Northern Bass Are For Dummies.
That could have been the title of a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department study from the 1990s that showed northern bass were more likely to take a lure than Florida bass.
Now fisheries biologists with the University of Florida have discovered that Florida strain bass are not only less likely to take a lure, they are even more less likely to take the bait a second time.
In this example of fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me, biologists and research students toiled for four weeks fishing a lightly fished, 27-acre lake in Florida, according to the newsletter Waterworks.
The team surveyed the lake by electro-fishing with a shocking boat and estimated the lake had about 350 adult bass larger than 10 inches.
It was a simple study. Probably fun, actually. One researcher started with chrome and black back Rat-L-Trap while the other put on 4-inch plum Senko that he fished weightless. After an hour’s fishing they swapped baits and continued to do so every hour for six hours a day. Ultimately they fished 12 days over the four weeks.
To identify fish already caught, they attached an electronic tag so researchers could tell the fish had been previously brought to the boat, and using what lure.
During the 12 days of fishing the two fishermen caught a total of 260 individual bass, or about 75 percent of the adult fish estimated in the lake, but not equally between the two lures. Catches on the Rat-L-Trap dropped quickly and plummeted from 2.5 per fishing hour at the beginning to only 0.25 per hour at the end.
Catches on the Senko also fell, but not nearly as much. The early catch rate was 1.8 per hour to start. At the end it was 1, leading the research biologists to feel they had enough evidence to show bass have the ability to avoid capture, especially with a lure that announces it arrival.
Part of the argument is based on the fact less bass were caught a second time on the Rat-L-Trap than the Senko. Their best-guess conclusion was that the flashier and louder Trap put out more sensory cues than the soft plastic stick bait. In other words the same clues that attract a fish might also educate them from taking it again.
The researchers admit their study wasn’t perfect because only two lures were used. There was also the possibility that the fish moved, however, the research lake only had a maximum depth of 15 feet and the water was clear.
“My take is angler catch rates don’t always reflect the quality of the bass population, especially in lakes with relatively high fishing pressure,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD Fisheries regional biologist. “Where fish are highly pressured, subtle/finesse presentations may outperform flashy/noisy lures and anglers need to continue experimenting with different baits and colors, maybe trying an oddball choice, when the bite gets tough.”
Bonds added that the positives of catch-and-release fishing could be offset by an increased number of educated bass.
While the study was done on a private lake, Bonds believes it can happen anywhere if the fishing pressure is heavy enough. One example would be Lake Fork where TPWD estimates the lake receives about 750,000 hours of bass fishing per year, or about 28 hours per acre. Bonds said this is a rate high enough to produce similar results.
“Even if the fish population is ideal, a moderate amount of fishing pressure can result in a fishery that exhibits low catch rates simply because the fish are conditioned to lures,” he explained. “That’s also why the pros and guides target bass offshore, where they are usually less pressured than shallow-water fish. However, with the advancements in sonar and GPS technology, offshore spots will begin experiencing more and more fishing pressure, too, as anglers’ fish-finding skills improve.”
I am a little more skeptical. I would have liked to have seen the third bait put in the mix when the others slowed down to see if it was the lures not working or the fish not biting.
I also think there is something to be said about fishing pressure on a lake that size. Even though they just fished three days a week, it can make fishing hard on private waters.
Lake Fork guide David Vance said he has seen the impact of intense pressure.
“I think bass can get pressure sensitive; ask any guide up here the worse days to fish are Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” said Vance, who added fishermen are flocking to the lake more this year than they have in 20 years.
During the week when everything is calmer, Vance said he has seen bass quit taking a lure.
“I have found a school of bass and after a while they would quit biting a Rat-L-Trap and I would throw something else and catch fish out of the same school,” he said.
Vance also agrees that fish might get more wary of loud, flashy hard baits quicker than they might more-lifelike looking soft plastics.
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