The old adage that fish feed in rainy weather isn’t always evident. Today I fished a large private pond under cloud cover and ten minutes of rain, catching fewer and smaller bass than days ago here under hot, noontime sun. Perhaps I should have experimented with plastic worm color or fished a topwater plug, but with little time to fish both days, I focused on quickly casting close to cover. I think if bass are really active, color loses importance, although I have experienced times when bass were quite active in relation to a particular color and not another.
The coded, handwritten fishing log I’ve kept since 1974 marks many times I’ve gone fishing with high hopes only to be disappointed. This isn't to suggest bass don't respond to their environment, but to observe that bass respond to conditions in subtler ways than I often expect. Plenty is involved in bass behavior requiring scientific research to understand, and scientists admit that much remains unknown.
Nevertheless, my son, Matt, and I recently experienced a classic bass feeding spree on Lake Hopatcong. We got up at 4 a.m. and woke fully to expectations of a great day. I can’t feel nearly as good during the week when I wake four hours later than that hour. Breakfast was quick and savory. I always indulge fried eggs before Hopatcong, which I don’t normally eat. The protein helps fuel activity later. A Susuki 9.9-horsepower powered the 16-foot Dow’s rental boat across the lake well before sunup, clouds showing signs of breaking and forming interesting patterns I wanted to photograph if only I had a suitable foreground.
The lake was calm and fishing slow for the first hour. The sky patched with blue in spots, I felt impatient as precious early minutes slipped by. We get most of our big Hopatcong fish before 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. But after we caught our first smallmouth, a couple of others soon followed, and then I noticed cloud cover had thickened deeply and looked menacing. The weather forecast included no rain until about 11:00 a.m., but forecasts just reflect the best prediction can do. I’m no better at predicting fishing success.
Soon two herring rigs apiece overwhelmed us. Thunder rumbled distantly and I knew we had little time. If we chose to fish through the storm, we might catch more bass and bigger, but that’s not worth being unwise. I took out my cell phone to check time, feeling the morning had progressed to about 10:00. It was 7:45. Action made short duration feel full. Minutes later, we reeled in our herring, pulled anchor, and took cover at Dow’s before rain began. We had caught seven smallmouth bass, the three largest between 16 and 17 ½ inches, two others not much smaller, and released all of these, as well as lots of white perch on ultra-light rigs with nightcrawlers, more of them than sunfish and yellow perch. Several other nice-sized bass shook hooks during the excitement.
As rain began to dot the lake’s surface, two other boats came in. A middle aged, solitary angler told me another remained out there, as always through thunderstorms. I compared how my son and I suffered no loss by waiting out the storm. Some things are too desperate to be worthwhile. When we returned to fish sunlit water, we caught no more bass, no walleye, hybrid stripers, or pickerel either. The feeding spree before the storm made our day. I guess it made the fish’s too.
That’s the sort of weather front to turn fish on for a short time, if especially an approaching thunderstorm with quickly falling barometer does just that. When I was teenaged and reckless, I fished through a tremendous thunderstorm lasting a long time. The action was incredible. I have never before or since witnessed largemouth bass as big as four pounds leap high to dive open-mouthed on a spinnerbait buzzed just beneath surface. Not one, but many bass performed this acrobatic. They seemed manic with frenzy. The fish, brilliant lightning as close as a long cast, thunder, and sheets of rain made me manic too. Having gone against better judgment is to admit the same. At 16, it didn’t seem anything foolish, but I’ve been wary of thunderstorms ever since.
I was spared once, so I don’t tempt fate to strike. Graphite rods conduct electricity. It makes sense to stay out of harm’s way, and I’ve felt since this episode of bass fishing beyond the pale as if being vulnerable a second time might not carry favor.