By Eric Jackson
Fishing for bass is quite a complicated process to do well repeatedly. It entails finding the fish, tempting them with the right lure and presentation, luring them into a strike, getting the lure properly into their mouths to engage the hook, setting the hook, fighting them to the boat or shore, and finally landing them successfully. Removing the hook without hurting them, and returning them to the water is also a skill that you want to learn so that you, and others might get a chance at the same fish, as it gets even bigger.
While there are tons of articles and videos talking about setting the hook, there is always quite a range of ideas related to what is really going on under water with the fish and your lure, and just when and how to set the hook. I hope you can take one critical piece of knowledge and apply it and have more fun fishing…
Bass don’t bite, they inhale. What this means is that they attack your lure by swimming up close, opening their mouths so fast and aggressively that is “sucks” the water and anything swimming in that water into their bucket mouths…. unless…
Unless what? If you have a tight line and the bass is inhaling your lure from the back, or even from the side, they can’t pull the lure backwards to get it their mouths if the line is tight. There is no reason for treble hooks at the back of a lure, except that often due to the bass being unable to pull the lure into their mouth because the fisherman is pulling the lure with a steady/tight line, and this set of hooks can help if the lure only gets partially into the fish’s mouth.
Any normal strike by a bass on any live bait will have the entire bait/frog/fish be sucked into their mouths eventually. The most typical strike will be a two parter. Part 1 is the attack and inhale #1 where the bass stalks and/or attacks fast sucking the lure/bait as far in as they can, and then swim away for a few feet, turning tail, and then doing a second inhale to get the entire lure/bait into their mouths. The first inhale happens with any lure you use. The second one only happens if the bass is still convinced that the lure is something worth eating… This is another big piece of the puzzle.
A soft bait with a single hook, such as a plastic worm, grub, swim bait, and even some jigs with a chunk, etc.. will not be spit out by your fish after the initial inhale. A crank bait, or other hard lure with treble hooks will only get the first inhale, and then they’ll spit it out as fast as they can (assuming they didn’t get hooked in the process, of course)
With the knowledge above, you can formulate both an improved plan for the retrieval of any lure, as well as how to set the hook based on the type of lure that will get the highest percentage of fish on your line…. could be the “Big One!”
Retrieval and Hook setting- jigs, swim baits, plastic worms, etc.. that the bass will hold onto:
- Retrieval- Loose line that allows the fish to inhale the lure without any resistance provides the most hook-ups as your fish can actually get the lure into their mouths.
- Creating a loose line is as easy as using short twitches with the rod tip and then make sure you always have a slack line. You watch the line for any irregular movement- twitches, or a wandering line that means a fish has picked up the lure.
- Setting the hook can be done at two times- on the first strike, or after the fish inhales the second time. The more life-like feeling your lure is, the better it is to wait for the second inhale… when I fish with the Banjo Minnow Lure, for example I always wait if I can control myself. When I fish with a Texas Rigged Worm (where they feel the hook and weight easier) I set the hook on the first strike. The hook setting technique for each lure is different as well:
- Texas Rigged- Set hard and fast to both pull the hook through the worm and into their lip.
- open single hook- long sweeping pull that engages the hook and then sets it without pulling it out of their mouths before it catches (fast jerk can do that).
- No matter how much you try to have a loose line, at some point in the retrieval you have to pull the lure, which tightens the line up. 30% of the time you’ll get your strike during the “twitch or pull” and 70% of the time during the “fall” or “pause”. If you get the strike on a tight line their is a very strong chance the hook is not in the fish’s mouth, and they only have it by the tail. Do NOT set the hook on those tight line strikes…. WAIT- 1,2, 3… with a loose line, rod tip pointed at the fish and then set with a sweeping pull to the side or up. If not, you’ll find another lure missing a tail, perhaps, or just missing a fish.
- 70% of the time you’ll get your hits during the pause or fall. If you want to get MORE hits and Hook up on a higher percentage of those hits… you’ll want the lure to spend more time in pause mode or falling mode. This is hard to do if you aren’t confident that your cast was in a good spot. To prevent getting an ulcer from playing your lure too slow for your taste all day long, abort casts you feel are not where the fish are quickly, and play the lure longer where you think was a good cast. Bass will follow your lure much further than most people think and the strikes can happen anywhere on the retrieval…. IF you keep it slow and pause on the way. Most people don’t catch bass up close to the boat because they increase the pace of the retrieval and don’t pause and let the lure fall after they get out away from the cast zone and the Bass don’t hit the lures once it picks up speed and starts cruising away from their hiding place. They do follow it if it keeps their interest by going at a slow pace and they get lured out of their hiding and watch it, and eventually decide to strike it if you keep intriguing them with short movements, and then dropping/pausing.
Retrieval Hook Setting on Treble Hook/Hard Lures including spinning baits- that the Bass will drop almost immediately:
- Surface lures- most surface lures are easy to “twitch” , “Walk the Dog”, or otherwise “pop” and wait”, etc.. Focus on giving the line slack each time you are not moving the lure- 3-6” of slack is enough for the bass to pull it into their mouths on the strike/inhale. Set the hook immediately- if the lure isn’t far enough into their mouths to engage the hooks, you are already out of luck. The only time this isn’t true is on a completely failed attack by the fish in heavy cover (lilly pads, etc.. where you don’t normally cast a treble hook lure)
- Underwater crankbaits- while you can obviously catch fish on a steady retrieve with a tight line pulling a crank bait along, using techniques like the
- “Stop and Go” where the lure floats up with a slack line, and then you pull it along again after a few seconds gives you some long periods where the strike can happen on a slack line. You will still get hits on the tight line, but your odds will improve.
- “Ripping”- long fast pull on the lure, with a pause to let it float and repeat- again, this gives you 60% or more time on a slack line and 40% or less on a tight line. Most strikes will be on the pause, meaning they can inhale, and you can set the hook immediately.
- “Bumping” on bottom- let the lure stop every time it bumps, give slack, wait for hit.
- “Kneel and Reel” or “Steady Retrieve”- pulling the lure along without any pause can initiate strikes, and they can be failed hookups due to the difficulty of inhaling the lure, but you can still improve your odds by keeping the rod tip pointed anywhere but the lure, and having a light grip, this helps make it easier to pull the lure backwards by inhaling, which, even if it only means an extra 1/2” of an inch further into their mouths, it will mean more hookups.
- Spinner Baits- Single hook, with the hook well protected, spinner baits can frustrate anyone who is getting lots of strikes, but hooking up only a percentage of the time. It is not unusual to only hook up 50% of the time if you are not using the right techniques at the time of the hit. This includes buzz baits.
- While a steady retrieve and a tight line are easy with any spinner bait, and it often provides a steady stream of hits, you can improve your number of hook-ups and landed fish if you follow these steps:
- After casting- let the spinner drop for at least 2 seconds- if you cast in the right spot, you often get a hit on the landing… slack line will usually hook-up- set the hook immediately after getting the hit.
- Get the spinner up to speed and spinning quickly with a single strong pull of 2-3 feet of the rod tip and then keep a light grip and rod tip up but slow down enough that the line sags for 2 seconds, pull it along again to keep the spinner going, then slow down and let it sag again. Most hits will be on the slow down, improving your hook up ratio dramatically. 50% loss turns to 10% loss for example.
- You can play spinner baits with a rise and drop, fishing off of structure, or bumping along- focus on the slack line whenever possible, setting hook upon the strike as the spinner doesn’t feel, taste, or look like something they should hold onto for long; they will spit it out quickly in most cases.
I hope this help you better understand what is going on under water and how you can fish your favorite lures more successfully, catching more fish. There is one lure I haven’t talked about, because, to this day, I can’t find a good way to fish it and not give up a ton of fish… the weedless frog… I can get hit after hit, but have not been able to get my hook-up rate above 50% and that, to me, takes away much of the fun of it. I have recently given my frogs away. If anyone has an 80% or higher hook-up rate on weedless frogs and will share that technique with me, I am all ears! I use the Banjo Frog now, open hook with a rubber band weedless system, which is not as weedless, but the hook-up rate is about 80% for me now. I also get more hits on this lightweight frog than the hollow/two/hook weedless versions. Please give me input if you have it! thanks!
Hope to see you on the water sometime soon!