The Strike Zone: It's all in the Eyes

In all of the "ball" sports, when the money is on the line, it's the ability to make the pitch, shoot the basket, sink the putt, or thread the ball between two defenders that separates the men from the boys, the professionals from the amateurs. The same is true for bass fishing, particularly tournament fishing, largely because of the way bass are made.

 Bass are strongly visual animals. As judged by the amount of brain tissue they devote to visual stimuli, vision may be their dominant sense. Estimates of how far bass can see underwater vary. Most vision experts cite about 50 feet as the maximum. Beyond that all objects disappear into a "blue haze" due to light absorption and scattering by water.

 Of course, the size of the visual target makes a big difference. Bass probably see full grown bluegill a lot farther off than they see baby minnows. Size matters because larger objects cast larger images on the retina at the back of the bass' eye. Some objects are so small they fail to register on the retina and hence are too tiny to be seen.

 Let's suppose that under the best conditions bass can see prey up to 50 feet away. That may not seem that far, but to a bass, that distance could be imposing, especially for feeding. And, of course, not every meal turns out to be real. From 50 feet away a fluttering leaf might easily be mistaken for a struggling, injured minnow. A bass rushing in for a kill would make the trip for nothing.

 So what's a hungry bass with a visual attitude to do? It must eat but can't afford costly miscues. Simple. It plays the odds.

 Predatory fish like bass often limit strike distances much shorter than what they can see. The bass has a maximum distance it will commit to when chasing prey. Bass anglers know it better as the strike zone, the space where the bass has a high probability of successfully capturing its prey. That is not to say the bass never commits beyond that distance, or always fails in its efforts, only that the probability is low.

 It is important to note that the strike zone is not a perfect sphere surrounding the bass, but instead has an irregular shape due to the way bass are made.

 A bass is built to launch forward, not sideways or backwards and is much more likely to strike at potential prey lying directly ahead in front of its face than to the sides or behind. There is also a vertical bias. When attacking, bass tend to position themselves where they can strike upward, approaching from underneath the prey.

 The shape of the strike zone is fairly constant, a function of how bass are made. However, the size of the zone is not constant at all. Zone size fluctuates according to the bass's feeding mood or aggression level. The strike zone is comparatively large when aggressiveness is high.

 Zone size also varies if the prey is moving. Bass will have smaller strike zones for highly active prey and larger zones for slow moving prey. Prey moving away from the bass are less likely to be attacked than prey moving toward the bass or across its strike zone.

 When bass are actively hunting and their strike zones are large, just dropping lures somewhere reasonably close to the bass will be all that's needed. Other days, the strike zones seem almost minuscule.

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