The way I see it, there a few types of fisherman out there. On one end the spectrum, we have guys like me try to be as silent and stealthy as possible. On the other you’ve got guys who slam shit off the bottom of the canoe, talk loudly, get slime off their bait by slapping it at the water repeatedly…and then there is guys in between those 2 extremes. Does it matter? Oh hell yeah it matters, but if that’s how some guys are, that’s fine, they’re just spooking the bigger and smarter of the fish they happen to be around. More for those of us in the know.
Big bass don’t become top tier predators by making mistakes. I believe that they associate stressful situations with certain stimuli. Let me explain. A recent study indicated that some fish can recognize human faces. Let that sink in a second. Now also, in that study it was found that they don’t use the same part of the human brain that allows facial recognition. They don’t even have that part of the brain! Amazing. Now, could it also be inferred that if they can recognize a unique face, could they also recognize unique sounds? Possibly they could, I believe that resident bass learn as they age. Maybe they don’t learn like you and I do, but a big bass is not a stupid bass. More than likely, a big smallie has been hooked at some point in its life and might associate that stress with a certain bait or sound. Let me go deeper. Its no secret that bass in clear water are easy to spook. Have you ever fished live bait and seen it ignored? If a bass wont touch a native baitfish on a plain hook there is something going on.
I’ve seen it myself. Up on a clear Adirondack lake (20′ visibility), I caught a bunch of native shiners and went to an underwater hump that usually has fish around it during summer and fall. On this occasion I tossed a live shiner out on a plain hook and let it swim around the drop off near the edge of the hump. Black torpedoes came from the depths within minutes, but my minnow kept on swimming around, right on the nose of these fish. I could see them, and they were angling themselves in a way that I know they could see me or my raft. They wouldn’t touch it for anything. I packed up and drove off to another spot on that side of the lake, same situation. Now here is the interesting part. I came back to that hump, this time in my canoe. Doesn’t apply to bank fishing directly, but there is something to learn here.
Stayed way off the hump, made a long cast to the top of it with a Megabass Trick Darter 80 (GP pro green) and worked it back, this time when my bait approached the drop it got slapped and the katsuge trebles sunk into a nice smallie…
Now why did those fish scoff at the livebait and took my artificial an hour later? Because they didn’t know I was there the second time around.
When you can approach a spot in silence and keep a low profile, you will spook less fish and they will more readily take your offering. Seen it dozens of times since then. I love fishing on my raft, but its big, slow, and the 9.9 makes a lot of (unique) noise that I believe these resident fish understand as a threat or associate with a stressful situation. I hesitate to use the word think, bass obviously don’t think like we do. They don’t interpret the world as we do, but I believe they know what could be life threatening and naturally they flee and become way harder to catch.
Like humans, experience is quite possibly the best teacher. Ever had a river smallie use the current against you? Why do you think some of them do that, and some of them don’t? Is it because at one time they were hooked and fighting for their life by going downstream and likely breaking some poor angler off? Could be, there’s a lot of things we still don’t understand about bass.
I can’t tell you why they do what they do always, but I can tell you what keeps me from freaking them out:
-I wear camo. Not mossy oak camo, but colors and shades that are natural. Green shirt, brown shorts, greys and blues. I don’t recommend you head to the river with a safety orange shirt on. Smallies love to eat flashy colors, but a bright yellow or orange man waving a stick and wading through the shallows WILL get noticed. Stay away from yellow, red, orange.
-I make sure I stay the maximum distance from where I believe fish may be holding. I make the longest casts I can possibly make.
-I wade slowly in an upstream direction. Fish almost always face into the current or flow, does it make more sense to walk towards their view or sneak up behind them and out of their view? Common sense.
-If I spook fish I immediately back off the spot and give it half an hour or so. The fish come back if the bait is there.
-I don’t slap weeds and slime off my baits onto the surface of the water.
-I don’t yell and make commotion with my partner, I make hand gestures that we both understand when we still need to be quiet .
-I don’t play music while I fish, I pay attention to natures soundtrack.
Big bass are smart bass. In my opinion its just as important you use the right approach to the spot as the right approach to what you will present to them. The right approach is the one they don’t see coming.