I ONCE CAUGHT THE SAME BASS on two consecutive casts. The bizarre double dip occurred during the early ’70s on Mexico’s Lake Guerrero.
Jack Segall and I were jigging spoons over a hump of flooded mesquite on the southern end of the lake. Segall was a Lake Livingston guide who was temporarily operating out of the rough launch ramp at Villa de Casas.
Back then, newly discovered Guerrero blew everything off the bass fishing map, and the claims of “100 fish per day” were absolutely true.
Our mesquite hump was a fine example. A big school of two- to three-pound bass was stacked near bottom. Segall was well-versed in jigging spoons (many sessions on Livingston’s old Highway 190 roadbed). Catching a fish was a simple matter of dropping a Bomber Slab, lifting the rod tip once or twice, then setting the hook.
I hooked a healthy two pounder, fought it in strong circles to the surface, then flipped it splashing and flapping over the side of the Falcon Tiger Grande bass boat. The hook was stuck in the right hinge of the jaw. I gripped the lower lip with my raw “Guerrero Thumb” and popped the hook and dropped the bass back into the lake.
A quick free-spool on the red Ambassadeur 5000 allowed the heavy Slab to sink and a smart lift of the 5 1/2-foot fiberglass Fenwick LunkerStik bent the tip with another strike.
A two-pound bass slanted limply to the surface, not struggling or resisting. The jaw showed a fresh red hook stab on the right side of the jaw—same fish, no doubt. The absence of fight confirmed that fact.
During a lifetime of bass fishing, that’s only happened once. Presumably, the spoon fluttered right in the face of the released fish. A swarm of bass was down there, and the reaction was a groggy reflex to beat the competition.
Black bass normally are not that dumb. In fact, fisheries biologists maintain that Micropterus is a relatively intelligent fish.
I concur. The average specimen in good health amid high-visibility conditions probably could pass the TASC examination. Well, that’s an exaggeration but bass can be very aware, very alert. They learn things.
Six or eight years ago, I hosted an eight-inch bass for several months in a home aquarium. I named the little fish Hermann, since I caught it from the Hermann Park Duck Pond in Houston.
The aerated tank was near a window in my den. The bass lived solo amid a few rocks and clusters of native coontail moss.
Occasionally, with the den door open, I would attempt to creep through the hallway without Hermann sensing the movement. The distance from the tank to the den door was about 30 feet, and the gap across the hallway was about six feet.
During each stealth mission, Hermann would turn to face me, fins slowly stirring to mark time. He seemed to be giving me a severe dose of the stink eye: Why, you’re the SOB that put me in here!
But Hermann quickly realized where the bread was buttered—or the chum was scattered. If I held a jar in a certain way and approached the tank, he would rise to the surface, anticipating a fresh batch of minnows. He would slash and boil, savaging the bait as I watched from several feet away.
Perhaps this reveals a character flaw, but I tempted poor little Hermann several times with trout flies and tiny spoons. Each jigging, jiving ruse was met with magnificent disregard. Not to mention the same cold stink eye.
We played these games until Hermann started outgrowing the tank, then he was released back into the namesake duck pond.
This interaction confirmed that bass can really get dialed in. The average fish probably is somewhere between Hermann and that long-ago suicidal schoolie.
If a bass along a given shoreline sees the same lure repeatedly within a short period of time, it can become standoffish to that particular offering.
Of course, the concept of catch and release is based on the fact that a game fish handled with reasonable care will survive and thrive when returned to the water (assuming the fish was not deep-hooked).
The memory of a hooked fish is impossible to gauge—a span of several days sounds reasonable. However, many variables may factor into triggering the next strike.
Bass get into repeated trouble maybe faster than they should because they are aggressive ambush-oriented predators. They are fond of lunging from screening cover (weeds, brush, logs, etc.) to snatch passing prey. The murky water in many ponds only encourages this reflexive strike.
But, to repeat, bass can get pretty savvy.
This is especially true on hard-fished water. Bass in small ponds and stock tanks are an excellent example. They are, essentially, a captive audience.
The same banks get flogged regularly and often by the same lures. Many anglers tend to get into a rut, chunking what’s worked before—so-called confidence baits.
Pounding the same water with the same lure might pluck the occasional “village idiot” from the shoreline weed beds. However, most bass with fresh hook scars are wary.
As a general rule, regardless of technique, go smaller and faster under high-visibility conditions of bright sun and clear water. Go bigger and slower under low-visibility conditions.
Or try going old.
Progress is great. Some genuine advances have evolved, but a top-tray lure of decades past can be an effective changeup pitch. A great way to draw a strike from a recently educated bass is to show it something new.
Never mind that “new” might be 50 years old. The nearest bass doesn’t know that. If it caught fish then, it will catch fish now.
Email Joe Doggett at [email protected]