This one actually caught on favorite Lake Musconetcong years ago with a clear plastic, Hedden Torpedo.
Spook Yourself into Topwater Bass
Heightened awareness, by definition, is not the norm, but slip into an actor’s skin to make just the right moves with a topwater plug. Simulate fright so the plug skitters quickly at the moment a bass is ready to react. Feel completely natural, triggering the strike directly. The immediate environment offers you perception so subtle you don’t think, imparting the plug’s action directly. Become an immediate mirror of life surrounding you, leaping out of the image spontaneously to make a surface plug behave precisely to incite a strike.
It won’t work unless senses become immersed in the environment and you feel keenly attuned, weirdly at one with florid summer life. Bass fishing from kayaks in June at a private Lakehurst lake made all the difference, because we sat right at water level. We fished for hours in daylight before sinking into deep affinity for the lake after dark. Within 15 or 20 minutes of moonlight, I howled like a wolf having hooked my third among flooded timber, a bass over three pounds soaking me, racing back and forth beside at the surface like a frightened pig. I caught many more and some as big, casts aimed perfectly. The next morning in gathering daylight I hung the same plug on branches a few times, not in the feel as the night before. The timber stood as the sort of aquatic forest calling for a soft-bodied weedless topwaters during daylight hours—let alone at night.
Hours before the morning after ensued, Fred Matero said, “How are you doing this?” He fished a hundred feet away.
“You have to make the bass smell blood!” I said. “They pound what they feel is frightened.”
Fred's fishing picked up. You have to do the bleeding, I told him. He picked up on my infectious mood. Not actually afraid or frightened, you have to feel this intensity as an actor would, taking perceptual cues and transmitting them to the bass. Sounds crazy? Any actor would be, if not for the art. Before bass struck, I anticipated hits coming, skittering my Baby Torpedo, pulling rapidly by sweeping motions as I had never worked a topwater before, witnessing wakes race up from six feet behind and careen straight into the plug. Bass shot airborne two feet at such wild, cavorting angles I couldn’t set the hook.
I knew exactly when to create this action by no visible evidence and no ordinary telling myself how to do it. None of this felt detached, random or whimsical. I put my thinking mind aside, except to guide this actor’s trance, to keep myself from backing out as if to deny it happening.
To some degree, this happens to all of us in any kind of fishing. Most of us get to the lake or what have you, start fishing, and slip into the flow of fishing, which itself is something of heightened awareness. We don’t like the thudding resistance of casting against the body of water confronting us, as if nothing is there and we have to work ever harder to keep futility at bay. But that’s normal unless it gets onerous and we either look for fish elsewhere, decide they won’t hit—or possibly step up the effort to overcome resistance, which often works even under tough conditions.
When fishing is good, the feeling of opposition between angler and the water he fishes melts. We don’t necessarily slay the fish for magic to happen, but without some action the question mark gets between us and immediate response to rod in hand, interest down the line. Struggle for certainty not all slow fishing is about, to some degree—unless bored—we’re open to the environment rather than questing against doubt. On occasion, we may feel desire not so much for a huge catch or high numbers—quantity isn’t really all we want—but something truly wild from deep within this natural world we visit to make catches, which we exist as part, deep within just as wild as the fish.
For me, perhaps fishing topwater plugs for bass—I haven’t quite got the magic in weed mats with soft lures—is the surest way to the strangest fish. Openness to the water I fish is something anyone else who fishes feels familiar with; we feel personal affinity and want to return. But to put yourself into a deep contemplative state of imagination similar to what actors must do and make a plug seem—to yourself as well—like something alive and escaping from bass feels downright weird.
Think of the times on the water when you noticed something you already knew immediately before recognizing it. Cognition—rather than re-cognition—happens to each of us out there because being in a fishing environment is just that. We sink in, perceive things someone who lives in artificial environments day and night, or who spends all their time in virtual reality cannot perceive if they stood side by side with us.
No one can fish optimally every time out; by definition it couldn’t be optimal. But it’s worth trying if you get halfway there.