Bait and switch for success on the water

After decades of casting to bassy-looking cover, I have come to expect results when I spy the perfect underwater log or stump.

To paraphrase the line from a familiar TV commercial, I’ve learned a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.

So it was recently at Shenango Reservoir when I executed a textbook presentation of a topwater lure down the side of a tree trunk in 3 feet of water on a flat basking in the first rays after sunrise. If ever a location shouted “Fish Here!,” that was the spot.

But my lure went ignored. Say what?

I cast again, this time working the other side of the waterlogged wood. Again the lure failed to generate a strike.

Unconvinced the tree trunk harbored no bass, I reached for the rod rigged with a square-bill crankbait and shot the lure past the far end of the wood. I cranked the plug down the flank of the tree and was rewarded with a nice largemouth bass.

I’ve learned a thing or two over the years, including the value of one more cast to a spot you believe holds fish. Moments after I released the first bass, another cast with the shallow-diving crankbait drew a hard strike from a 3-pound largemouth.

That length of wood produced 5 pounds of bass, but it would have been easy to miss them had I tossed them only on the topwater.

All manner of sayings might apply in fishing situations such as what I experienced that recent morning. “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” comes to mind.

But the reality is more casts with the topwater lure probably also would have been ignored. The key was throwing a bait to which the bass would respond.

The challenge is determining what that lure might be on any given day. Sometimes surface lures are the ticket. Sometimes it’s a moving bait such as a crank or spinnerbait. Other times it’s a jig or plastic worm.

I know anglers who say they specialize in a certain style of fishing. They catch them when that certain style is what the fish want, but chances are they are missing fish like the pair of bigmouths that couldn’t be tempted by my topwater bait.

The one-trick ponies might be wise to widen their repertoire so they don’t force-feed fish lures they don’t want.

Those who approach each day with an open mind tend to score more consistently, especially in the summer when the fish are a bit less aggressive. I’ve experienced many a summer day when the bass bite changed several times during my hours on the water.

Summer is a time to fish creatively. Too often, anglers memorize locations and tactics and simply repeat what worked last week. Plan A may work tomorrow, but if it doesn’t, then savvy anglers understand they need Plan B.

Don’t take my word for it. Don’t just put away your favorite bait and drag square-billed crankbaits down the trunks of logs. Rig your rods each day with the lures you believe will be effective in the cover you intend to fish.

Select a lure and work it thoroughly. If it gets bites, try it again. But if it fails – or the fish look but don’t commit – put another bait to work. It may be more fun to catch them on the surface, but it’s really fun to zero in on what is generating the best results.

Pay attention and don’t hesitate to switch baits. Soon enough each day, the bass will tell you what they want.

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