If you call yourself a bass fisherman—NEVER, NEVER throw away a functional fishing lure or abandon a productive technique.
As young adults, and understandably so, fishermen tend to gravitate toward the newest and most highly touted tackle available within their budgets. They read about trending strategies (hopefully in magazines such as this one) and hope to be first in their peer group to show off a new skill or piece of equipment.
I was no different 30, 40 years ago. I bought the best I could afford out of a nearly empty wallet, read everything I could get my eyes on about fishing, and couldn’t wait to outdo my buddies on the water.
Then I got a chance to fish with an “old guy” from work on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. At the time, neither of us had been on the lake more than a couple of times each.
My competitive side wanted to bet him a cheeseburger that I could catch the most or maybe the biggest, but the little part of my brain I trust most said to keep my mouth shut. So I did, except to make small talk about conditions and favorite fishing spots and whether we preferred saltwater or freshwater.
As we loaded the boat, I noticed that his gear was generally inferior to mine, his tackle box was stuffed with tired, banged up plugs and a handful of disorganized and unimpressive plastic worms.
I wanted to tell that little part of my brain to look the other way so I could slam-dunk a win on that cheeseburger, but I held my tongue. Good thing, too. By sunset, I’d had a decent day, but he’d handled three fish to each of mine.
I tried everything I knew, which wasn’t all that much and was exactly why I didn’t catch the most or the biggest bass. I was stuck in the present, limited by two things: a lack of experience, and a stubborn refusal to ask for advice.
One thing I learned that day, and it’s a good lesson for any fisherman, is that another angler’s tackle can tell you a lot about whether he or she has skills. Lures that never get bitten don’t lose paint. Tackle trays that have nothing out of place probably never got opened or closed under the pressure of biting fish and fading sunlight.
Maybe it’s just that the person is nuts for organization and has loads of free time to sort and stack and clean and organize. But probably not.
My tackle bags and boxes look as though they’ve been to war and back. And not just a recent war. I’ve got plugs that are decades old, and I’ve got plugs still “new-in-box” from as recently as two weeks ago at this writing.
The bags and boxes contain what goes into battle. The garage is the armory.
This past spring, I had to make some hard “sell, give away or keep” decisions out there. A purge was absolutely necessary. That I understood. But when you physically look at each and every lure and ask yourself which of the three piles it should hit, things get tough.
Two teenagers from down the street helped, especially with the “give away” pile. Gear that landed there served as payment for the muscle they used to toss the “sell” stuff into a U-Haul truck and take to the estate sale at my mother’s home. (The fishing tackle was a big hit there.)
Interestingly, I kept nearly as many older plugs and soft plastics as newer ones. As I’d pull a box of baits and consider its fate, it was productivity that mattered most.
Did the lure catch more than a couple of fish for me? If so, it stayed. If not, I asked the guys if they saw potential. And the stuff that didn’t pass either garage inspection found new homes with fishermen who, at the estate sale, looked at those baits and couldn’t pass them up.
Bass fishing techniques are similarly timeless. There are dozens of ways now to rig a plastic worm, but on the right day under the right circumstances, an old-school Texas rig is still as effective as it ever was. The pros can count at least as many ways to retrieve a spinnerbait, but someone new to fishing likely will get enough bites to maintain a smile by simply slinging it out there and winding it steadily back.
Oftentimes, especially on smaller lakes, some of the newer tackle can show up in front of fish so often that they learn to snub it.
Case in point: At a close-to-home place my son and I call the Snow Cone Lake, shorelines get pounded with spinnerbaits and unweighted worms. Throw those, even under ideal conditions, and you might get five bites. There are plenty more fish around that lake, but most of them recognize both lures and swim away from them, not toward them.
Walking the same shoreline loop recently, to remind my 8-year-old son that he’s not the best fisherman in the family (yet, but he’s gaining), I stuck nearly a dozen making longer casts with a frog-colored Jitterbug that’s nearly as old as am I. Sometimes, success is as simple as throwing the fish a “curve,” a lure they don’t see twice on weekdays and three times every Saturday.
This past winter, on a closet shelf, I came upon stacked copies of Freshwater Strategies, a book I wrote for Texas Fish & Game quite a while back. I read a page here and a page there and realized that the information is as valid today as it was when it was written. The photos are dated, but the “strategies” will still fool fish
Bass are bass. Crappie are crappie. And the fish we’re chasing now have never been tempted by any plug or soft bait that was new when the book was written.
In regard to many aspects of our lives, we’re told to be “flexible,” which I’d define as an openness to change, maybe a willingness to step outside our comfort zones and try new things.
Or old things. Stay in touch with the times, especially with your rods, reels and lines, but be “flexible” in your tackle box. Every now and then, turn backward to find a “new” lure.
That, or fish with an old guy once or twice.
—story by Doug Pike