The Art of Presentation: Tied Up With Bass

Here is some invaluable insight from two legends of modern fishing. Merging methods, controls and triggers to catch bass anywhere.

Fishing terminology has long been filled with regional catch phrases and buzzwords. Unfortunately, in the past, many of these terms were undecipherable to anglers outside a given area. For angling knowledge to be exchanged in any meaningful way, a common language had to be developed, allowing anglers nationwide to communicate their ideas. In the 1960s, we began working with fishing pioneer Bill Binkelman to develop a glossary of angling terminology for his tabloid publication “Fishing News.” We anticipated that once anglers around the country could effectively communicate with each other, fishing knowledge would explode. And it did. In the process, we borrowed the word “presentation” from the world of fly fishing and began applying the concept to angling in general.

Largemouth Presentations
In our early glossary, we defined presentation as the choice of a correct bait or lure for the conditions, or the technique by which that bait was offered to a target species. The individual approach might be float fishing, casting, trolling— it didn’t really matter. Presentation was an all-encompassing description of how you made your offering to the fi sh. It became the third link in the Fish + Location + Presentation = Success formula. The first two components were based on understanding the nature of your target species, and how it related to its habitat. In both cases, a little scientific background in biology and limnology (the study of lakes) came into play, much of which could be learned by reading books and doing similar research.

But when it came to “presentation,” the game changed. That’s where you left the realm of science and entered one more closely resembling an art form—a blend of personal perspective and skill, acquired and refined through practice. Rather than there being only one correct presentation solution to angling challenges, there were potentially many, all of which might vary in terms of execution and degree of success. Presentation as a whole involves several characteristics: the type of fishing platform, the method (casting, trolling, stillfishing etc.), and the controls and triggers each of those methods employ. Let’s take a brief look at each.

In the fly fishing world, most anglers don waders to fish from a stationary platform, a riverbed or shoreline. What they sacrifice in mobility, they make up in stealth, enhancing their ability to methodically strain the water.

In bass fishing, it’s quite the opposite. Most serious anglers fish from a boat, a mobile platform. As such, although bass are certainly caught from docks, bridges and shorelines, anglers catch most fish casting, while simultaneously maneuvering the boat with an electric motor. Contrast that to species like walleyes that tend to be caught while trolling, drifting or from an anchored position. At first glance, this would seem to stem from the fact that each species has different habits and locations, to which anglers adapt methods for catching them. There’s more to it, however.

As we’ve discussed in previous installments of the FRS Series, the roots of fishing education go back to E. L. “Buck” Perry, whose revolutionary ideas on structure fishing propelled angling into the modern era. Interestingly, his core method of fishing involved trolling stamped metal lures called Spoonplugs. He progressed through plugs of different diving depths until locating fish and catching them. This largely explains why he placed such a huge emphasis on depth and speed; they were the heart of his system and they forced anglers to reevaluate accepted concepts.

Today’s bass anglers, however, cast to almost the complete exclusion of trolling. As effective as Perry’s tactics are, they were simply overwhelmed in the rise of bass tournaments, which prohibit trolling during competition. As such, modern bass fishing has evolved into a casting sport, although trolling is still a predominant method for other species.

Whatever the reason, whether it be fish behavior or angling culture, today’s bass anglers use five primary methods, to which they adapt many different lure styles within the proper ranges of depth and speed. They are:

Overhand Cast And Retrieve
This is the most traditional of all techniques, allowing long casts to quickly cover broad areas.

Developed by legendary Western angler Dee Thomas, flippin’ incorporates a long rod and underhand flip motion to deliver a lure at close range, precisely on target, with little disturbance that might spook bass. Although it can technically be considered a cast, it’s more of a dip.

Pitchin’ became the logical hybrid of traditional flippin’ and casting, incorporating an underhand pitch cast to launch a lure on a low trajectory and drop it on target with little commotion.

Vertical Fishing
This involves slow, near-vertical approaches with jigs, jigging spoons or drop-shot rigs, while the angler maneuvers the boat with an electric motor. The moving boat—not a retrieve or rodtip motion—moves the lure, much like in most types of walleye fishing. Note the departure from classic casting tactics.

Fishing from an anchored position does not fit the image of modern bass angling, yet it can be deadly effective under the right circumstances. One of the foremost examples occurs throughout Florida, where bass anglers use live wild shiners as bait. Most anglers who’ve employed this tactic would agree that, when bass—particularly big bass—want to eat shiners, they often ignore even the best efforts of a fisherman using artificial lures.

In his breakthrough concepts, Perry boiled down presentation into two primary elements, which he called controls. These were “depth” and “speed.” He considered them to be the most important factors in getting fish to strike, because if he placed a lure at the right depth, and moved it at the right speed, fish would respond. All other factors became secondary to these.

But Perry also recognized a secondary group of factors, which he termed aids, that affected successful presentation. Once he established that his lure was running at the proper depth and speed, varying secondary aids could add a degree of attraction. On the downside, adding the wrong secondary controls to an already successful presentation could diminish its effectiveness. Perry’s original group of secondary controls included size, shape and action, which could all be easily varied by changing lures and noting any changes in their productivity. Today, we might call this fi ne-tuning a pattern.

In the ensuing years, as advancing technology introduced new design features into fishing lures, the growing complexity of their characteristics necessitated a reclassification in terms. Depth and speed remained primary controls, but as time went on it became increasingly appropriate to term Perry’s secondary controls, in conjunction with new lure characteristics, as triggers geared to stimulate fish response. Soon after Perry introduced this concept, manufacturers added new triggers like scent, sound, taste, texture, shape and vibration. And today, the list has grown to include modern triggers like luminescence, phosphorescence and pheromones.

Finesse vs. Coverage
Today’s bass anglers make use of a wide variety of lure styles, shapes, colors, sizes, actions, riggings, scents, sounds and vibrations. Some primary styles, such as crankbaits and spinnerbaits, have their own inherent actions, vibrations and sounds, and are effectively worked simply by reeling them in. The lures do much of the work for you, even though you can modify or enhance their attributes a bit by manipulating the rodtip, pausing the retrieve or changing speeds. Because these lures work well with a fair degree of speed, they are considered “coverage” or “power fishing” baits, used to quickly strain large areas and trigger strikes. Lures and rigs such as jigs, plastic worms and drop-shot rigs, have little inherent action and must be manipulated. Anglers use them to probe small areas and entice inactive fi sh.

These subtle, slow-moving presentations closely mimic the natural action and attraction of common forage species like minnows, baitfish or insects and are considered finesse techniques. In all cases, changing colors, sizes, shapes and other triggers can enhance your effectiveness, based on what bass respond to—and what they don’t—on any given day. That’s why you carry an assortment of lure styles, experiment to see which ones bass respond to best, and then fi ne-tune your approach to make it even more effective.

A Foundation
In the end, success boils down to understanding the fish, evaluating their options in the local habitat, and then using that information to develop ways to catch them. All aspects of this equation are equally important; if you falter in one area, success diminishes. Presentation doesn’t stand alone. No hot lure works everywhere, every time. And you can’t buy success over the counter. Instead, presentation is all about applying the right tools, in the proper ways, for the job.

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