Every bass angler who has fished a body of water for consecutive days has probably wondered to himself, "Where did the bass go?" In a matter of hours, his most productive area went from a feeding frenzy to a barren wasteland.
So, should you stay and wait it out, hoping the bass start biting again, or should you leave the area in search of more productive water?
"That is probably the toughest question to answer in bass fishing," says 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion Mike Iaconelli. "I don't think there's one right answer for it because bass fishing is so complex. You have to take into account the lake, season, time of day, lighting conditions, type of fishery and many other factors."
That being said, over the course of his career Iaconelli has devised a formula to help simplify the decision of leaving an area or staying in an area when the bite slows or is nonexistent. He calls it the "hour rule."
"If I go to my primary spot and I'm confident that it's the winning area, I'll give it an hour," he explains. If Iaconelli is unable to catch fish within that first hour, he will then either change tactics within that area or leave for greener pastures.
For Iaconelli, following the hour rule helps keep him "fluid" and open to change. If he believes there are still bass in the area, he will remain for another hour but change his approach. "For example, I'll try fishing shallower or deeper, change the color of my bait, or move from the inside weedline to the outside," he says. If Iaconelli is still unable to relocate the bass, he believes it's time to leave.
"It becomes almost imperative to fish other spots because a lot of times you just can't sit and wait," Iaconelli stresses. "Go to other spots and try to catch a few fish, and you might run into a better pattern. If not, go back and check your primary spot a little later in the day when the school of bass might have returned."
During the 2008 Elite Series slugfest on Falcon Lake, where he finished 11th, Iaconelli used the hour rule to help save his tournament and push his total weight to more than 112 pounds. "An hour had gone past and I really didn't have a solid bite so I moved deeper and gave the area another hour," he explains. "After that, I abandoned the area and flipped some bushes just to catch a few fish. When I came back to my primary spot later in the day, the school of bass had returned."
The decision to stay or go leads back to one of Iaconelli's well-known mantras: "fishing in the moment." If an hour goes by and you haven't gotten a bite, the fish are telling you to change. "Use the hour rule. It's a good rule of thumb," concludes Iaconelli.