.

FABLE: The fish weren't 'biting'.

FACT: Catching bass is fairly simple; finding them is the hard part.

I'll be the first to admit that bass do, occasionally, enter periods of relative dormancy and, during these times, they can be rather hard to entice into taking a lure. This state is normally caused by one of three factors: the passage of a cold front; the fish have recently fed heavily and not being driven by the feeding instinct; or, the water temperature is extremely low. Any one can certainly slow a bass down. However, none of these conditions totally apply, at the same time, to an entire fish population across a given body of water. Feeding, in the fishy sense, occurs when hunger manifests itself, or simply when the food presents itself. 'When the food presents itself' is an important statement. We all realize that, from his physical characteristics alone, a bass is an 'eating machine'. Mother Nature didn't give him that big old mouth just to be pretty. He is a predator, in every sense of the word. It is an observed fact that surface schooling bass will feed until completely gorged, spit up their stomach contents, and continue to attack shad. We've all noted half-digested shad in the live well. The bass that threw them up certainly shouldn't have been very hungry, yet the scoundrel took our lure offering a few minutes earlier. The point to be made is that the presence of food, whether it be real or our artificial, usually will provoke a response from a bass. We might have to agitate him a bit, but he can normally be made to strike, hungry or not. One important point that Buck Perry told us was that the bass will be in the shallows, in the deep water areas, or somewhere in- between. Basically, that means we have to learn how to find them if we intend to catch them consistently. This knowledge is acquired through the study and application of structure theory, weather effects and seasonal influence on preferred holding locations and feeding patterns. When we hear the sad song that 'they're not biting', it's fairly certain that the angler just didn't present his lure in the presence of fish.

FABLE: You're whizzing down the lake at full throttle and observe what would appear to be a good fishing area. You say to your partner, "Let's fish here--it looks like a good spot."

FACT: The selection of a potentially productive fishing location depends on a rational analysis of what lies UNDER the surface.

Just because we see an area of stick-ups dimpling the surface or a field of nice, big stumps running across a flat, does not mean that we will automatically find bass there. Certainly we've all, at one time or another, attempted to fish one of those areas, only to find that the water was six inches deep and the bottom was pure bass-repelling muck. All that glitters is not gold, and that saying, likewise, applies to possible bassin' areas. Before wasting any of your precious fishing time on a particular spot, always determine if it actually has any real potential. Ask yourself the following questions: Is it near deep water, or does it have a definable structure feature (sloping point, ditch, gravel bar) leading out to deep water? Is the bottom composition reasonably hard and clean, rather than mud or slime? Are the depth and cover, given the degree of water clarity, sufficient to provide the concealment and safety necessary to hold a bass? Some of the finest fishing locations I know of are a mile from any shoreline and completely void of any visible features to indicate their existence. Visible cover does not guarantee bass, but it does draw a lot of haphazard, time-consuming fishing effort.

FABLE: Color is the most important aspect in selecting the proper lure.

FACT: In priority order, the most important characteristics governing lure selection are depth, speed and size.

At risk of losing my semi-pro field-tester status, I must inform you that lures are made to catch fishermen first and fish second.

That is a fact of profit-oriented business in a capitalistic society. Of course, they must also catch bass reasonably well in order to remain a successful market venture for the manufacturer, and most do so. The myriad of fishing lure colors available will all catch bass at one time or another. However, color is simply not a significant factor until we have first considered those listed above. Depth is the all-important characteristic and, unless it is considered first, we are doomed to being 'possibly successful' rather than 'predictably successful'. The rationale is quite simple--if we don't get the lure down to the bass properly, we will not trigger a strike. If the fish are gathered on a rock pile or drop off in ten feet of water, a shallow running lure is not going to take them (unless they are darn aggressive). Conversely, if the fish are in two feet of water around stumps, a Magnum Hellbender is more likely to scare them to death as it tears up the bottom, rather than invoke a strike. These are two extreme examples, of course, but we hope we've made our point.

Speed is the second most important factor governing lure selection and comes into play in triggering the instinct to strike in a bass. If the fish are active and aggressive, a fast moving lure will immediately produce. If, due to a weather front or cold water, the bass are lethargic and relatively inactive, it often requires a slow, teasing retrieve to finally get a response. Once we've gotten the lure in the strike zone (depth), it becomes important to determine the retrieve speed which will generate action. This is very important when we are fishing for school bass, in that getting that first strike usually causes a competitive spirit to arise in the school and the other fish become more active. Speed is a trial and error aspect and must be determined by the angler. The best advice is that in warm waters the bass will normally be active and a fast retrieve is preferred, while in the colder seasons (or after the passage of a cold front with a sharply rising barometer) a slow presentation is best.

Size is a seasonal characteristic and is primarily a selection factor that depends on water temperature. Warm water means high body metabolism for a cold-blooded bass and that means he must eat more to sustain life. His mind must make rapid calculations as to whether the food he is about to chase down will give an appreciable return on the investment in energy expended to catch it. Consequently, a large lure seems best during the warmer seasons. The reverse is true in the Winter, in that he does not require the bulk of food as before and will take smaller lures. And, when the bass is cold and lethargic and relatively inactive, it often requires a slow, teasing retrieve to finally get a response. Once we've gotten the lure in the strike zone (depth), it becomes important to determine the retrieve speed which will generate action. This is very important when we are fishing for school bass.

FABLE: Hot Summer weather drives all bass to the deep holes.

FACT: While the surface temperature may be near 90, ten feet down it will normally be between 72 and 78 degrees, well within the recorded comfort zone for a bass.

With a temperature probe, the angler can easily prove this for himself. This fable probably has it roots in the fact that, after spawning, the bass generally leave the shallows. The angler, now frustrated because he cannot find the fish, notes that the weather is warming and blames it for driving the bass to the deep zones. In actuality, two other natural things were the cause for leaving the shallows. First, with the spawn completed, the bass simply returned to the living areas where they spend ten months out of the year. Second, the food supply, which was also called to the shallows by the Spring warmth, has likewise moved off shore. While the living locations for some bass may, in fact, be deep, a large number never seem to go past 18 feet. Throughout the Summer months, bass can nearly always be found on easily reachable structure.

FABLE: The water was too high.

FACT: High water allows the bass access to new food supplies in the rich and fertile once-dry bank or flat areas.

Even in muddy, rising waters, professional fishermen told us that the bass, particularly the larger ones, will immediately move up to feed. Areas of thick grass and standing timber are emphasized as the most productive. I recall a year that the Virginia State Championship was won on an extremely high Buggs Island Lake by tossing crank plugs in six feet of water around flooded homes and house trailers. Sorta like fishin' in your backyard.

FABLE: The water level was falling, or it was too low.

FACT: Dropping water levels or low conditions force the bass out of his normal cover areas and onto the channel edge or closest structure breakline.

This fact makes the fish easier to find and greatly reduces the areas in which we must search for him. When all the grass and brush tops are dry, the bass has no place to go but those structure features and he'll be there most every time. Anglers who spent their time on rivers or tidal waters know this fact well.

FABLE: You need a big boat, a 150 horsepower motor and a lot of electronic equipment to catch bass today.

FACT: There are five essential items needed to catch all the bass you want-- a movable platform to fish from, decent equipment with which to present the lure, a proper lure selection (to adequately cover all depth ranges), a depth finder and a dose of common sense.

Large, fast boats give us the ability to move about rapidly and fish a lot of water--and we do so. The problem is, consequently, that we fail to thoroughly work any of it and wind up bypassing most of the fish. When the motor is running, the lures are in the boat. Dry lures catch few fish.

When we say decent equipment, we really mean reliable and properly suited to the task. It doesn't have to be costly to be good quality, so choose wisely. While we may occasionally cut a corner or two with equipment, NEVER do so with your line. It should be the best you can obtain. Your only link to that trophy of a lifetime will be that piece of string. Proper lure selection guidance can fill a book all its own. Suffice to say that this part of your equipment is chosen the way you would fill a tool box--each piece to do a specific job.

There are many electronic devices on the market which are touted as necessary to catch bass. However, in questioning the pro's, only one is considered indispensable and that is the flasher unit depth finder. Contrary to the belief of many, it's main intent is not to see fish; it is used to locate structure where fish are most likely to be. Use it for that purpose, and with that dose of common sense, and it will become the SECOND most valuable piece of equipment in your boat.

The FIRST is that thing you carry around on your shoulders.

One important point that Buck Perry told us was that the bass will be in the shallows, in the deep water areas, or somewhere in-between. Basically, that means we have to learn how to find them if we intend to catch them consistently. This knowledge is acquired through the study and application of structure theory, weather effects and seasonal influence on preferred holding locations and feeding patterns.

So, when we hear the sad song that 'they're not biting', it's fairly certain that the angler just didn’t FIND the fish.


TACKLE AND LURES FINDING FISH
PLACES TO FISH STORIES



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