Are you smarter than a bass? Of course you are! We all are … at least until we outsmart ourselves in our effort to catch them. That's when bass seem smartest of all. But don't worry. No bass is smarter than a fifth grader … and we don't have to be even that crafty to catch them.
Many baits have come a long way in terms of resemblance to their natural counterparts, and some remain so unnatural looking it seems odd that a bass would strike them at all. While we don't argue the results, it's natural to wonder why fish bite noisy pieces of metal or strips of plastic.
The message here is not to give the Micropterus family too much credit. They've got brains the size of your thumbnail and can't rationalize things like we do. Proof of this lies in the fact that they do indeed hit prop baits, jigging spoons and the like.
Seeing is feeding
Bass rely heavily on their sight to locate prey, so it only makes sense to have a lure that looks as close to the real thing as possible. But it's not as important as you might think. There are several factors at work here, one of which is water clarity and the other is the bass' tiny brain.
"Especially in stained water, size, shape and color are secondary to placement," says Gene Gilliland, Regional Supervisor for Oklahoma's Department of Wildlife Conservation. "This means fin placement and scale count aren't as important as anglers make them out to be. If it's there and easy, it'll get eaten regardless of what it looks like."
Bass also rely heavily on instinct, which leads them to strike at things they normally wouldn't if they could mull it over before deciding whether or not to strike. They see churning on the surface, assume it is a struggling something or other, and attack. The question of color arises next.
"The color thing is more in the angler's brain than the fish's," Gilliland says. "If you drag a bait in front of a bass' nose, he sees it as an easy meal. He's going to eat it whether it's a natural shad color or not. That said, in clear water I've found natural baits to be more effective."
I dare you to eat that!
When you stop and think about it, lots of baits are meant to imitate bass' favorite forage, but then there are things like buzzbaits. What does a buzzbait imitate? And how about bladed jigs like the Chatterbait? And the only aquatic worms are very small and sure as heck don't have ribbontails, so why do bass eat things like these?
It's very simple," says Gilliland, "bass are very instinctual. They're pre-programmed to eat first and ask questions later. If something looks like it may be a good meal, they snap at it without further thought.
"Bass lack the capability to rationalize things like humans do. They don't stop and think about what could be making that commotion on the surface. They simply see it as an opportunity for a meal and strike it."
To sum it up, no, bass aren't smart like we'd like to believe, and they're even less discerning. If something is there for the taking, more often than not it will get taken. But remember, the basic rule of thumb still applies: go with natural tones and patterns in clear water, and use anything you can in stained water to get the attention your bait deserves. Lure placement trumps all in the end.