The real problem with the sport of bass fishing

The guys in the Pacific Northwest have a nasty little saying aimed at our favored species: “Any fish that will let you put your hand it its mouth….”

Open-ended as it is, it both hurts me and it makes me smile. The reason is simple enough. Those salmonid guys hit the nail right on the head. Look at all the reasons we love those bass: They’re plentiful; they’re fat and want to be fatter; and they’ll bite anything from frog colored galoshes to peanut butter and jelly colored cigars. Crum, they’re second only to bluegill in the number of bites per hour.

Think about all the things we can catch them on. And I don’t mean Flying Squid and Whirlybird lures. Just the legitimate stuff—like the pros use—those boxes and bags you’ve got stuffed in your lockers. How many artificials can a fly fisherman rely on while trying to catch a river brown trout? He can stick them all in a glasses case.

I know there’s a feeling out there that I’m against the Average Joe—or even the Above Average Joe, but it’s not so. I just have this misguided desire to have our sport seen in the same light as others in the American mainstream. I hate wearing my B.A.S.S. patch in town and hearing the muffled redneck references.

Heck, I was born in Hollywood. I went to college so I wouldn’t have to listen to country western music.

But now it becomes ever more clear what the problem is. We can’t clearly separate our top performers from the rest of the crowd because “our” fish is just too easy to catch. Yeah. Anybody can catch them, and with some of our techniques (splitshotting comes to mind), it’s even possible to catch bass while taking a nap.

But at least that’s intentional. Every spring, up and down the state, a host of first-timers floating balls of rainbow Power Bait on a 4-pound leader get double-digit giants. And every summer, somebody reeling in a strip of mackerel belly does almost the same thing. Only those guys have 40-pound mono and 5/0 hooks and those fish don’t get loose.

And believe me, this perception is not lost on the angling public. Largemouth bass are thought to be such nimrods, the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame still recognizes Sandy DeFresco’s Lake Miramar monster (the one with the 2 1/4-pound diver’s belt weight in its stomach) as a line class record!

Yep. They subtracted the lead’s weight since it wasn’t natural, but they figured any fish dumb enough and mouthy enough to slurp down a diver’s weight needs to be in the record books. And you used to worry about a fish spitting a quarter-ounce sliding sinker? Pshaw.

Yet we live in an angling culture that says nuance and refinement are supreme. And the lure makers love it. They’re just like the U.S. Postal Service with its continuous string of new stamp issues. They crank ‘em out because they know collectors will buy the dang things.

The worm whompers do the same thing. They introduce new shapes and new colors every couple of months because they know we’ll buy them—and hopefully we’ll get ours sooner than anyone else in this weekend’s tournament.

And we’re so gullible. We can’t wait to grab up another bag of softies—and especially one with a cutesy name—so we can climb on the local message board and say “I caught ‘em on the #1296, salt pro taper, also known as Jimbo’s Bimbo.” (And of course, the worm guy will look to sell me a second bag: #1297--Jimbo’s Bimbo fire.)

The other night I was chatting with an old friend and worm-maker, Rewji Suenaga of Bonzai worms. Not unlike a lot of hand-pour specialists, he said he has “about 60 colors” in his line-up. The Bonzai “nightcrawler” has been his company’s trademark color, but he makes all the standards (and all the standard imitations of standards) as well.

So I put it to him. Do you make any colors that don’t work? Is their anything in the Bonzai line-up that won’t catch a fish? And since I was having so much fun, I even pressed him to see if he knew if any of his competitors put out a worm color that didn’t get bit?

Of course, you know the answer.

But what was I thinking? I went on-line with Bass Pro Shops and started counting plastic worms, grubs, tubes, cigars, lizards, slugs, skirt grubs—individual sizes and colors—and you know how many there are?

I ain’t tellin’ you. It took me all night to tally ‘em up. But I’ll give you this much. The copy next to each brand and model said this lure was one hot bass catcher!

Which should come as no surprise. A bass will hit anything.