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Speed Trap

The slogan, “speed kills” has been around for a long time. In sports speed is definitely an asset, in fishing it can be a liability. You see fish chasing schools of bait, adrenaline flowing you cast to the activity and crank your bait back as fast as your high speed reel can go. No bite. (Insert sad face) You catch a big bass and the next several casts you are busting it, cast, crank, cast, crank but no hits. Your partner is boating fish and you’re not, why? You got caught in the speed trap!

In the world that believes faster is better, in fishing it may leave you behind. In the underwater world a bass can swim in bursts of 12-15 miles per hour, it’s highly unlike you can take a bait away from them if they really want it. Other fish in fresh and salt water are built for speed. A look at their body structure, fins and tail size is evidence that they’re hydrodynamic, quick and capable each species shares some similarity. Artificial baits should appear to be easy prey, injured or in some cases trying to get away. But often bigger fish are looking for the easy meal and have become conditioned to expend less energy to catch the easy prey. That’s how they get bigger, use the least amount of energy for the maximum pay off. When they are aggressive they’ll chase but find them in a negative or neutral feeding mode you have to make the adjustment.

Keeping It Reel

Most reel manufacturers have responded to the requests for reels that allow you to “burn” a buzzbait or a lipless crankbait. Gear retrieve ratios top out at a blistering 9.0:1 with average being about 6.3:1. To put that into perspective the 9.0:1 is taking in over three feet of line for every complete reel handle turn, the 6.2:1 a more tame 25 inches, almost a foot less. For presentation purposes there are limited applications where the “speedy” reel is an advantage. It’ easy to unconsciously race the bait away from the fish. It’s been my experience when fishing is really tough slower retrieves produce. Late summer, most of winter, muddy water, cold front conditions each warrant a try at decelerating the return of the bait.

Why So Slow

In studies and surveys done of people catching big bass consistently, the plastic worm (and other creature type lures) are found to be the most likely lures to fool a trophy fish. Rigging plastics such as the popular Texas rig, Carolina rig, shakey heads and wacky rigs all incorporate, slow motion, controlled fall rates and creeping characteristics in their presentations. Conclusion: easier to catch more likely to be eaten by the fish. Baits like spinnerbaits and crankbaits are often more effective with “stop and go” retrieves. Once you find the tempo that produces you have to be aware to changes in the conditions. Cloud cover, wind and water colors will cause fish of all kinds to change.

They move to deep water, hug cover, stage on points, seek shelter under boat docks or just shut down. Again retrieve speed becomes a factor. At times the initial cast draws a hit before you even turn the reel handle. Sometimes “dead sticking” allowing the bait to rest motionless brings the curiosity subtle strike. When fish, bass for instance are aggressively feeding they’ll hit a faster moving with no hesitation. Examples of this phenomenon of seemingly perfect set up are on a full moon, surface water temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees, with stable water levels, a slight breeze and a falling barometer. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen as often as we would like.

Fish set up at ambush points often require a hesitation in retrieve called “killing” the bait and letting it fall to bring on the strike. The momentary deflection of a square billed crankbait is another instance in the interruption of the lure retrieve that will draw a response from the fish. That defection hit can occur in the striking of a rock pile, a submerged stump or any object that is temporary housing the fish.

Topwater fishing can be tough. A cadence on hard “plugs” is an exercise in experimentation. An age old example is the cast, let the ringlets settle, (yeah right, who has the patience for that?) a twitch, rest, take up slack, twitch, rest and repeat. For the froggin’ fans a steady hop, skating over lily pads, around various aquatic vegetation, downed trees or along manmade structure is standard but often a specific speed will bring the bass out of its hideout to slug the frog. Not being a “numbers” bait the buzzbait is one of my personal favorites, it excels in warm water, when fish are chasing baitfish and around thick, heavy cover. I always use nothing but a steady retrieve, the velocity is determined by the response of the fish. Start slow, ramp up and be cognizant of the first fish, the one that hits the bait. Aggressive bite, halfhearted, short strike or trying to destroy the noisy intruder? All those clues come from the speed and ultimately the strike.

The Low Down on the Slow Down

There are a few tactics to use in slowing down the descent of your baits. First go lightweight which will cause a pause in the fall. Try a small ¼ ounce spinner instead of the ¾ ounce model, once you stop reeling the bait goes into a slower fall. When jig fishing try the finesse version maybe a ¼ ounce and then…use the larger soft plastic trailer (probably a crawfish imitator) Ragetail from this fill make an enticing slow fall of the bait. In cold water a suspending jerkbait at rest will stay in the zone longer by the nature of a “suspending” lure. Texas rigged soft plastic worms can delay the drop using a smaller slip sinker, substituting a ¼ ounce instead of the ¾ ounce lead. Also using a larger diameter line, if you use monofilament, will by water natural resistance slow the fall of this set up. Avoid using fluorocarbon on any floating baits because it sinks.

Remember the Retrieve Speed

When guiding or doing any type of instructional media I urged folks to learn to fish the “feel” baits. This category includes plastic worms, soft plastic craw, tubes, swimbaits, jigs and creature style baits. Making the switch from moving baits, spinners, crankbaits of all kinds and others almost always required the slow it down direction. Casting past the target area, maintaining contact at all times, feeling the swim of the lure and being ready to set the hook at any sensing of a hit was always included in the lesson. This type of fishing is dependent on the ability of the angler to concentrate and a total awareness of the retrieve speed necessary to draw the strike. The speed control is literally in your hands. This is important in replicating the successful cast and catch. Think of it this way, two anglers using the same rod, reel, line AND bait, one is out fishing the other the only logical conclusion is one has the speed dialed in.

On the toughest days, Slooooww down. When you feel like it’s too slow, slow down more. The prize doesn’t always go to the swiftest. Don’t get caught in the speed trap!