Tried-and-true rules are handy items. In bass fishing, where each day is a new one and your quarry is unpredictable, it’s reassuring to have a few guideposts to assist in making those on-the-water decisions that sometimes spell the difference between a memorable day and a forgettable one.
There are some notions that are accepted by the majority of bass anglers as being valid most of the time, but in the eyes of experts, those tried-and true approaches have many exceptions and, in some cases, are flat-out wrong. In bass fishing, there’s a fine line between maxim and myth.
With a chance to bounce five of these pearls of wisdom off three of the nation’s best bass fishermen. We wanted to get their views on whether these authoritative-sounding approaches are the real deal or far from reality. BASS Elite pro Mike “Ike” Iaconelli puts it this way: “The No.1 rule I follow is that there are no rules. No matter how much you read and study, the bass always do something different.”
With that in mind, what are a few of these truisms of bass angling that have become something close to dogma for many?
1. NEVER LEAVE FISH TO FIND FISH
“Whoever coined that saying is a genius,” comments trophy bass specialist Bill Siemantel of Castaic, California. “Your knowledge builds as you catch fish. They don’t have to be big. If you start to experiment in an area that has fish, you might be astounded by what you can catch.”
The 41-year-old married father of two goes on to explain the importance of sticking with an area that has willing biters, even if they’re running small. “When you have active fish, the smaller ones will draw in the larger ones. This is part of the ‘daisy chain effect.’ You can then throw a bigger bait to catch the larger bass.” Siemantel cautions, however, that this doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes if you’re catching small fish, that’s all you’re going to catch unless you’re willing to start exploring.
Greg Gutierrez, who currently fishes as a pro in the FLW National Guard’s Western Division, notes a similar pattern. “Bass are wolf pack feeders. If they hear the feed bucket going with those smaller fish, the big ones sometimes move right in.” The Red Bluff, California, angler adds, however, this is one rule that was made to be broken, especially for those fishing tournaments. Even on derby day, “If you have a slug of 2-pounders and you know you need 4-pounders, it’s time to leave and go pre-fishing.”
Like Siemantel and Gutierrez, Mike Iaconelli, is also largely a subscriber to this maxim. “It is true – if they’re biting. I follow the ‘one-hour rule’ – if I get into an area where I know they are, I’ll work it for up to an hour before leaving. I make modifications, though, if I’m not getting bit. I’ll go shallower, I’ll go deeper, I’ll change colors.
“It’s a constant battle for all of us,” the 2006 BASS Angler of the Year continues, “to fish the moment and not get stuck fishing memories or history. Every day on the water, each cast should build on your last cast.”
2. FORGET LOST FISH, THEY WON’T BITE AGAIN
Gutierrez, who spent two years on the BASS Elite tour, flatly refutes this adage. “I’ll make a dozen stops during the day on a good fish that I lost in the morning. I’ve broken off fish and then caught them again with my hook still in them.”
The 2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion Iaconelli is a skeptic as well. “There are too many variables to make that generally true. Spawning fish will definitely bite again. Fish around isolated cover will also bite again – the same fish you lost earlier will bite two hours later.”
Like the others, Bill Siemantel is not a fan of the notion that lost fish are goners. “Who cares whether it will bite again? The important thing when you lose a good fish is that you’re in the right area. Ask yourself – can I make one lost fish into a limit of monsters?”
The long-time Los Angeles firefighter further notes that whether a fish will offer a repeat performance can be a function of how many other bass are nearby. “It’s often dictated by the number of fish it’s competing against for food. The more bass, the more aggressive it has to be.”
3. THROW TOPWATERS EARLY AND LATE
“It’s a generalization that’s true to a certain extent,” comments Iaconelli. “Topwaters are usually best in lowlight conditions and that’s early and late in the day. The reality of it is, though, that topwater is a presentation like anything else. Rather than just focusing on light conditions, think of a topwater as a tool. For example, during the post-spawn, males are guarding fry. That makes for a great topwater bite and the amount of sunlight hitting the water has very little to do with it.”
Gutierrez echoes a similar philosophy. “There’s always that comfort with a top water in the morning. Bass have an easier time ambushing their prey on the surface during low-light conditions.
“Later in the day, though, if you run a walk-the-dog bait past a four-by-four mat of vegetation, a fish just might pop out and eat it,” the Cal Fire Battalion Chief continues. “I’ve also seen it many times with spotted bass. They’ll suspend 18 feet down in 30 to 40 feet of water and still come up during the middle of the day to eat a topwater.”
“For the most part, you can never go wrong by looking for an early and late topwater bite,” advises Bill Siemantel. “Bass ‘get loose’ under low-light conditions. That means they don’t hold as tight to cover and structure and are more likely to chase a surface bait.”
With 50 bass to his credit in excess of 13 pounds, Siemantel cautions that putting surface baits down for good once the sun gets high in the sky can be a mistake. “Sometimes the best topwater fishing is under high skies. You might miss the most epic bites ever by not fishing buzzbaits or Spooks from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m.”
4. ONLY THROW SPINNERBAITS WITH THE WIND IS BLOWING “Absolutely false,” is Mike Iaconelli’s rejoinder. “It’s almost 50-50. Wind does break up visibility, and in crystal clear water, it helps.
“I’ve had days in calm conditions, but with muddy or stained water,” Ike continues, “when a blade is the best bait you can throw. Lures are tools, and what better tool imitates a shad than a spinnerbait?”
“Wind is a plus factor,” Siemantel comments. “It can bring in baitfish, create mudlines and break up the light column. Location, though, is the NO.1 factor in catching not only numbers of fish but also the biggest fish.
“Blades can still work with no wind,” he adds. “It depends on the water conditions, and that’s why it’s important to listen to the fish. If you’re fishing flooded buckbrush in 2 to 4 feet of slightly stained water, a spinnerbait might be your best choice. Let the fish tell you.”
Gutierrez admits that having some wind increases his confidence in a spinnerbait’s effectiveness, but he still may throw it regardless of whether it’s blowing or calm. “By breaking up the silhouette of a bait, the wind creates an environment in which bass will more readily pick up a spinnerbait. But I’ve caught fish on blades in calm conditions at places like the Delta and Clear Lake. And if you’re dragging a one-ton spinnerbait (a heavier model weighing 3/4 ounce or more) along the bottom, it’s not affected by the wind at all.”
Gutierrez comments. “I don’t carry 4-inch worms in my boat. When I go to Lake Shasta, I don’t hit that lake with anything less than a 6-inch worm.” In his view, the bigger profile of a bigger worm is going to catch bigger fish. When throwing a bait like Reaction Innovation’s Beaver, Gutierrez opts for the Double Wide model versus the standard Sweet Beaver 4.20 or the Smallie Beaver 3.50. The veteran angler does admit, however, that he’s experienced the opposite. “I have caught monster fish on tiny baits. Still, lures are just tools in your tool box, and bigger lures are usually better tools for catching larger fish.”
Mike Iaconelli, too, is a believer in this old adage. “It’s one of those old wives’ tales that’s kind of true. I’ll often fish a certain bait or a certain pattern to get a limit, but then I’ll go to a big bait to get a kicker.”
Siemantel estimates that he’s caught over 400 bass that break the 10-pound mark. He obviously knows a little about the behavior patterns of big bass. His take? “Bigger baits consistently do produce bigger fish. With a big bait, you’re throwing a 747 into the water – the fish are going to know it. ”
In Siemantel’s view, one of the keys to being successful with these outsized offerings is knowing when to pick them up and when to put them down. Although they do catch better quality bass, there are times when other options will outproduce them. “When a bait isn’t attracting any attention – no followers, no swirls, no bites – it’s not working. The trick is how fast you can learn that the bite isn’t on with certain baits. You can waste hours trying to make something happen that isn’t going to happen. Time on the water is truly your best education.”