SA Bass - - Contents - >> Di­van Coet­zee*

“Iso­lat­ing Pat­terns” In the pre­vi­ous two ar­ti­cles we dis­cussed how to iden­tify po­ten­tial fish hold­ing ar­eas at home by us­ing Google Earth, then go­ing out on the water to fur­ther ex­plore these ar­eas with your elec­tron­ics, and to as­cer­tain whether they are hold­ing fish or not – Di­van Coet­zee

Now we’ll dis­cuss pat­tern­ing. How does one ef­fec­tively pat­tern fish? First, let’s look at the def­i­ni­tion of a pat­tern: ‘a reg­u­lar and in­tel­li­gi­ble form or se­quence dis­cernible in the way in which some­thing hap­pens or is done.’ I can’t ex­plain it any bet­ter than that. From the def­i­ni­tion it is clear that one can ap­ply the word to both pre­sen­ta­tion, and fish move­ment. For me per­son­ally, pat­tern­ing fish move­ment takes pri­or­ity over pre­sen­ta­tion. Let me sim­plify; if you can’t find them, you can’t catch them. Know­ing this, there is only one log­i­cal place to start: fish move­ment ac­cord­ing to sea­sonal stages. Un­der­stand­ing fish move­ment through­out the year is of crit­i­cal im­por­tance, know­ing when the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion will be where, helps elim­i­nate dead water.

Let’s look at what the text books tell us:

Win­ter: “Fish go deep in search of sta­ble water tem­per­a­tures. They will of­ten sus­pend in or above the ther­mo­cline if present. Fish will also make use of old river chan­nels with a steep drop off. They will feed, but for much shorter du­ra­tion of time.”

Spring: “Early spring co­in­cides with heavy feed­ing ac­tiv­ity in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the spawn. Fish move shal­low. Males build nests in shal­low back­wa­ters and larger fe­males re­main close by. Moon phase and water tem­per­a­ture will trig­ger the spawn­ing process. Af­ter­wards the males re­main shal­low to pro­tect the nest (fry) whilst the fe­male re­turns to deep water stag­ing ar­eas to re­cover.”

Sum­mer: “Fish start to re­treat to deep water ar­eas in search of bait­fish and favourable tem­per­a­tures. Fish may hunt shal­low dur­ing early morn­ing, but would re­treat to deep water in the ab­sence of suit­able cover.”

Au­tumn: “Fall­ing tem­per­a­tures trig­ger fish to move shal­low and feed in an­tic­i­pa­tion of win­ter. Fish will re­main in such ar­eas un­til con­di­tions be­come un­favourable and will then re­treat to deep water.”

This is fun­da­men­tal knowl­edge and please take into ac­count that the terms ‘deep’ and ‘shal­low’ are used loosely.

Now we’ll look at tar­get­ing spe­cific zones ac­cord­ing to the sea­sonal stages, once again we’ll start with win­ter. The ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion will be deep through­out the day. This means fish­ing baits that get down to the bot­tom. Now tech­ni­cally ev­ery­thing, given enough time, will sink to the bot­tom, but this is no good. Too much time is wasted wait­ing for an im­proper pre­sen­ta­tion to reach the tar­get zone. You know the old say­ing about keep­ing the bait in the strike zone for as long as pos­si­ble. So what gets down quick? Any­thing that con­tains about half an ounce of lead will do nicely. Carolina rigs of dif­fer­ent weights, jigs, large spin­ner­baits, drop-shot, shakey head’s you name it. Next we di­vide these pre­sen­ta­tions up into two groups, namely ag­gres­sive and fi­nesse. As you’ve guessed the drop-shot and shakey head will form part of the fi­nesse ap­proach, and ev­ery­thing else forms part of a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach.

With re­gards to the Carolina rig, I like to have two rods rigged in this fash­ion. One gets a 3/8 ounce weight and the other a 5/8 ounce. Both will have to­tally dif­fer­ent baits at­tached to gauge what the fish re­spond to. Start with the more in­va­sive pre­sen­ta­tions first and work your way to the lighter ones. Work the area thor­oughly to try and as­sess what the fish pre­fer in terms of pre­sen­ta­tion and depth. Ex­per­i­ment with the ca­dence im­parted and give each bait an equal op­por­tu­nity in or­der to make in­formed de­ci­sions.

Dur­ing early spring the fish start to move shal­low.

They tend to grav­i­tate to­wards shal­low shale ar­eas in or­der to spawn. The idea now is to cover water quickly to lo­cate ac­tive fish. So what cov­ers a lot of water quickly? Shal­low run­ning cranks, jerk­baits, spin­ner­baits, frogs to name a few. Once you are sat­is­fied that there are fish in the area, then you can slow down by us­ing a weight­less bait or Texas rigged plas­tic. No bite is ran­dom and one should learn to pick-up on sub­tle nu­ances. For the sum­mer time I like to em­ploy a mix of win­ter and spring tac­tics. Start­ing off early and cov­er­ing lots of water while the sun is still low. Af­ter­wards head­ing to the deeper haunts to tough it out in the African sun. Au­tumn re­quires a sim­i­lar ap­proach ex­cept that I might stay shal­low a bit longer be­fore head­ing deep, and then re­turn­ing to the shal­lows in late af­ter­noon.

Now that we’ve cov­ered fish move­ment and the best suited tech­niques. We can look at bait and colour choices. Ev­ery­thing in fish­ing is rel­a­tive and ev­ery im­pound­ment unique. What worked ‘here’, might not work ‘there’, and what made the dif­fer­ence to­day, might not help you to­mor­row at all. Be sure to keep an open mind. A good rule of thumb would be the deeper you fish, the more pres­ence is needed from your bait in or­der to be no­ticed. Think about that for a sec­ond. The same goes for windy days, stained water and heavy cover. The ma­jor­ity of our bass are ei­ther crab or fish eaters. Ob­vi­ously they feed on other or­gan­isms as well, but the bulk of their diet con­sists of the above men­tioned. Com­mon sense thus dic­tates that one should present baits that mimic crab and bait­fish. Only one lure im­i­tates a crab prop­erly (jig), but bait­fish im­i­ta­tions are end­less: crankbaits, spin­ner­baits, jerk­baits, top water lures, swim­baits, soft jerk­baits and the list goes on. Once again, the baits that move a lot of water would be con­sid­ered ag­gres­sive baits, whilst soft plas­tic jerk­baits would be the fi­nesse op­tion. As far as colour se­lec­tion goes, I would rec­om­mend stick­ing to ba­sics, brown and black for jigs, Wa­ter­melon, Green Pump­kin, black and Junebug for plas­tics; white, sil­ver or gold for spin­ner­baits. Crank- and jerk­baits should prefer­ably have a white belly with darker back like black, blue, green, brown, pur­ple, etc.

In the end it all comes down to pref­er­ence - what type of an­gler you are and what you like to throw? Re­mem­ber that your bait needs to get into the strike zone and re­main there for as long as pos­si­ble. So ask your­self this: ‘this bait I’m pick­ing up, will it cover the zone that the fish are hold­ing in? Will it stay in that zone? Is it vis­i­ble at that depth, and am I match­ing the hatch’? We of­ten get side-tracked by se­man­tics and lose touch with the ba­sics...

Another fac­tor to con­sider would be that on any given day sev­eral dif­fer­ent pat­terns may yield sim­i­lar re­sults. In such an in­stance, at­ten­tion to de­tail is vi­tal and recog­nis­ing sub­tleties can make a huge dif­fer­ence to your day. Let me give an ex­am­ple: I re­call a par­tic­u­lar out­ing to a pri­vate dam in KZN, the dam has an ex­cel­lent pop­u­la­tion of bass, but by ten o’clock we had noth­ing to show for our ef­forts. The pre­vi­ous day we had ham­mered the fish along a weedy drop off that runs the length of one shore­line. We were four peo­ple on the boat so I de­cided to take a break and give the guys some space while I watch them toil. Sit­ting be­hind the con­sole and mind­ing my own busi­ness I no­ticed on the sonar that fish were ris­ing up to the boat and drop­ping back down. This got me think­ing… The guys were cast­ing to the weed­line, let­ting it sink to the bot­tom (about 10ft) leav­ing the bait still for a cou­ple of sec­onds, and bring­ing it straight back for the next cast. This drew the at­ten­tion of fish, but they were not given an op­por­tu­nity to get to the bait (or so I thought). The boat was po­si­tioned in about 20ft of water, I reached for the clos­est rod, in this case a Texas rigged grub, flopped the bait over the side and gave enough line to reach the bot­tom, im­me­di­ately a fish came up to look at the bait and fol­lowed it down… but no bite. Not dis­cour­aged by any means I de­cided to leave the bait sus­pended whilst I en­joy the com­forts of leather seats and cup hold­ers. So much for my the­ory on giv­ing the fish time to eat it. Then, out of nowhere came that fa­mil­iar tap. The first bite is the most im­por­tant, now I know that what I’m see­ing on the sonar unit are in fact bass, and they are will­ing to eat. Yet some­thing was off, fish in such con­cen­tra­tions should be eas­ier to catch. Chang­ing rigs was all it took, shak­ing a drop-shot in their faces drove them dilly, it much bet­ter rep­re­sented what they wanted to eat at the right depth. The pre­vi­ous day these fish were pa­trolling the weed­line and eat­ing ev­ery­thing in their path, and the next day they had dropped back into deeper water due to an ap­proach­ing front and pre­ferred 4” baits. Then Peter dis­cov­ered some­thing we’ve been miss­ing - the big bite. From the back of the boat he pro­ceeded to boat pig af­ter pig. All fall­ing to a slow rolled spin­ner­bait in the ar­eas that we had al­ready fished with the drop-shot. Need­less to say I made the switch. These larger fish were there all along, but we were con­tent to fish the shal­lows on the first day be­cause we did fairly well in rel­a­tive terms. This left us blind in one eye and un­will­ing to change. The fact is our day one bag was about 6kg, and prior to Peter ty­ing on a spin­ner­bait on day two, we stood on about 7kg. In the end our bag weighed 13kg. If I was fish­ing a tour­na­ment against Peter that day, he would have had nearly six ki­los on me, I call that a proper hid­ing. Some food for thought…

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