It’s been over a year since my last bass fishing trip. After spending two days on a chain of crystal clear lakes in southeastern Michigan I came home happy. Nothing like a few days on the water to eliminate what little stress I have.
On this trip there were no big fish caught. There wasn't a lot of fish caught. Just spending a few fine days out on the water again seems to have extended my life a few days more. Stayed with the usual suspects in a semi rustic cabin. The weather was perfect. September seldom disappoints. We drank, joked, ate great food and fished. Not necessarily in that order. What’s not to like?
The guys I spent time with with are bass fanatics, Especially Danny. Me? I’ll catch anything that bites and enjoy it just the same. I always keep my expectations in check, that way I am never disappointed. Danny targets bass only but if a big pike hits he’s OK with that. He's the kind of fisherman who will be on the water before sunrise and come back to the cabin only when nature insists. These guys are the type who drool more in a Cabela's store than in front of a butcher shop meat case. I spent one day fishing in Danny's boat and as always I learned something new. This time he showed me weed lines on the lakes I never knew were there before.
Bass fanatics are a serious subset of hell bent fishermen on a mission. Spare time is spent sharpening the hooks, cleaning tackle, changing line. They usually carry at least six rod and reel outfits in the boat. One rod will be for casting spinnerbaits, another for casting plugs and crankbaits and another for pitching jigs and plastic. The other three are duplicate rods and reels but they may have a different color or weight of plastics, spinners and plugs tied on. Whenever the whim hits they will drop one and pick up another not wasting any time to tie on another choice. Time on the water is THAT important to them. I’m a bit more casual about my fishing, appreciating the scenery, enjoying the ride and counting the time left on the water before throwing some fresh caught fish in hot oil and enjoying a fine adult beverage when back on land.
Some years back I was watching one of those cable television fishing shows, the one where that chuckle head hillbilly blond guy with the Captain Kangaroo haircut who cackles at everything he says. During a commercial break one spot advertised a rack for the inside roof of a pickup cap that held up to two dozen rods. The wife looked over at me and asked why anyone would have so many rods. “you only have two hands”, she chuckled. I looked back and asked why a woman needs a hundred pair of shoes. “You only have two feet.” Her response? ‘You got me there’.
Don't get me wrong, I have my share of tackle. I have three loaded tackle boxes. One has six removable covered plastic trays. Trays can be added or removed depending on the type of fish we are after. One small tackle box is specially designed for spinnerbaits only, since laying them out sideways becomes a tangled mess. The other is a perch box. When targeting perch you don’t need much tackle and the small box takes up very little space in the boat. Everything else stays home in the garage. I prefer my boat as uncluttered as possible
Fishing tackle has gotten very expensive. I gathered my collection slowly over the years when the prices were much lower. But that doesn’t stop manufacturers from concocting flashier newer designs made mostly to hook customers. I have looked at and handled reels that cost more than $500 at the local Bass Pro Shop. $500? For that kind of money it better get wireless broadband, a built-in camera and have fast internet and email access.
Oh, you don’t have a wacky worm? You need wacky worms these days, and a football jig and a wigglly piggly, and a sea salt impregnated garlic scented gnarly craw in the speckled pumpkinseed color with chipotle mayonnaise.
I have seen all the fishing gimmicks over the years. Scent was big in the early 80’s. They sold artificial scent solutions that fish could not resist, they claimed. “Simply spray on this crawfish scent on your lure and it drives bass crazy.” What's wrong with putting an actual crawfish on the hook I wondered? I knew guys who wasted money on that silly scent thing. They didn’t catch more fish or anything bigger than I did on the same day on the same water.
The most insipid fishing gimmick in my memory was the Color C Lector, another 80’s fishing fad. It had a gauge with a rainbow of colors and a cable leading to a submersible probe. Simply drop the probe into the water to the depth one whished to fish and the needle would point to the color combination that would hypnotize any fish into biting. Those who bought a Color C Lector fad weren’t done, no. The colors of the C Lector dictated the color of the lure to use. Since the colors of lures already in the tackle box did not match the C Lector colors a fisherman needed to go out and buy all new lures like the one in deep purple and pale lime green and the one in orange and dark green and on and on. Nice trick. Lure manufacturers bought into the Color C Lector franchise and produced the old favorites in these fabulous new fish catching colors. You knew they were official because of the official logo on the box. Pure. Marketing. Genius!
Three to four years later those ‘official’ Color C Lector lures were in the $1 sale bin at most tackle shops. Most anglers thought the idea smelled fishy. I sure did. Today the Color C Lector device and the color matching lures are nowhere to be found.
I could go on and on about the TV infomercials featuring gimmicks like the ‘Banjo Minnow’ and the ‘Flying Jig’, all ‘guaranteed to catch fish’™. There were some sonic lures that emitted sound and other lures with lights in them. The fish didn’t bite them but many anglers did.
Fishermen are bigger suckers than golfers. Well, almost. The day I can fry up some delicious golf balls with a side of fescue salad is the day I sell the boat and consider golfing.
The past few days I caught a few small bass on spinnerbaits that are twenty years old. The Blue Fox brand were always my favorites and today they are nowhere to be found. Why? I could get them at KMart for under $3 back then. Today the spinnerbait selection is very poor with only a few brands are available going for over $6. The Booyah! brand seems to have cornered the spinnerbait market and controlled the prices as well.
Rapala baits have always been reliable. They make crankbaits and have for decades. Most of the models are made of balsa wood and have great finishes with very sharp hooks. Starting at or around over $6. each today, to fill a tackle box with all the options to replace mine would cost hundreds, maybe more than a thousand. The only reason I would need to buy a new Rapala is if one of mine gets snagged on the rocks. I do my best not to lose any.
The one thing to keep in mind when fishing is that weather conditions, seasonal movement, habitat (and believe it or not the lunar cycle) are key to a successful day on the water and even then there are no ‘guarantees’. Knowledge and experience mean so much more than flashy tackle and gimmicks.
Understanding and knowing what makes fish move, why they move and where they move is priceless and the only way to accomplish that is to read a lot, spend a lot of time on the water and fish where the fish are.
Knowing when to use a given lure how to work them properly are key. I am still learning after forty years.
And then there's dumb luck. I can't count how many times a novice on the trip would come back to the cabin with a trophy fish caught on a spot nobody else would consider. Good for them. It warms my soul to see that happen.
One last thing. A proven fish taker on any given day, day in and day out is live bait. And there is nothing, absolutely noting wrong with using live bait to help catch yourself a great meal.
See you on the water.