Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beat Afternoon Bass Odds with Topwaters

One day just after noon in August at Ringwood State Park’s Shepherd Lake, my son and I bass fished an even handed way—weightless Chompers worms 17 feet down along a weedline edge, the breeze light enough for control. We heard a whoop and watched an angler catch a good-size bass back in the weeds. I had been watching the two of them chuck topwater plugs. Another good bass struck. I looked at the sky to notice the sun had dimmed as clouds thickened, and understood, feeling distinctly one-upped by someone else taking an odd approach.


Largemouth and smallmouth bass serve an interesting academic research subject for an obvious reason: anglers want to know. A single fact never entirely explains a complex behavior, such as why bass feed early and late during summer, but sometimes a single cause seems to illuminate just what the fish are doing unexpectedly. The eye structure of both largemouth and smallmouth advantages them over forage fish in changing light. Bass see forage early, late—and with thickening or weakening clouds mid-day—better than forage see them. They have no tapetum lucidum, which gives walleye their namesake and advantages them over prey in very low light or turbulent water, not particularly changing light. But bass and walleye may hug bottom for the same reason. Exceptions exist. Walleye suspend over oxygen depleted depths, and bass sometimes cruise slowly in mid-column or near the surface right out in the open under intense sun. 

Usually then they won’t hit because they are not staging to prey. They don’t seem to notice you just a few yards away because less aware than normal, as if in suspended animation. When feeding, bass usually stage under cover to ambush prey, or else they prowl the bottom—particularly among aquatic vegetation, rocks, or timber—with their eyes directed upward.

Forage fish tend to swim near to the surface in order to evade predators on the bottom, with little choice but to create safety in numbers. Not only do bass see them better than they can see bass given equal light, it’s darker near bottom where bass camouflage. Against light at the surface, forage make distinct silhouettes.  

For relatively shallow water—as deep as 12 feet if clear—nothing beats a surface lure as long as warm water season lasts when light is changing. Bass have the advantage, are looking skyward for a mouthful, and catch sight of commotion above. You can just imagine the trigger response. So many strikes leave no doubt that bass put their all into the sheer thrill—whatever this is for a bass—of demolishing the target. From eye socket to spinal column—it’s a very short fuse and a hot detonation.

The typical opinion states that calm water is best for topwaters. I don’t disagree, but it’s not always true. This past May I arrived at Round Valley Reservoir on a lunch break without my lure bag, but I had a rod and my license. As soon as I parked, I reached into the glove compartment to find a big white buzzbait. The sky was clouding. The wind drove the surface like buffalo herds.

Unlikely? I thought so. But not only did I catch three bass in 45 minutes fishing the shoreline at Lot 2, one was a smallmouth that struck from at least eight feet of water. I knew the breakline adjacent to a shallow flat indicated prime locale, but would a bass really come up with that much wave action above it? Perhaps it was crucial the lure was a big buzzbait.

For chopped surface, try to beat the commotion. You may not be able to do it with a musky plug, but choose larger lures and the type that creates the most commotion like buzzbaits, Crazy Crawlers, Jitterbugs, and the Devil’s Horse.

For a calm, mid-day surface, my preference may be smaller plugs, and I especially like the clear plastic versions of Hedden’s Tiny Torpedo and the smallest Zara Spooks. Whether they make a difference or not, I’m curious about these choices and have caught bass on them.

Summer is the time to think about big bass in the thickest vegetation available. Often lunker bass are not at the outside edge of weeds along the deep open water, but just inside where thickest vegetation begins, and even further back in it as if they intend to hide from you. Try Money Frogs, Boohah Baits, or Phatrats. If you get a strike it will blow weeds wide open. Now that fall is here, the weeds begin to recede as bass tend to come out along the inside edges. Look for changes in light intensity and put a plug up top where a bass can see it.  



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