To find bass, find the baitfish. Everyone knows that rule.But in summer and fall, finding baitfish doesn't necessarily mean catching bass. Massive schools of baitfish swarm our lakes at those times, driving bass into a feeding frenzy and bass anglers into fits of frustration.It's especially frustrating to see fish charging through bait schools while ignoring your repeated casts to this surface activity.BASSMASTER Tournament Trail pros face this dilemma every autumn and have devised special retrieves that make their lures imitate a baitfish pursued by a bass in a high-speed chase. Pro anglers Jim Morton, Dion Hibdon, Brent Chapman and Danny Correia rely on the following escaping baitfish retrieves to trigger reaction strikes from bass in late summer and throughout fall.
High-speed chuggingEven though he won the 1992 Oklahoma Invitational in November on a buzzbait, Jim Morton entices bass in autumn by rapidly popping a Storm Lures Rattlin' Chug Bug. The Oklahoma pro developed his escaping baitfish retrieve one fall day when bass were hitting — but not taking — his Chug Bug as it sat still. "It was a frustrating deal until we started working the bait real, real fast and started catching fish," he recalls.The 3/8-ounce Rattlin' Chug Bug works best for this high-speed retrieve because the lure's size and design allows it to skip and spit water at the same time. Morton also improves the action of his bait by tying a knot directly to the lure, without using a snap or split ring, and pulling the knot snug to the bottom of the line tie. "That keeps the nose of the bait up and causes it to skip a lot quicker," he says.Keeping his rod at about the 9 o'clock position, Morton jerks the rod and simultaneously reels in line to make the lure pop and skip across the surface. "The faster and the more erratic you can make that bait act while still moving a lot of water and making it spit, the better it's going to be," he says.If bass ignore his steady retrieve, Morton varies his presentation by popping the lure 4 to 6 feet and then pausing it. "The fast, erratic action excites the bass, and they will follow it," says Morton. "When you stop it and the lure sits there for a minute, bass can't stand it. They'll just explode on the lure."The constant jerking and reeling can be a tiring ordeal without the proper equipment. Morton recommends using a high-speed reel with a 6.1:1 gear ratio for quickly cranking in slack line and keeping the lure popping. He also uses a 6-foot medium action graphite rod, which is light enough to jerk for hours without wearing him down.
Darting a jigWhen he wants to induce a strike from inactive bass hanging around docks, Dion Hibdon turns his jig into a fleeing baitfish. The 1997 BASS Masters Classic Champion from Stover, Mo., mimics the action of a scared shad by dropping his jig to the corner of a dock and then quickly reeling it away from his target.As he approaches a dock or brushpile, Hibdon imagines where the bass is looking, then tries to place his jig behind the fish and bring it over the top of the bass' head. On the initial fall, Hibdon allows his jig to drop into the shady areas of docks or brushpiles, and then he imparts the escaping baitfish action. "I keep my rod low, and a lot of times I'll make the lure jump with my reel," says Hibdon. With four or five rapid turns of the reel handle, Hibdon can make his jig dart a couple of feet.Hibdon completes his retrieve by letting the jig fall to the bottom. "A baitfish is not going to run too far away from what it's hiding around — if it gets out there in that open water, it's going to get eaten," says Hibdon, who believes a shad or bluegill darts away from a bass for a short distance then dives into the cover.The Missouri angler favors a 1/2-ounce jig for this technique because it's heavy enough to stay in the water during the jumping segment of the retrieve and because it falls rapidly for the diving finish. A twin-tail plastic grub trailer gives the lure swimming action.Since he prefers pitching and skipping his jigs under docks, Hibdon employs a 7-foot medium heavy rod for this technique. "You need a rod that helps you set the hook real fast and that you can control to make good casts," says Hibdon, who works his jigs on 17- to 20-pound-test line.
Deflecting crankbaitsDuring their escape attempts, baitfish tend to accidentally bump into objects, which sometimes leads to their demise, according to Brent Chapman, a former Classic qualifier from Lake Quivera, Kan.Chapman tries to imitate these bumbling baitfish by deflecting a Storm Lures Pro Series Short Wart off stumps, laydowns and pole timber. "When inactive bass are up in shallow water, you can get them to bite by putting something big and loud in front of them," he recommends.Keeping the tip of his 7-foot rod high, Chapman rapidly retrieves his shallow diving Short Wart. "I've found that faster retrieves are better for getting those reaction strikes," says Chapman. To make his lure more buoyant and help it deflect off cover better, Chapman ties the Short Wart to 20-pound-test line.A constant high-speed retrieve produces best when Chapman wants to bang the lure into solid wood cover. However, he alters his tactics when presenting the lure around springy cover like cedar trees. Hang-ups occur when running a short-billed crankbait into cedars, so Chapman avoids this problem by cranking his lure at a fast clip to within a few inches of the branches and then stopping it."When the bait stops, it sometimes glides in a different direction, almost like it's deflecting off something," says Chapman, who notes that most strikes occur as the lure changes direction.
Burning spinnerbaitsWhenever he finds bass suspending below baitfish on deep, clear lakes, Massachusetts angler Danny Correia burns a spinnerbait across the surface.This escaping baitfish technique consistently catches smallmouth in northeastern lakes, but he also uses it for largemouth and spotted bass in clear reservoirs throughout the country. He prefers ripping his spinnerbaits along bluffs and deep rocky shoals where the fish suspend as deep as 20 to 30 feet.A specially designed Fleck spinnerbait is Correia's favorite lure for his high-speed technique. Since he prefers small blades, Correia uses a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait, but adds weight to the lure to make it into a 1/2-ounce model.The trouble with most small baits is they don't have enough weight, which causes the lure to pop out of the water when reeled fast. The Fleck spinnerbait is a small profile bait that I can reel fast without having the bait pop out of the water," says Correia, who swears by a double willowleaf model with a No. 1 and No. 5 blade combination.
Maintaining the right speed is essential to Correia's spinnerbait retrieve. "I try to retrieve it as fast as I possibly can without breaking the water with it," says Correia. Smallmouth ignore his lure if it creates a ripple on the surface, he notes. "But if it's just below the surface and not really waking, they just annihilate it."If he sees a bass following his spinnerbait, Correia speeds up his retrieve to provoke the fish into striking. He believes bass shy away from the lure if the retrieve is slowed down.The Massachusetts angler, who placed second in the 1986 Classic, relies on a 7 1/2-foot fiberglass rod and a baitcast reel with a 6.2:1 gear ratio for his spinnerbait technique. He selects 20-pound line because it keeps his spinnerbait near the surface better than lighter monofilament.The frantic action of a fleeing baitfish drives bass into hot pursuit. Learn to capitalize on this predatory instinct, and you'll have another trick for when bass are picky eaters.