Ever wonder why a bass will sometimes rush up to a lure, and then suddenly turn away? Or why some lures seem to catch mostly small bass, while others have a reputation for catching lunkers? I posed these questions to one of America's most famous big bass anglers, Doug Hannon. The legendary Florida fisherman, star of ESPN's Bass Professor TV segments, has shared his in-depth knowledge of bass behavior with Bassmaster readers many times over the years. We feel Hannon's approach to lure selection, whereby he balances qualities inherent in artificial lures to come up with the best choice for the conditions at hand, will revolutionize the way you fish for bass, whether you're a tournament angler or a weekend warrior gunning for the trophy fish of a lifetime. — Don Wirth
The attracting/triggering concept
Today's lures are unbelievably sophisticated, with their computer designed diving lips and hyper-realistic paint schemes. Yet it's always intrigued me that our great-grandfathers managed to catch bass on homemade lures; crude slugs of metal or chunks of wood with chicken feathers lashed around the hook!
It occurs to me that every lure possesses certain qualities that affect its potential as a bass catcher. These qualities have to do with the physical nature of the lure — its size, color, the way it moves, the sounds it makes. They can be broken down into two categories: attracting and triggering qualities.
Attracting qualities are those aspects of a lure that draw the attention of a bass:
1. Large size - This one's easy. A big, chunky lure is obviously easier for a bass to see than a small lure.
2. Bright colors - Colors that stand out dramatically from the environment of the bass, like chartreuse or hot orange, are real attention-getters. If a bass sees a bright-colored lure, there's a good chance it'll swim over to investigate it more closely.
3. Mechanical action - This refers to action "built into" a lure at the factory. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are classic examples: these lures display a series of repetitive movements when retrieved at a constant speed through open water. Sheer movement is one of the strongest feeding cues that either live forage or an artificial lure can emit; repetitive movement (such as a frantic side-to-side wobble) is highly attention-getting, but may not be convincing enough to invoke a feeding response.
4. Unnatural noises - Many lures have built-in rattles; some chatter loudly when retrieved at high speed. Sound is greatly magnified under water, but lacks direction - as any diver can attest, it seems to come from everywhere. Bass often move out of hiding when they hear a noisy lure, but they are unable to pinpoint its location without actually seeing it.
Short, squat shape - Many diving crankbaits have a plump, potbellied shape somewhat akin to a bluegill; there's no doubt bass can see these baits easily.
Slow retrieve - A slow moving lure presents an easy target for bass. For my TV show, I've filmed bass swimming up to a worm moving slowly along the bottom and bumping it with their noses.
Of course, merely attracting the bass to your lure isn't good enough. To be successful at catching bass, something about the lure has to convince the fish to actually eat it — those are its triggering qualities. They include:
1. Small size - Day in and day out, a smaller, more compact lure will catch more bass than a big one, especially in clear water. The bigger the lure, the more easily a bass can spot whatever flaws it may possess, those characteristics that convince the fish that it's not real food.
2. Natural colors and flash - Most of the natural prey that bass feed on — crawfish, shad, various species of minnows — blend into their surroundings. Creatures that live on the bottom — craws, darters, insect larvae — are usually drab browns or greens, while fish that inhabit open water tend to have silver or gold color patterns, either of which are effective open water camouflage colors. Bass pros know they'll consistently get more bites on natural forage-imitating colors, including watermelon, pumpkin, chrome or gold. Also, red gill marks and large eyespots are positive feeding cues to bass.
3. Random action - Bass, especially big fish, are more likely to be caught on lures whose action is generated more by the fisherman than through built-in design components. This is because real prey moves in a random, erratic manner, not in a repetitive pattern. Plastic worms, tube baits and jigs are strong triggering lures; their action is determined by contact with the bottom and cover, and the way you move them with your rod.
4. Natural sounds - The small aquatic creatures that bass prey on attempt to blend into their environment to avoid being a potential meal. Hence, a lure that either moves silently through the water column, such as a jerkbait, or one that exhibits random clicking sounds like a crawfish, such as a spider jig rooting across gravel, is potentially more likely to be eaten by a bass than a bait that makes a great deal of repetitive commotion.
Long, thin profile - Worms, shiners and shad, all long, thin prey species, are easier and safer for a bass to eat than short, squat prey such as bluegills, which have spiny fins that can stick in a bass' throat. For this reason, the biggest bass learn over time to avoid short, squat prey.
Fast retrieve - A fast moving lure is perceived by bass as prey that's attempting to escape. Flight behavior is a huge feeding cue — bass pros often refer to fast moving baits as "reaction-strike" lures.
The right blend
Theoretically, a lure with all attracting qualities and no triggering qualities would never catch bass because even though fish might be drawn to it, they wouldn't eat it. Likewise, a bass would probably never know a lure with 100 percent triggering qualities was there! Therefore, regardless of conditions, you'll need some blend of attracting and triggering qualities in your lure if you expect to catch bass on it.
Your personal fishing style may dictate how you blend attracting and triggering qualities into your lure selection. Generally speaking, lures with a greater balance of attracting qualities will catch greater numbers of keeper-size bass, while those with a preponderance of triggering qualities will catch bigger bass. Smaller bass, being less experienced, tend to strike lures that stand out more, while lunker bass are much more cautious about what they eat. I've caught most of my biggest bass on lures with a heavy preponderance of triggering qualities, especially jigs and plastic worms. Most successful tournament anglers start out with a high-attraction lure, like a noisy rattling crankbait or spinnerbait, to catch a limit of keepers, and then switch to a triggering bait, like a jig or tube, to catch larger fish.
If you're having trouble getting bites, oftentimes your lure is leaning too far to the attracting side of the equation, and your presentation needs more triggering qualities. You don't necessarily have to change baits — often, merely fishing your lure differently will turn lookers into strikers. Try bumping your crankbait or spinnerbait off objects such as stumps or rocks; this alters its repetitive, mechanical action and gives it the erratic look of living prey and triggers strikes. Or, use a stop-and-go retrieve instead of a constant retrieve to give it a more lifelike look. You can also stick with the same type of lure, but go to a smaller size, or a more natural color, or one without rattles. Recently, I was fishing a white spinnerbait with a chartreuse trailer in a murky Florida lake. On several retrieves, bass either rolled on or bumped the lure without striking it. Clearly they were attracted to the bait, but something in my presentation was convincing them at the last second not to eat it. I removed the trailer and promptly caught a 7-pounder. This quick fix reduced the size of the presentation and toned down its coloration, both of which added to its triggering potential.
Using the attracting/triggering framework is an easy and fun way to fine-tune your lure presentation, whether you're casting for cash or hunting lunkers. Apply this concept to your home waters, using the chart below to get you started.
BALANCING ATTRACTING/TRIGGERING LURE QUALITIES
|Fishing Conditions||Most desired lure qualities||Balance desired||Hannon's lure choice|
|Clear water, 45 degrees, Rock cover||Long/thin profile, Natural color/flash, Random action, Slow retrieve||Heavy triggering||Suspending jerkbait, (shad or gold)|
|Muddy water, 80 degrees, Wood cover||High-visibility colors, Large size, Rattles or heavy vibrations||Heavy attracting||Colorado-blade spinnerbait with trailer (chartreuse)|
|Moderated stained water, 70 degrees, Wood cover||Flash, Random action, Moderately fast retrieve||Attracting/triggering about even||Lipless vibrating crankbait (chrome or gold), Willowleaf spinnerbait, (white)|
|Clear water, 60 degrees, Deep rock ledge||Compact profile, Random action, Natural colors||Moderate triggering||Blade bait (silver), Grub (smoke), Hair jig/trailer (brown)|
|Night/Clear water, 82 degrees, Shallow grass cover||Large profile, Maximum noise, Mechanical action||Heavy attracting||Jitterbug (black)|
|Stained water, 58 degrees/cold front, Wood cover||Compact profile, Random action, Slow retrieve||Heavy triggering||Jig ’n’ pig (black/blue)|