Simply getting a strike isn't good enough for me. I want the right kind of strike — the kind in which the bass gets the bait deep into its mouth and stays hooked up all the way to the boat.
Sure, there are instances where that doesn't happen due to uncontrollable circumstances, but I want to control all the variables I can.
I do that by analyzing every strike, every caught fish as to precisely how that bass attacked the lure. These clues guide me to the best lure, size, color and presentation I can offer on that given day.
It compliments my power fishing style. By covering water quickly, I gather more information and this helps me dial in the most efficient pattern faster, and, ultimately, gives me the best opportunity to boat more bass.
Any contact with a bass — even the one that follows but doesn't take the bait — is important. When a bass follows, I know I'm in the right area. I just have to find the presentation that will get that fish to commit 100 percent.
A lot of times all that's needed is a simple lure change, subtle color adjustment or retrieve speed to make him react.
It's not unusual for me to change lures even though the one I was using caught fish. I'm always tweaking my lures and presentations to attract the most aggressive strike.
The first step to choosing the appropriate lure is identifying the forage and seasonal pattern.
Knowing the forage tells me whether the bait should be on bottom to emulate crawfish or bottom feeding baitfish or worked above the bottom to emulate baitfish roaming around. Bear in mind that can change from place to place and there may be days when the fish are feeding on and above the bottom.
Most of the time we can determine the seasonal pattern, but in the spring that's not the case because of the blend of prespawn and spawning fish.
So, if I run a spinnerbait by a bush and a bass smacks it without getting hooked, that could mean it's spawning or guarding fry.
Rather than pummel the area with a spinnerbait, I'll try a vertical presentation, such a jig or soft plastic lure, and probably get that same bass to bite.
Lure color becomes a top priority when I'm getting mediocre strikes, especially in clear water.
I've seen days when I could get a few fish on a pearl white Caffeine Shad, but a change to alewife or watermelon would make them eat it better, and I catch every one of them that makes a pass at the lure.
Bright, colorful lures may be better in dirty water, but I've also seen situations where a change to a more subtle color triggered more aggressive strikes in stained water. Be prepared to experiment.
When fishing crankbaits, pay attention to how each bass is hooked. If the hooks are outside the mouth or you're losing them, a color change may be in order.
Colors can vary by seasons and different waters, too. In springtime I use a lot of orange-bellied jerkbaits because bass tend to eat that better than those baits with white bellies. Yet, in summer, white tends to be better. My assumption is that around the spawn, orange-bellied bluegills and sunfish are predators around nests and bass' natural instincts are to chase them away. During the summer, they're focused on shad.
Some of the most color-conscious bass I've ever seen are those in clear lakes where blueback herring exist. You can use a chrome/black back jerkbait — a color that is excellent anywhere else — but they only get half-hearted looks in blueback herring waters. Switch to a translucent jerkbait with a green back and they gobble it up.
I've seen similar things happen on the smallmouth lakes around my home. Throw a green pumpkin tube with red flake and they won't bite it, but use one with purple flake and you're going to get a lot more bites.
Monitor the Fall
The rate of fall is critical when fishing vertical lures.
Choose your style of bait or jig trailer based upon how the bass are positioned on the cover or structure. If they're suspended off the bottom, a bait with swimming appendages is my first choice because it sinks slower, stays in their face longer, and has more action. When bass are on the bottom, or protecting a nest, a tube or jig is better.
And another thing, if the fish are biting the legs or tails off your creature bait, try a tube or another compact soft bait that they'll get in their mouths better.
It can go the other way, too. If you're losing fish on a Texas rigged tube, they might eat a 6-inch lizard better. It's all about trial and error, and it can change from one day to the next.
When fishing shallow targets with pitching or flipping techniques, pay close attention to where the strike occurs. If the bass bite as the bait is sinking, they probably aren't on the bottom and a lighter weight or slower falling bait might be more appropriate. If they bite on the bottom, go heavier.
Refine Your Tackle
I also make adjustments in treble hooks on hard baits. If I'm missing or losing fish, I change the hooks to increase my hooking percentage. Mustad offers a large variety with extra short shanks, round bends and Triple Grips. One of my favorite adjustments is to go to an oversized Triple Grip hook with short shanks, wide gaps and more holding power.
During spring when the water is cool and fish are swallowing the bait, it doesn't matter. But during summer and fall months, when they are trying to kill the bait by attacking it before eating it, extra wide gap hooks improve your odds.
Also, make sure the hooks you are using aren't flexing too much. I've seen smallmouth pull off a jerkbait that has flexible hooks. You need a stronger hook for bigger fish so the hooks aren't giving way under pressure.
However, don't overcompensate and hurt the action of the lure. In some cases, heavy hooks can cause a jerkbait to sink or a topwater to sit too deep in the water and that will restrict the action.
Your rod is another consideration. When burning a crankbait over the bottom, I want it deflecting erratically when it strikes an object. The way a rod "unloads" after the bait deflects can make a difference.
That's why I'm not a fan of pure graphite rods for cranking. When a bait fished on a graphite rod hits something, the lure tends to straighten up quickly and move forward. With glass, or a blended glass, it works more like a rubber band and enhances the erratic action.
I'm convinced that small details are critical to getting more strikes and try to stack those details in my favor. It makes a difference in how many fish you land, and if you're a tournament angler, how many checks you cash.