The Book That Keeps on Giving.
Dr. Keith Jones, who I consider the greatest of all writers about largemouth bass, for the information bestowed in his book Knowing Bass: The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish, calls the largemouth the "consummate visual hunter." His observations, although primarily about bass, also teach us about the other predators.
Bass want what they eat to be moving. Jones calls them "virtually obligate motion detectors." Stripers might see more acutely in some situations, but stripers also are hardwired to scavenge at times on dead stuff lying motionless on the bottom. Pike, and to a lesser extent walleyes, also both blessed with topnotch vision, do the same.
Jones says bass aren't wired that way. They aren't blind to stationary objects, but "motionless objects simply don't signal 'food' to a bass's brain. To a bass, food moves."
And so much more, as Jones gets into details, suggesting that bass are inherently tuned in to certain visual characteristics, that the gross tuning is instinctive, while the fine-tuning is learned through experience. This goes for the rest of the predators out there, only in slightly different ways, given the individual species. It's the reason one fundamental teaching precept of In-Fisherman is that it's vital to understand the species you're targeting.
For bass and other species, part of their instinctive response is to "flash patterns." Bass from early on learn to see flash as a predatory cue. Flashy baits--spinning blades--play on the fish's predatory instincts.
Adding flash, according to Jones, enhances lure detectability, with some flash patterns simulating baifish, with others that don't necessarily match the hatch, so to speak, actually being better at attracting attention. Flash isn't just a manifestation of spinning lures. It's also a factor with flickering crankbaits and swimbaits.
He reminds us, though, that flash patterns have their main appeal in waters with strong directional light, such as is the upper water column in clearer water in strong daylight. Flash steadily decreases with increasing depth where sunlight is randomly scattered. One might surmise, however, that spinning blades also trigger fish via vibration that stimulate the bass's lateral line once they are drawn in close to investigate a lure.
On a curious note, Jones mentions that bass have the ability to separate images spinning or moving three times faster than we can. So, according to Jones: "Long after the rotating blade of a spinnerbait becomes a blur to our eyes, a bass continues to see the moving blade as a distinct image through a wider range of speeds." Bass are much more tuned into spinning motion, another reason spinning blades can be so attractive to them.
Jones is retired now from his longtime post leading the research team at Berkley and company in Spirit Lake, Iowa, which is part of Pure Fishing. It's really the only research facility of its kind in all of fishing. The research there has resulted in revolutionary products, including Trilene monofilament, FireLine, NanoFil, and the newly introduced X9 Braid. In the softbait realm there are the PowerBait products, including the introduction last year of PowerBait MaxScent, and, of course, Gulp!
If you want to consult a copy of Knowing Bass: The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish, these days you need to go online and hunt options on sites like Amazon. The going price seems to be just over $100 for used copies, which isn't bad for the finest technical book on bass. It's an extension of what we do at In-Fisherman, no less, where we blend the best available science into most of our articles in our quest to help you better understand what's happening in the field, instead of relying solely on angler observations--although that, too, is an important part of the mix.
So, enjoy "the mix" in this issue. See you on the water. Keep it simple. Catch fish. Harvest selectively. Have fun. Meanwhile, I want to further add to the mix by offering observations on soft trailers to help you catch more big bass from cold water.
Jig Trailers for Big Bass in Cold Water
Vision almost always starts the feeding process for largemouth bass, but vibration also plays a role when fish are drawn in close. I have long suggested keeping it simple when choosing from the vast numbers of trailers on the market, for coupling with one of the best big-bass baits of all time, the skirted jig. These jigs are particularly effective during fall and throughout winter in open water.
As fall progresses and water temperatures fall into the low-50[degrees]F range, vibration preferences change. This happens by about the second week of October in North-Central Minnesota--usually by late November in North Texas. So, trailers like the Berklely Havoc (and now PowerBait) Pit Boss, which has four small flappers that give off flickering vibrations, give way to trailers like the PowerBait Chigger Craw, which has proven to be one of the best coldwater trailers of all time. The Chigger Craw has two flapper arms that are beveled, so the end of the claws are a bit thicker. The result is a slow-rolling distinctive thumping, as the arms flap up and down.
Early on the four-inch Chigger Craw works great, but as the water cools farther, temper things back even more, switching to a 3-incher. It's important for bass be able to see the trailer, so trim the skirt. Lake Fork, Texas, bass guide Andrew Grills taught me to trim skirts right in back of the hook, in a semi-circular patter that follows the bend of the hook.
When a jig trimmed like that touches the bottom, the skirt naturally flairs. It looks alive in the extreme, along with the two thumping claws.
One jig that fishes well in timber is the Santone Rattlin' Jig, which is manufactured near Lake Fork, Texas. It also fishes well through deep weededges, which is where bass hold in North Country lakes until just before freeze up. You need jigs weighing 1/4,3/8, and 1/2 ounce. Can't go wrong with a black-and-blue jig coupled with a similar colored trailer. Another good trailer color is green pumpkin.
Trailers I call 'generalists' also fish well this time of year; indeed, they fish well all year, the reason I term them generalists, because you generally can't go wrong with them. These trailers have longer flappers that aren't beveled, so they flow more than flap. I caught a lot of big bass on the PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg this past season. The newly introduced PowerBait Jester is another option in this category.
BY DOUG STANGE EDITOR IN CHIEF
Caption: 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craw on a Santone Rattlin' Jig, skirt trimmed to expose the trailer
Caption: Berkley Havoc (or PowerBait) Pit Boss
Caption: Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Creature Hawg
Caption: Berkley PowerBait Jester
Caption: Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw, 3-inch and 4-inch