I recently had a co-angler lose a 5-plus-pound smallmouth in an Oneida Lake tournament. Afterward, he asked me, “Why did that happen, and what could I have done differently?”
They’re both good questions. The answers can help you put more fish in the boat when money is on the line … literally.
My technique for fighting a bass depends significantly on the equipment – my Dobyns rod, Ardent reel, Seaguar line and Cornerstone Baits – that I’m using at the time.
When using a lure with treble hooks, it’s important to play the fish and determine how it’s hooked to decide if you can swing it safely or if you need to get down and grab it with your hands or a net. If it’s hooked outside the mouth or with just one treble, it’s safest to not swing it. Play it with caution, then carefully grab it or net it.
The size and weight of the lure, as well as the number of hooks, factor in as well. It’s generally tougher to land a fish on a lure with treble hooks than a single-hooked lure. A prime example would be a lipless crankbait. Landing a fish on this bait can be very tough because of the size and weight of the lure paired with treble hooks. Bass can get enough leverage to pull loose. But it’s a great bait nonetheless. Landing a fish on a lipless crankbait just takes more finesse and caution to maximize success. You can play them differently on a small swimbait with a single hook.
Keeping a fish from jumping and throwing the lure is important, too. When I can feel a bass starting to come to the surface, I keep my rod tip down and bend my knees to keep everything as low as possible. I prefer to keep the rod tip out of the water because I find that dunking the tip robs a lot of the natural flex of the graphite. At that point, it’s up to the fish. Jumps are sometimes inevitable, especially with feisty Northern smallmouths. If it jumps, keep reeling with a steady retrieve while the bass is airborne to keep slack out of the line. Slack line is the most common reason people lose bass, whether in the air or water.
Sometimes the only way to keep slack out of the line is to walk the fish around the entire boat until it tires out and can be brought to the surface. Another trick to successfully landing a bass in deeper water is to keep it under the boat, which helps prevent it from coming up and jumping.
We’ve all lost “the biggest fish I’ve ever seen” or “the one that would have won me the tournament.” I’ve been there, and these situations leave you wondering what you could have done differently. With these tips, maybe it’ll happen less often so you can put more fish in the boat and more cash in your pocket.