Outdoors

Nothing matches the bite of the bass

Wildside column: Sites and sounds of catching fish

Five walleyes, the daily bag limit in Iowa, await their fate Tuesday (Nov. 10) in the clear waters of the Wapsipinicon R
Five walleyes, the daily bag limit in Iowa, await their fate Tuesday (Nov. 10) in the clear waters of the Wapsipinicon River. (Orlan Love/correspondent)

Fish bite many ways, all good but some better than others.

Even the feeble bite, which hardly ever results in a hookup, helps avert boredom.

Though I can’t speak with certainty about what goes on under water, I believe the feeble bite is perpetrated by fish that are temporarily indifferent to eating.

Rather than strike the lure or bait with relish, the fish mouths its hookless portion and lets go when the angler attempts to set the hook. With plastic worms, grubs and minnows, this is often confirmed by the plastic’s having been separated from its snug fitting with the hook or jig — a condition some anglers refer to as “having their pants pulled down.”

The best bites are “fishy” in the sense that the contact, transmitted to the angler by sensitive tackle, conveys the impression of something alive.

Not so with the jug bite, so called because it feels like your lure suddenly fell into a substance much more viscous than water — a jug of molasses, for example.

Though it lacks élan, the jug bite, revealed simply as additional weight, results in a high percentage of hookups. Ice anglers often experience it when lowering and lifting their lures. Anglers lifting and dropping a three-way rig know to set the hook when the sinker on the drop line suddenly feels heavier, its familiar weight increased by a fish on the hook-tipped horizontal line.

Similar non-fishy bites often occur when anglers retrieve crankbaits, spinnerbaits, swim jigs and other lures that move horizontally through the water. Most commonly such bites reveal themselves simply as increased resistance to the retrieve.

Some bites are strictly visual, most notably the “bobber down,” the bite that instills in many youngsters a lifelong love of fishing, and the “line twitch,” often the only sign that a fish has picked up a lure from the lake or river bottom.

For sheer excitement, no bite exceeds the thrill of a bass striking a top-water lure.

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Unlike any underwater bite, which an angler can only feel, a bass smashing a floating lure also appeals to the eyes and ears, overloading the circuits between them and the brain.

Unseen game fish may seem like fairly docile predators, but top-water bites reveal their lightning-fast savagery.

My second-favorite bite — the distinctive, almost unmistakable toink of a walleye inhaling a jig — is much less savage but almost as addictive.

Experts say a walleye typically approaches its quarry, flares its gills and inhales the prey and the water surrounding it.

How that translates into a forearm jolting strike escapes me. But a few recent outings on the Wapsipinicon have reminded me how much I enjoy it when it happens.

Standing knee-deep Tuesday atop a sandbar that fell steeply into deeper water, I focused all my awareness on the feel of a tungsten jig tipped with a plastic minnow as I retrieved it along the base of the drop-off.

The lure inching across a smooth sand bottom, its little paddle tail vibrating in the current, sent only a weak signal on most retrieves. But at intervals too brief to become boring, the tungsten jig, the braided line and the graphite rod transmitted the emphatic toink of a hungry walleye.

That impulse, impacting wide open strike receptor cells, triggered an involuntary hookset that could not miss.

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