How To Outsmart Big Bass
Of course it’s difficult to know exactly what bass think, unless you believe they don’t really think at all! Studies have shown that bass CAN learn, and remember, sources of pain. Trout fishermen in highly pressured waters are all too aware that trout can become wary of certain flies and thick tippets.
We used to believe that fish brains were binary. Everything was one of two things:
However, recent research had led scientists to discover that fish use complex senses to:
- Perceive their environment
- Coordinate hunts
- Use tools
Some fish are able to do these things better than rats, or your toddler child!
How smart are they?
Testing various species of fish for learning and avoiding experiences that lead to pain, researchers have ranked types of fish according to intelligence. They measured:
- Acquiring information
- Storing data in memory
- Retrieving stored memory
- Combining and comparing stored information
- Using the information in new contexts.
Researchers found that fish were basically smarter than we thought they were.
How big is a fish’s brain?
The brain size of fish varies widely according to the specific species, ranging from the lowest to the highest of brain to body ratios among vertebrates. That’s right, there is a fish — Africa’s elephantnose fish, which enjoys a relative brain weight that’s higher than that of human beings (plus it has the “highest brain to body oxygen consumption ratio of all known vertebrates: three times that of humans” Wikipedia).
Where do bass weigh in?
I could not find any articles online that compare where scientists think a bass’s brain or intelligence compares to other fish. But this much seems clear:
- Bass won’t spend $20,000 on a boat to catch fish they’re not going to eat
- Bass, in one study, stopped eating a bait researchers used to catch them
- Bass don’t invest time or money to figure out how smart (or not) fishermen are.
So maybe bass ARE smarter than we are?
What does a bass DO with its brain?
Bass use their brains much as we do.
Vision. When I first started this site, and wrote Review: Strike King KVD Red Eye Shad – Don’t Be Caught Without It, a reader was surprised that the lure so closely resembled a bait fish. He wrote that he had heard that fish had very limited vision.
Apparently, that is not true. Fish see much the same way humans do. They are able to direct their visual attention to achieve a goal (eat prey) and ignore distractions.
While humans can see 3 bands of light in the spectrum: blue, green, and red (trichromatic); fish see all those PLUS ultraviolet (tetra chromatic). Bass can certainly see color, which is why having the perfect color bait sometimes seems to make a world of difference in attracting bass!
The fish brain’s ocular lobe (related to vision) is, well, HUGE! Their bulbous, protruding eyes are located on both sides of the bass’s head. Their field of view is very wide, and the only blind spots for a bass are directly below and behind them.
Most of the time, a bass uses monocular vision. To use binocular vision – focusing on an object using both eyes at the same time – the bass has to be directly facing what it’s looking at. And, it needs to be pretty close.
Bass can see in all water conditions, and even at night. The rods and cones in the bass’s eyes retract or extend to increase the bass’s ability to see. However, it is also true that murky, muddy, or algae filled water does reduce the amount a bass can see.
- Smell & Taste. Anyone who’s lost their sense of smell for any length of time realizes these 2 senses are very closely related. Fish have the ability to smell & taste with their:
And fish have many more taste buds spread out over their body than we humans do in our mouths and nose. For example, the yellow bullhead has 175,000 tastebuds, compared to the 10,000 you have for enjoying eating that same fish.
- Listen. It turns out fish talk! Or make sounds, anyway, related to:
- Dispersing a group
The larger members of one fish species make such a loud noise during mating that fishermen can figure out where they are!
- Move. Watch a school of fish. They are all swimming along, moving quickly, sometimes suddenly, yet it’s very rare to see a collision. Could humans could learn something from fish schools regarding highway traffic?
It’s due to the fish’s lateral line. The lateral line is a sense that has puzzled scientists and fishermen for a long time. Now it’s known that fish use these unique sense organs (modified epithelial cells) to be aware of water displacement created by other fish or objects in the water.
The lateral line system consists of tiny hairlike nerves that extend beyond the fish scales, and is used to create hydrodynamic imaging, which is likened to echo location used by whales. Fish employ hydrodynamic imaging to:
* Locate prey
* Follow current flows
* Avoid colliding with other fish (like in schools)
* Evade predators (like YOU!)
Even blind fish can use their lateral line like sonar to successfully orient themselves in a school of other fish swimming in the water around them.
Rick Clunn is a professional bass fisherman and 4-time winner of the Bassmaster Classic, tying him with Kevin Van Dam. Clunn believes that understanding the lateral line is essential for bass fisherman to continue to be successful.
How can I use this information to catch big bass?
Clunn believes that thanks to their lateral lines, a bass can distinguish between a smooth sided lure and one with grooves cut into it, as well as between a willow leaf and colorado blade on your spinnerbait. He further asserts that bass can become familiar with certain types of lures, and remember that their previous experiences with them were less than favorable. In short, that they realize your lure is NOT a tasty treat, but a painful experience to be avoided.
So how does that help you?
- Lateral Line: Use baits that throb, wobble, spin, vibrate, or otherwise displace water to attract the bass.
- Sight: Have a selection of lures or plastics in various colors and shapes for the bass to see.
- Sound: Include rattles, beads, or tungsten weights to click, clack, and clatter that the bass can hear. A bass’s favorite prey are crawfish, whose segmented tails “click” when it’s swimming. Sound travels farther underwater than the displacement of water, so making sound can be riding the dinner bell for a bass!
- Shape: Have lures that are smooth, segmented, grooved, ribbed, round, and flat to offer various body contours to the bass.
- Smell: A bass smells better than you do!
- Be careful using sunscreen on your hands. Perhaps sun gloves are a better choice, as sunscreen on your lures might be detected and rejected by the bass.
- Fill your truck and boat with gas the night BEFORE your fishing trip.
- Wash your hands using unscented soap before your trip.
- You might also try spraying bass attractant onto your lures (plastic baits often include scents and flavors embedded into them). I’ve never tried attractant, but may just do that this year.
Offer something unique or different
Clunn credits some of his championships to slight modifications to the lure(s) he was using. He believes that the bass become accustomed to seeing the same lure over and over again, and so they avoid them.
So what’s a BassHole to do?
- Adjust an existing lure: Change something!
- A blade
- The hooks
- Add a rattle
- Choose a different lure: Search for something the bass are not yet accustomed to.
- Try a new type of lure
- Pick a lure you haven’t used for years
- Be creative and experiment
- Vary your retrieve:
- Try slower
- Try faster
- Try slow, then fast, then slow
- Use stop-and-go (retrieve, then pause, letting the lure sink)
- Walk the dog
- Change the depth:
- Fish on top
- Fish just under the top
- Fish from 1 to 5 feet deep
- Fish 6 to 10 feet deep
- Drag your lure along the bottom
In short, modify your offerings, and use these tips to try and entice lure shy fish to strike again. Exploit the senses the bass uses to find and attack bait, and then offer imitations that, in one way or more, resembles what a bass looks for in a good meal.
Don’t try to “outsmart” the bass, use his or her own intelligence, that has allowed them to survive for 3.5 million years (hey, that’s what some experts say), to YOUR advantage.
Just remember, bass have been around a LOT longer than fishermen — and fisherwomen (we’ve been around 200,000 years, thought we didn’t spend ALL that time fishing). So don’t be surprised when, despite all your efforts, all your planning, all your techniques, the bass wins.
But there are always those times when YOU pull the bass up out of the water, and look straight into those tetrachromatic eyes. And, if you’re like me (which I doubt you are), then you’re sure that bass is staring right back at you, and thinking, let me get one good bite on this guy, and he’s MINE!
Celebrate your victories, and share them here with your fellow BassHoles!
Roger, The Smiling BassHole