Should you crank lures at top speed?
When my boys were young and I used to take them to the coast in search of bass, I almost became tired of saying “Wind slower, they’re fish, not torpedoes!”
It seems to me that there’s a sort of compulsion after you’ve cast your lure far out to sea to wind it back in as quickly as possible, so you can ‘have another go’.
In fact, it can be quite difficult to make yourself slow down the retrieve.
This is all called to mind by my fishing holidays in the tropics where, if you want to catch jacks, barracuda and a number of other species, you often have to wind as fast as you can (slow down and the fish will lose interest).
This becomes more evident as I get older and a bit slower, and my son, Richard, who’s still relatively young and fit, often out-fishes me in these places. The point is that few fish in our waters, freshwater or salt, need to be lured by express winding.
Of course, bass are nippy creatures, and they will often manage to grab a fast-moving prey fish (or lure) as it zips past them or tries to escape, but, on the whole, they don’t want to waste too much energy in pursuit of their meals. If they think that a fish looks very lively or is already too close to the safety of cover, they will conserve their energy until some easier mouthful comes along.
On the other hand, if the predators are expecting to see prey that swims in a particular fashion and your lure is simply lying in the water like a bit of old seaweed, they may not even notice it. So, is there a happy medium?
All this raises an interesting question, and one of the things I have been most frequently asked by would-be lure anglers: “How fast should I wind?”
I’ve read many descriptions of the ‘best way to retrieve’ by lots of angling writers. These cover the whole gamut of approaches from a dead drift to a non-stop fast wind or, more often, some combination of stops, starts and jerks, and it’s likely that they all work at times.
Usually, the writers will cover all their options by suggesting that you vary your retrieves until you find one that works. This is fine if you have unlimited time and remain standing in one spot while you fish. However, it’s an unrealistic approach to lure fishing, which is essentially a mobile activity.
In addition, there are a number of external factors governing what you are able to do with your lure, and unless you’re a millionaire or a lure manufacturer, you have to take these into account.
Firstly, if you are fishing over the shallow, snaggy ground beloved of larger bass, you’ll need to avoid losing a lure each cast. This can be tricky because anything that sinks or dives deeply and has exposed hooks is going to be at risk. This means that, in these situations, unless you keep the rod up and retrieve like stink, you are going to be limited to either surface lures or weedless soft plastics.
Of course, if you happen to be fishing over snag-free sand or in deeper water, then you are much less likely to lose lures, but since the object of your fishing is not lure conservation but catching bass, you probably need to be a bit more adventurous.
When my pals and I first started bass fishing with lures, 95 per cent of our fishing was with buoyant, shallow-diving plugs. They were relatively expensive, but compared to buying bait, or even the cost of travelling to dig or collect bait, they were good value. Losses were few once you got to know the area you were fishing. I always reckoned to lose no more than one or two lures a season.
Plugs of this type, the best-known ones were Rapalas, had the big advantage that you could easily tell if they were working by the vibration through the rod. As long as there
“Few fish in our waters, freshwater or salt, need to be lured by express winding”
was a steady ticking transmitted up the line, they would catch fish. If you wound too fast or too slow, if the hooks had fouled on the cast, or even if there was the tiniest piece of weed or debris on the lure, they just didn’t work.
I once calculated how much water you would cover with a plug cast from the shore. Assuming that your reel spool has a diameter of about 4cm, and that one turn of the handle represents five turns of line on the spool, if you reel in at roughly one turn of the handle every second, in an hour’s fishing the lure might have travelled about two kilometres – quite a lot of water.
I also decided that, when fishing a Rapala, one turn of the handle per second, which makes the lure wriggle nicely, often caught me plenty of bass. So, that’s not a bad starting point when you first try spinning. Of course, it will depend a little bit on the retrieve rate of your reel, but as I’ve said, as long as you can ‘feel the plug working’, it will be okay.
Since those early years of plugging (I’m talking about the 1970s), things have moved on a lot. Braided lines, a plethora of plugs, soft plastics and weedless-hooking have all become standard tactics.
Weedless soft plastics, in particular, have opened up a lot of bass territory, which was formerly almost impossible to fish. Solid ‘weed soup’ and horrendously snaggy ground can now be fished with confidence, even if you can’t see what’s in front of you at night or in really rough conditions. EFFECTIVE TYPES Where does this leave us with retrieve rates? Well, it’s worth considering the nature of soft, weedless lures. Some of them, such as Slug-Gos, have little or no intrinsic action. If you wind them straight back, however fast, they will not wriggle, flap or twist. This doesn’t mean that the bass won’t take them, but unless you impart some action to the lure by twitching or jerking the line, it probably diminishes the chances of a bite.
Over the years, I have caught plenty of good fish on this type of lure, so there’s no doubt that they are effective.
In contrast, soft plastics with waggy tails, such as artificial eels, or those with curly tails like the Super Sandra, actually have a builtin, fish-like wriggle or ripple when they are retrieved. The softer and thinner the plastic, the better will be the action of the lure at slow speeds. Even the slightest flow of water will induce a sinuous undulation or tail flap in the most effective types. If you aren’t sure, give them a try in clear, still water and you’ll see what I mean.
All of these lures can be used with exposed or concealed (weedless) hooks, and fished with or without added weight in the form of lead heads. I rarely add any weight these days, but it depends where you’re fishing. For certain, though, they all catch plenty of bass.
On the whole, bass will wait until an easy mouthful comes along
Lures have improved a lot since the early days