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Is there a simple and foolproof method of locating Bass – big Bass which anglers anywhere (and not only the pros) can apply? To be really useful, such a method must not entail any expense nor any equipment not readily available to even the most basic basser – no boats, no fishfinders or other electronic equipment – just a rod, a reel filled with line and a basic lure, a basser on his (or her) two feet with only a pair of sunglasses as additional equipment.

Is such a method available – you read the following thoughts, observations and conclusions, try it for yourself and then decide!

The January 1985 issue of BASSMASTER Magazine on p. 24 contained an article penned by Don Wirth entitled “Wood, Water and Bass”. In that article, Wirth writes about an old issue of an outdoor magazine in which appeared a first-hand account by George W. Perry when he hooked and landed his world record Bass (22 1/4lbs?). The question in my mind was – how did Perry latch on to that big Bass? It apparently all started like this – in Perry’s own words (according to Wirth) he noticed “… an interesting disturbance next to a large tree lying in the water …” Wirth continues and refers to the following comment from Doug Hannon (Florida’s famous “Bass Professor”): “The world record Bass was taken from a fallen tree. That ought to give you an indication of the importance of wood to bass fishing!”

True. But aren’t we missing a cardinal point in Perry’s account? What about the “interesting disturbance”? Do big Bass betray their location to the discerning angler who knows exactly what to look for? You bet they do! If you want to know more, read on ...

You might be thinking how I could be so sure. I am. Anybody can locate big Bass IF you can keep your eyes open and know how to interpret what you see – not too difficult for the average basser! How?

OK, I’ll try to tell you. When fishing any known bass water or any water which has even a remote possibility of having Bass, keep your eyes open – LOOK! What must you look for – structure? No, not necessarily, but the majority of the time you will most likely locate your big Bass (and by big, I mean really Big) near structure (either visible or invisible structure). Just look at the surface of the water – continually sweep and scan the surface of the water (you may be fishing, just standing, walking, relaxing or boating – whatever …) – just look and watch for an “interesting disturbance” to shatter the surface.

This “interesting disturbance” a Bass makes is quite unlike that of any other fish species in South African waters – it is actually rather difficult to describe in words to someone who has not actually seen it. Let me begin by telling you what it is NOT. It is not like:

1. a Trout rise ie. dimpling the surface of the water;

2. the “bloop” of a Catfish expelling air;

3. the “S” swirls and side flashes of Bream;

4. the “plop” of a Moggel (mudfish; mullet);

5. the “bubbles” of a feeding Carp;

6. the boisterous “splashes” of spawning Carp (for those who have not heard this, big Carp can sound like pigs frolicking in the shallows; or

7. the noisy “splat” of a Carp jumping completely out of the water and returning with all the finesse of a “belly-flop” (an unexplained habit of Carp in some waters).

So, now that you have an idea of what not to look for or what to ignore when you are after big Bass, let me at least try to describe that unique and interesting Bass disturbance. It seems to be something like a very violent, single whiplash executed just under the surface of the water. For a split second it seems as if the water surface is smashed by a mini explosion. The surface of the water is broken up into a rough circle of droplets about 30 – 45 cm (12 – 18 inches) across and about 20 – 30 cm (8 – 12 inches) high. After this short, sharp “burst” under the water, the surface settles almost immediately, so if you are not coincidentally looking in the direction of the disturbance you would only hear the water crashing, but see nothing, except perhaps some ripples (if the water is calm).

Whenever you notice a disturbance like this – note the exact location as best you can (if you have GPS, use it, if you can cross-triangulate, do it but it none of these additional aids are essential for success).

Work this location whenever you can with lures known to be extraordinarily or usually effective for big Bass.

Before I go any further, let me relate some personal experiences in relation to these unique and interesting disturbances which I call “Bass Splashes”. Although there have been a few other experiences, the ones I will tell you about relate to a period when I made notes and kept a log of these occurrences. I filed away the notes, pressure of work displaced fishing time, I was transferred to an arid area with little opportunity for Bass or any other kind of fishing and the notes I made jogged my memory when I read through them again.

December 1984 (Theewaterskloof Dam, Western Cape Province, South Africa): Whilst working the shoreline of this large dam (fifth largest in South Africa), I notice a “Bass Splash” near a row of fence poles disappearing into the water. I am startled by the loudness and severity of the disturbance on that hot early afternoon. At the time, the disturbance meant little to me except “fish”. I stopped and cast around the area with a black and yellow-skirted Zorro Aggravator spinnerbait. I hooked into some grasses not visible to me which fouled up the lure killing its action. I tried a few more casts, not achieving much and spending more time removing grasses and weeds from my lure than actually fishing, when on one retrieve. I experienced a solid thump which stopped the spinnerbait in its tracks. Instinctively I struck and reeled, my rod (a Fenwick flippin’ stick) bowed and then straightened. I reeled in furiously – nothing, no action, not even from the lure or what remained of it. I studied the spinnerbait – no blade or split ring remained on the swivel of the upper arm wire, the loop of which was tangled on the barb of the hook on the lower wire arm. Strange … I tried to reconstruct the scenario: The Bass (evidently) engulfed the spinnerbait compressing the top arm and lower arm together tangling the hook and the blade was pulled off when I struck with the Bass clamping the spinnerbait in its jaws …(probably).

Some days later (and partly due to that experience) I have the opportunity to fish the exact spot again. Those of you who know the Western Cape will not be surprised to hear that the weather had changed – drastically to be exact. A cold front was passing through with heavy onshore wind and intermittent rain, but I was there casting from the shoreline into the wind (as best I could) a heavyish chartreuse skirted spinnerbait with a silver Indiana blade and a black trailer worm. Strangely enough I did not find grass or weeds this time (during a dry period some years later, this area revealed extensive stump beds with exposed root systems), but after feeling the spinnerbait scrape what felt like a branch, I was suddenly stuck into the “tree” which gave slightly, but did not move. I reeled down quickly and leaned back into the rod hoping to dislodge the lure before having to break it off. Then the “tree” moved and the rest is history with one of the biggest Northern strain Bass I have caught. The fish was not weighed, but released unharmed (it was nowhere near the magical 10lb mark, but nevertheless “bragging size” for Northern strain bass in South Africa during the seventies and eighties. This second time there was no “Bass Splash” – maybe something to do with the weather?

September 1985 (Witbank Dam, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa): Whilst partnering a friend in boat in a practice run before an all-species artlure competition, I (at the back of the boat), notice a “Bass Splash” in a rocky bay. Make a mental note as my boat partner does not notice and is already fiddling with the controls planning to leave to fish another area not wanting to “waste” further time in the rocky bay. One month later we fish the same spot again (my boat partner is an experienced artlure angler with provincial colours). I notice a similar “Bass Splash”, but these are early days and at that stage I had not yet cottoned on to the possibility of a pattern or new theory. I remark that a fish splashed close by, my boat partner just says: “Yeah …” and after a few casts we are racing across the water to a different spot. We only catch a few small bass in very deep water on smallish deep diving crankbaits.

After this trip, I relive and review the day, the previous “Bass Splash” occurrences come to mind and I start developing the theory.

As fate would have it, I have since not fished that spot again (only accessible by boat and after all this time I doubt I would even find that particular spot again).

Very large Bass including the South African record of over 13lb (Florida strain Largemouth) have since been produced by Witbank Dam. This dam, to the best of my knowledge, was never officially stocked with Floridas – floods did the work by washing Floridas from surrounding farm dams (when the earthen dam walls gave way under pressure of rising waters) into Witbank Dam.

December 1985 (Buffelspoort Dam, North-West Province, South Africa): Whilst fooling around in a rowing boat in a small bay not too far from the wall of the dam we spot some kids on the shore having a lot of fun catching what seemed to be Canary Kurper (a small pesky predatory bream with a voracious appetite and a bright yellow throat). After drifting quietly in the general area, the excited chatter and laughter of the children is suddenly eclipsed by a violent “Bass Splash” near some protruding “stickups” only metres from the rowing boat.

Now I was sure that there must be something to my theory as this particular Dam had produced some nice Bass over the years, but my Bass tackle was not at hand …

That night, I made some more notes. The common denominators of the above “Bass Splash” sightings since also confirmed at Mazvikadei Dam near Banket, Zimbabwe and other South African localities are:

1. they take place in hot and sunny weather conditions with little or no wind (usually in spring or summer);

2. the water was probably rather warm (not verified with a thermometer, but air temperature was high), the water was also predominantly clear and in some cases slightly stained, but never muddy brown nor pea-soup green with algae;

3. xcept in one or two instances where there was a slight breeze, the water surface was calm with scarcely a ripple; and

4. the sightings took place in the heat of the day (between 11h00 and 15h00).

My conclusions about this new “pattern” or theory are:

1. When you have sighted a disturbance as described, note the area and the spot for future reference (the Bass seem to stay in the general area: Theewaterskloof – one week; Witbank – one month? And may do so until physical conditions change drastically forcing them to move).

2. Do not be too keen to leave the area after such a sighting unless you have fished it thoroughly, if you leave without success, return again later on the same day (or night).

3. The Bass responsible for the disturbance may be the biggest in the immediate vicinity.

Why don’t you give this “Bass Splash” concept a try in your region – you may just be pleasantly surprised! Let me know if you have had similar observations and experiences.

Jacques Wolmarans

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