Bassin' Rules Debunked!

We all learned it, but who taught the bass?

There is a Dirty Harry flick where these motorcycle cops were taking it upon themselves to kill off all the bad guys in California. Son, they were pulling them over and doing them all in! When Clint figured out they were doing it, he met up with them and asked them, "What gives and why for?" Part of their reckoning was that they had no other cops to look up to, no judges or lawyers they respected, no heros, no champions, no good role models whatsoever to follow...so they decided to do the whole justice process from A to Z all by themselves. That's kind of the same way I learned how to fish...no heros, no good guys telling me what to do. So I took matters into my own hands (just like these motorbike cops in the Dirty Harry flick) and I started knocking off bad bass any which way but loose! In the process, I probably used some pretty unorthodox tactics! Now, I continue learning about bass, often by reading tons of 'zines...but when I am out on the water? I just shut down my "thinker", and I disregard everything I ever read in a magazine! I revert back to doing things that get me bites without ever thinking if it is "right" or "wrong" - a vigilante style basser you might say! There are no rules for me, nobody out there for me to watch or idolize...so I watch the bass. I observe THEM in their environment. Sometimes they are skittish and spooky, sometimes they are bold and aggressive. Who knows why and who really cares? As long as I catch, right? The bass just let me know what I need to do, and I do whatever I must do to suit them. No questions asked, no answers expected. Kinda the same way we deal with wives too, isn't it? Anyway, that's how I learned to fish and to keep a wife, and I am sticking to it!

The universe is filled with mysteries, many of which we will never comprehend. Wives are one of them. In my opinion, bass fishing is one of these mysteries too! It's so dang mysterious that many times I won't even bother to figure out why bass are hitting a certain color of a certain lure in a certain way. Sure, I would like to know why, and anglers always try to come up with the correct answer why. Now, some of those answers sound pretty reasonable. But the bass aren't talking! So there is no first hand testimony to refute the angler's speculation. That's all it is - ANGLER SPECULATION - most of the time. If the bass could ever hear what we are saying about them, I betcha some of our speculation is probably pretty wild and pretty wrong!

I'm going to go against the grain here, and a few other self-styled bass vigilantes are joining this posse too. We're going to wage a war against so-called "rules", and we'll preach you some "heresy against hearsay". Who's on this posse? It's two guys, Dean Sault (NaCl) and Andy Cuccia (Cooch), who hang their hats at the Northern California Bass Fishing Forum. They invite you to drop by there to meet them. Also, a grubby ole dawg named Al Pugh from West Virginia hill country. Al can be found dippin' his line on the River Smallies.com Forum. As for me, I home in on the Bass Fishing Home Page forums. Al, Dean, Andy, and I are all Pro Staff members at Inside Line, which is the magazine publication of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits. That's where we are coming from. What hearsay are we going to refute? Who are we gonna shoot down upon sight? The guys who are always telling you that you need to make a silent, splashless entry when you fish jigs. The guys who claim that a slower fall is always better when you fish jigs. Whoever THEY are who say you have to use THIS color on THIS lake. Any other "rules" we can blatantly disregard in this article, trust me, we will!

It's all bull we say! This article is controversial. We're advocating that baits are YOUR tools, ways you put baits in front of fish are YOUR tactics. The definition of FISHING is to use tools and tactics to elicit a response from the fish. The definition of CATCHING is to then repeat that over and over again, fine-tuning your tools and your tactics a little better upon each repetition, thereby increasing the ratio of responses to repetitions.

That's all there is to it. Define your own rules as you go along. Revel in the mystery of it all, but don't rack your brain trying to explain it all away every time. You'll only take some of the fun out of it, and you'll probably be wrong about it anyway. As long as you catch, right? So here are some examples of some unorthodox things the posse does to catch bass. It's not exactly what you usually read in other articles or hear from other people...

Pitchin' loud ones... I pitch more than I flip, which usually means the boat is 20 plus feet away from the fish. That's far enough for me and the boat not to bother them in my opinion. When it comes to pitching, I often like for the "splashdown" on the very first cast to be loud and dramatic...even startling you might say! If there are tree trunks, thick limbs, emergent rocks, a bridge or canal abutment, I aim dead at them and...WHACK..hit those solid objects about two feet above the water like an Indian throwing a tomahawk! Imagine it like you use a backboard in basketball to bank a shot. If there are reeds or brush, I like that very first pitch to get hung up a few inches above the waterline, giving me an opportunity to rustle the reeds or brush, thereby getting the attention of any big bass lurking in the vicinity. Where surface weed beds are thick, I like to pitch my jig up onto the edge of the weedbed, and then yank it, which plops my jig over the weed edge and drops it into open water.

Now, that is all on the very first cast to the best-looking "spot on a spot". On second, third, and subsequent casts, I often tone down to a silent, splashless entry. Point here you should remember is that the initial entry is a definite factor that you should use to excite a fish. It is often the most important factor in fishing jigs in cover, and many anglers do not take advantage of the initial entry "opportunity." It really gets the fish excited.

Flippin' SBDs... If I am flipping, I sometimes get claustrophobia and feel I am too close to the fish to startle them like this! Often times while flipping, I pull right up to them, just hold the rod over the side of the boat, and dip the bait into the water. I feel there is a fleeting "window of opportunity" when you flip so close to a bass. I believe the bass knows something (you in your boat) is there. I think there are a delicate few seconds when you first "arrive" on a spot whereby the bass - I guess in human terms - may not yet be decided whether to be scared of you or not. So, I slowly and silently dip my jig in and swish it all around...gives the bass a little something else to interest him besides the big red boat. So, make that first SBD (silent but deadly) swish count when flippin'. You often don't get a second chance. No dramatic splashdown for me there!

I really get out of hand... where there is a thick surface canopy of grass you have to blast through...the thicker the grass...the more weight you need to do it. Sometimes I will cast a one ounce jig straight up 25 feet into the air and let it come hurtling down like an aerial bomb to get it to blast through the top "crust". Sometimes I use a 1.5 ounce jig. What an explosion this makes! It often doesn't get all the way through the grass either...but it does embed itself down far enough so that you can start yanking on it and working it the rest of the way through. Don't be surprised if the grass swirls and opens like Moses parting the Red Sea while you're still working at it! And if you do work it through, just engage the reel and hold it motionless right under the canopy...jiggle it...hold it still...then disengage the reel and handfeed an arm's legth of line ever so slowly...engage & hold it...jiggle it...hold it still....hand feed a few more feet and stop...hold it, shake it, hold it...repeat this process all the way to the bottom. This tactic is called "making elevator stops" Expect to get bit when the elevator (your jig) stops at any "floor." Keep a mental count of each floor as you make stops. The fish will let you know at what "floor number" they want to climb onto your elevator. Of course it is often the first floor (right under the canopy) or the last floor (right on bottom). But let's say you discover that fish are consistently getting onto your elevator at the third stop? Just drop your bombs, blast through the canopy and make three slow, steady strips by hand to take your elevator jig straight to the third floor. Even still, keep checking that very first stop right under the canopy, mister elevator pilot man. Apparently, the surface explosion of the bombing excites them.

I sometimes do this in thick log jams and downed timber too If I am feeling kinda lucky, I take aim at a log or tree trunk and pitch the jig on top of a log or jam. The loud KNOCK ON WOOD of that heavy jig is a definite attractor in my opinion. Then I kind of work it off the wood so it plops into the water and...Whoosh! I can't tell you how many times the surface of the water just opens up and explodes around that jig! No whoosh? Then I let the line drape over whatever wood is there, and I make elevator stops at each floor until bottom. Sometimes I can reel a biting bass back out of the wood...sometimes, I have to go into the woodpile to retrieve a stuck bass (or a stuck jig)! Win some, lose some. It's all good to me!

What's louder than a Rat-L-Trap? After all, this "loud noise" theory is exactly what makes the Rat-L-Trap lipless crankbait so great! I have used these in aluminum boats. No matter how far you cast them, you can here that Rat-L-Trap noise resonating in the bottom of the hull when it is still at the end of a long cast. So here's a lure, the Rat-L-Trap, that is intentionally designed to go against the "quiet" theory we follow with jigs. I like to use Rat-L-Traps over underwater weed beds. Underneath the grass, bass will be positioned along the unseen bottom contours and they will be using open cavernous spaces beneath the weed mats to hunt for prey. From down below, the bass will clearly hear the loud rattling sound of your Rat-L-Trap overhead, and they will come barreling out of the grass beds rather unpredictably to bust the Rat-L-Trap. It is pretty exciting stuff! Another great application for a Trap is on shallow flats. You usually want some wind coming right in directly at the shoreline. The wind creates a certain steady "flow" of bait and bass that can be found anywhere across the broad expanses of these wind-swept flats. As an angler, it will be hard to predict where the bass will be on such broad flats. And once again, the loud rattling noise will call them in to you from a distance like no other lure can. Traps are also good to use on bare banks that break, either quickly or gradually, into deeper water. There may only be isolated fish along bare banks. Just keep the boat back and toss that Trap up a few feet onto the bank, rattling it all around but good while still on the land, then hop it into the water with a splash, flap it around where it lays on the bottom for a few seconds, and then burn it back away from shore as fast as you can. The important part here is to give it enough time (10-20 seconds) scratching and kicking around on shore to attract the fish over to it. So if all this intentional loudness works with Traps, why not a splashy jig?

Chicken scratchin' spinnerbaits. I do this shoreline "chicken scratching" thing with spinnerbaits too! Try pitching the spinnerbait up onto the bank or on top of rocks emerging from the water. Activate the spinnerbait before it even enters the water! Let it bang up a fuss and let the blade jangle all around like cowboy spurs on Clint Eastwood's boots (Oops! Wrong movie!). Anyway, the noisier the better. Then hop it into the water and let it flutter down to the bottom. Fish will take it as falls or lies there. Shake it around with the rod tip a little, and let it sit a bit more before slow-rolling it away from the shore. Again, it's that hen peckin' scratching that gets them going before they even see the lure. Same thing when that jig whacks wood or splashes down on initial entry...it gets them coming over before they even see it!

What else can I blatantly disregard? Oh yeah!...another general jig theory that I like to blatantly disregard at times is the one that goes something like "use the lightest jig head in order to get the slowest fall rate." Now, I generally follow this "rule". I do like to use light jig heads with a slow fall rate. Not just me, I think the bass that I catch like 'em too most times. However, I have been in too many boats where my slow fall was not producing but the other guy's fast fall was! Especially in hot water, slower is not always better on the descent. I've noticed sometimes when the water is hot during the summer that bass eagerly hit heavier than usual jigs as they are falling faster. In cold water I have noticed just the opposite, that a fast falling jig may discourage bass from attempting to pursue the lure.

A quick comment about disregarding color. This is Dean Sault (NaCl) from the Northern California Bass Fishing Forum. Last spring I fished a B.A.S.S. Federation event at Oroville. The conventional wisdom was to throw a little pink worm with a chartreuse tail called a spot spanker (really pissed off the locals because I couldn't remember the name of that bait and I kept calling it their "monkey spanker"!!) Anyway, I reasoned that the locals had been pounding the bass with their spot spankers for a while and enough fish had been caught and released to cause "bite resistance" among some of the better fish. Kinda like you keep innoculating people against the flu, and the flu bug builds up a resistance to it. I played a hunch that these Oroville spots were building up a resistance to these monkey, I mean spot spankers. So, I changed up and threw summer moss brown. Sure, THEY brought in lots of fish on their spot spankin' worms. But I caught over 20 keepers and took 2nd place....even busted off the winning fish. My point is that sometimes it is actually better to go against the normal color selection on lakes that get heavy fishing pressure.

More examples of noisy entries. I fished with a friend at Shasta a few years back. He brought me out and said, "NaCl, this lake is loaded with small spots but I found some good largemouths suspended next to this bridge piling." So, I carefully cast my jig close to the piling and let it fall as tight to the piling as I could...no fish! He was swinging his jig/pork way up in the air and letting it splash noisily into the water a foot or two out from the piling. He'd get most strikes right after the jig hit the water. After he was up 5 bass to my zip, I finally swallowed my pride and asked him what he thought was making such a big difference in our success rates. He told me to look up...all I saw was the bottom of a bridge with thousands of dirt nests of swallows. He said about a week before, he watched as a couple baby swallows fell out of their nests into the water. The bass blasted them right away. Great, he thought, top water bite! He tried spooks, prop baits, buzzbaits...then crank baits, weightless flukes and spinnerbaits all without much success. Then, he made a lousy, high swinging pitch with a jig and it splashed noisily into the water. He got hammered. He repeated the trick and sure enough, that was the ticket. His conclusion? Tthe noise and impact of the small bird falling into the water caused the bass to strike. Since then, I keep my eye open for such unusual opportunities. I have noticed that in the California Delta when I cast a soft plastic topwater frog a long distance into an open place in a weed bed, it is not unusual to get an instant hit when the frog plops noisily into the shallow water. So, I think there's a definite time and place for noisy entries as well.

Interesting that you bring this up... It's Andy Cuccia (Cooch) from the Northern California Bass Fishing Forum. Yer noise comment about plopping the frogs kinda turned a light on for me... As a guide, I take great pride, as I do in my writings and conversations with folks, in teaching things that I know and do to catch fish. And this is one topic that I have a completely different viewpoint than most anglers, especially those who flip and pitch as much as we do out west around the Delta and Clear Lake. And I teach it to ALL my clients. For years, it was pounded into our fishing minds that flippin' was developed to be used as a stealthy, quiet approach to catching shallow fish in thick cover. And under some conditions, or maybe many for most folks, this may be true. But I truly believe that a bait plopping down in the water is a more natural presentation, that a bass is used to seeing often in his environment. I ain't never seen a frog, lizard, varmit or bird, graciously and silently fall into the water. A shallow feeding bass is an aggressive and opportunistic feeding bass. He is on the alert and looking for a mouthful!. You plop something in the water, it's more likely to get that bass' attention, especially in stained water where vision is at a minimum. So this is something I teach folks, who are not pro-efficient flippers and pitchers, or who are just learning, experts too, when I take them out on Delta trips. It also helps ease them, in their attempts to learn the quiet, easy presentations, which IS needed at times, but so hard to learn and be consistent at it. Don't worry 'bout the decibel level of the plop...just concentrate on the other mechanics of the presentation. Teach 'em to get the mechanics right, while in the meantime, they are plopping that bait out there and catching fish. Seems that humans will learn to develop some confidence in the flippin'/pitching techniques when they are catching fish! Heck, I'm a firm believer that while flippin' a jig, I'm really tossin' a reaction bait, kinda like a crankbait (you know, those other idiot baits). Keep on ploppin'!

I am not some modern day Daniel Boone or Kit Carson - just Al Pugh from the West Virginia hills and from the River Smallies.com Forum. So there's the disclaimer right up front. Awright then, since you guys mentioned it, let me speak up too and try to draw some conclusions from what you all have said so far. Sure I've seen the situation many times when I needed a quiet entry. WHY? Because the bass needed it. Beyond that, we don't really know squat about "why" when it comes to bass, in my opinion. I hope we are learning all the time, and we know more than we did a few years ago - but in all honesty, in my opinion, we don't know enough of the total "why" picture to fill a thimble with Granny's finger already in it. One of the best things we can do INSTEAD of knowing "why" is to OBSERVE our surroundings. When we venture into the fish's realm - WE LEAVE OUR OWN. We leave behind the magazines, the guys at the tackle shop, and everything ever said or written about fish. WE ARE IN THEIR HOME NOW, like it or not. Without communication with the fish, we will probably never understand "why", but with careful, non-threatening and non-intrusive OBSERVATION, we may learn enough to become part of that world sufficiently to function in it. That includes recognizing that these particular bass are used to a loud "plop" under the bridge followed by a struggling, sinking meal, while other bass are used to hiding under the grass canopy listening for anything overhead and grabbing whatever goes by. What we have to do is to be in tune with the "real world." That's not in a book. It is out there in the environment right there, right now, right where I am casting. Biology is fairly common from place to place. Biology tells the fish to be cautious at all times and to run in times of real or perceived danger. No doubt, you or your lure can often be scaring them. But an unthreatening thing plopping into the environment - like Dean's plastic frog - that tells fish to be curious and aggressive.

Thanks for the insight, guys... I gotta go now, but if a vigilante movie motorcycle cop pulls you over to the side on your way home from work tonight, you better plop one of them big jigs right between his eyes before he has a chance to off you! Just kidding. Please respect the law, they deserve it.

Regards, Bassdozer