Those uncatchable bass - should we sometimes be fishing a lot lighter?
Certain stuff I come across strikes a chord with me for whatever reason, and ever since I saw the post about sight fishing to bass on the excellent Labrax Squad blog, I can't get it out of my head - have a read of the post here. I used to do a lot of mullet fishing and I have spent a heap of time around all kinds of fly fishing, so it's not as if the concept of lighter tackle remotely freaked me out when bass fishing came crawling into my brain, but that particular article has really got me thinking...............
I am not of the opinion that bass are a particularly spooky species when you're fishing for them in what we might call "normal" bass fishing conditions - a fizzing sea or a run of current in an estuary etc. It strikes me that when bass are on and feeling confident, they will often smash lures without much hesitation, accepting of course that I can't see their actual behaviour when doing so.
Now some of you by virtue of where or how you lure fish for bass may or may not come across bass moving around in gin-clear, shallow water, bright skies etc. I have come across this situation a fair bit, and whilst I will tend to try and avoid bass fishing on those sorts of locations in those sorts of conditions, as I said the other day with relation to fishing trips away from home, sometimes we are faced with tricky conditions and for the most part those clear water/bright sessions over shallow broken ground are bloody tough.
Give us a load of fizz and bounce on the sea and we fish away perfectly confidently, but now go chucking lures around when you're faced with calm and bright conditions over the same ground and I would suggest that your chances of hooking up are now much lower. I don't believe there's a magic formula as such to catching bass when it's like this - night fishing can work of course - but increasingly I can't help but wonder if for the most part we are simply fishing with lines and lures that are too heavy and noisy for wary fish - are we ourselves spooking the living daylights out of these bass?
I come back again to fly fishing and how light the approach needs to be sometimes to catch say spooky wild browns from a small clear river, and how you would never find a competent fly angler breaking the natural horizon with their profile or splashing around in the water etc. I reiterate - I don't think bass are a really spooky species as such, but then neither are trout at times, yet in certain locations or conditions you could be forgiven for thinking that they have degrees in turning their noses up at anything you put remotely close to them. Are we missing a few tricks when it comes to wary bass?
Come from bait fishing as I do and a 15lb fluoro or whatever material leader seems nice and light when you were perfectly comfortable fishing say a 100lb mono trace for huss - but when did you last come across a fly angler using a 15lb leader for trout in clear water? A lot of the bonefish stuff I have photographed has been with 17lb fluoro leaders from memory, but contrary to what a lot of anglers think, unpressurised bonefish on remote flats are not a particularly spooky fish. Sure, you've got to get that fly and fly line down right (count me out there!!), but do it close to correct and bones are known for being a very honest fish.
Is there an argument that scaling right down in those calm and bright conditions might actually get you a bass or two? I don't want to fish light just so I can say I landed good fish on light tackle, indeed I am strongly opposed to those IGFA line class record things for example, but I do wonder if there are times when we should be scaling right down - and I see no reason why big bass can't be landed on much lighter gear. The way my head works is to go back through vivid fishing memories and then think about how I might have done things better. I am thinking now about a few specific occasions and wondering that if I had scaled my leader and lures right down, would I have caught fish instead of seeing them and failing to hook any?
How do you normally go lure fishing? I carry one rod and reel with what is often a length of that 16lb YGK Nitlon fluoro tied via the FC knot onto whatever braid I happen to be using. I carry a selection of lures that I trust will give me a decent chance of coping with the particular location and the conditions that we are faced with - but am I giving myself a proper chance when conditions get tricky? Sure, I advocate moving to say an estuary when it's like this, but what if you are out and about and you can see bass moving around? Do you stay and keep trying or do you head off? It's hard to leave an area when you know categorically there are bass around.............
And what do you do when you can see bass moving around? Do you do what many of us must have done before? Yes, you get frightfully overexcited and chuck your lure right at the fish and spook the living daylights out of them? Or do you also wade/splash/crash towards them and then whack your lure right in amongst them and most likely give them a perfectly decent heart attack? Now watch a good fly angler and you won't see them do this - ever hear of leading a fish? Placing a fly or lure well away from the fish and using the current/wind/your retrieve etc. to get your imitation crossing in front of the fish in a way that doesn't spook it. Do the bass that we chase ever warrant an approach like this, and as per the Labrax Squad article, is it sometimes worth thinking about very light leaders and smaller soft and hard lures? If you are never faced with a situation like this then ignore all this, but if you are, surely it's a bit of food for thought?