Have you found bass but then struggled to catch them like I have? I can never understand this. Shouldn’t a wild animal take advantage of every feeding opportunity? The pet dogs I’ve had in my life sure took advantage. They ate everything I threw their way! I guess domesticated dogs must be different from wild bass.
For example, I can cast a topwater lure around an area that I know is loaded with smallmouth and catch nothing because water temperatures dropped twelve degrees overnight. It may be less than five feet of clear water but yet they refuse to seize the opportunity of an easy meal floundering on the surface. But I know they are there because I can visually see them and then I can catch a few of them using other techniques. Why aren’t these smallies in this situation swimming a few feet to the surface to grab an easy meal? It makes no sense to me! And this is just one of many scenarios where I am dumbfounded by the refusal of a bass to grab my offering.
My whole life I have been taught that survival in the wild is a fine line. No matter the type of animal, acquiring food/water for self sustenance is a daily struggle. Think about what the wildebeest of Africa endure in this pursuit – migrations of hundreds of miles with the risks of big cats and crocs along the way! Surely bass are under a daily grind of their own to persevere for another day. Right?
Well maybe I’ve always thought wrong about a bass’s struggles and overestimated it to a degree. Every lake/river’s ecosystem has its own nuances, but perhaps in most of them, adult bass quite possibly have it pretty easy. Sure there may be giant muskies, catfish, gar, and stripers to dodge, but foraging for food may occur without much effort. It’s kind of like people exiting off the interstate to grab a quick burger and fries. Food is acquired with simply a brief detour and minimal effort. Hmmm, I just think that I implied bass are very lazy eaters just like many people at times.
The more that I think about the feeding behavior of bass, the greater I am convinced that they are conditioned to be very calculating in their feeding efforts. Bass ARE lazy. They only put in the effort to feed if first of all they are hungry, and then second, only if their efforts have near-guaranteed results. Energy spent on a failed pursuit means burning energy stores, so success is necessitated. Therefore energy spent foraging will only occur if the bass experiences hunger and when conditions are “right” for a high chance of a successful hunt.
Fruitful foraging conditions occur regularly and have certain parameters. Influences on successful hunting opportunities often involve the time of day, light, water clarity, prey species, wind, water temperature fluctuations, and weather trends. These variables change constantly. A change in any one of them can decrease or increase a bass’s urge to eat.
I view bass as being highly aggressive when they are hungry and conditions are ripe for hunting success. Aggressive bass will actively chase down any lure offering from several feet away whether upwards, downwards, or laterally. Non-aggressive bass are those that aren’t hungry while at the same time the hunting conditions are poor. These inactive bass will not be easy to catch.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking bass have a state of either being “on” or “off” like a standard light switch. Instead view a bass’s state more like a dimmer, light switch. This is the type of switch that is on a dial and can adjust the level of light from nothing to maximum illumination. A bass’s level of aggression is on a spectrum just like a light using a dimmer switch. The bass could be full on aggressive, completely non-aggressive, or somewhere in between. Accurately judging where the majority of bass are on this dial at a given time will help you choose an effective fishing technique.
And one more point regarding this aggression spectrum – not all bass are at the same level at the same time. When foraging conditions are right, yes many bass will be highly aggressive, but yet there will still be those bass that aren’t participating in the opportunistic conditions. Likewise, when things are off, there are still some individuals that will be higher on the dial. Just remember, usually the best fishing results are achieved when we target the majority and not the exceptions.
Bass of all species are lazy and will eat when they are ready. Their hunger and their chance of a successful hunt determine when they are ready. Experienced anglers will make a judgement on aggression levels and make choices of fishing presentations based on it. So next time you are on a pile of bass that aren’t biting, realize a change in your presentation is needed, and/or wait for environmental conditions to change to increase the bass’s aggression.