When a lunker strikes and misses, have a second-chance bass offering ready to go, rather than throwing the same presentation into the same area again.
The big topwater bait landed perfectly in a pocket between weeds and flooded timber, sending ripples across the water. When the rings faded, the angler plopped the plug before an explosion flung water and grass everywhere. The angler pulled to set the hook only to see the plug hurtling back. Frantic, he threw the lure back into the pocket repeatedly without success before finally moving to the next spot with nothing more than just another fishing story.
Every angler tells tales of the big one that got away. When a big bass strikes at a topwater, buzzbait, spinnerbait or other fast-moving temptation, it occasionally misses. However, anglers prepared to react swiftly when a bass strikes usually put more fish into boats.
"Everybody who has ever fished for bass has had second chances at them," commented Peter Thliveros, professional bass angler. "Anglers can throw endless numbers of things back into a pocket for a second opportunity at a bass. The key is being prepared to do it. Always be prepared to present two or three different options."
After missing a strike, most anglers instinctively throw the same lure back to the same spot and work it exactly the same way. That may work, but more frequently, a bass won't strike the same temptation twice, especially if it felt hooks. Instead, follow up quickly with something entirely different; if a bass swirls at a spinnerbait or topwater, immediately flip a soft-plastic bait.
"It's very difficult not to throw the same lure back into a hole where a big fish just struck, but bass very seldom hit the same lure twice," Thliveros explained. "I'll drop what I'm throwing and pick up something different every time. One of my favorite second-chance baits is a fluke."
Soft, subtle and lifelike, flukes and similar soft temptations may stimulate a hungry bass into attacking again. Such baits work particularly well around shallow cover, such as matted grass, lily pads or fallen treetops. Rigged weightless with the hook inserted into the plastic, slow-sinking flukes and other soft plastics can get to bass and easily slither across heavy cover without snagging. Worked extremely slowly, these baits dare even lethargic bass to hit them.
"Most second-chance baits are things that can work slowly and stay in the strike zone longer," advised Kenyon Hill, professional bass angler. "Follow-on baits are usually smaller and bite-sized, like flukes, grubs, worms or small jerkbaits. That's why when something strikes at a topwater bait and misses, I immediately follow up with a fluke. It sinks slowly like a dying shad and stays in the strike zone a long time."
Buzzing Frogs In Grass
When thick vegetation blankets shallows, few lures can reach bass like plastic buzz frogs. Rigged weightless with a hook inserted into the soft body, buzz frogs look natural as they sputter across matted grass, lily pads or similar cover.
"A buzz frog is like a buzzbait that you can throw anywhere in the middle of the thickest vegetation," said Shaw Grigsby, professional bass angler. "The legs on a buzz frog sputter like a buzzbait."
Some frogs slowly sink while others float. With either, anglers can use a steady buzzing retrieve to create surface commotion. Sometimes, bass erupt through the grass to attack these baits.
With floating frogs, use the hop-and-stop method. Let it sit on the surface a few moments and then pop it. Keep repeating that action to mimic a frog hopping across vegetation. With sinking frogs, let it slowly descend a foot or two. Pull it up to the surface and let it sink again. When fishing matted vegetation or pads, pause it briefly on top of cover. Then, ease it off the edge to sink into the pocket. Bass often slurp frogs on the fall.
— John Felsher
When picking second-chance baits, anglers typically switch from large, loud lures to smaller, more-subtle ones. However, the opposite can also work, particularly on extremely aggressive bass. If a bass strikes at a fluke or other soft-plastic bait, but doesn't inhale it, perhaps it wants something larger, moving faster or more erratically. A big bucketmouth may prefer to gulp one belly-filling meal rather than several small morsels. In an impoundment populated by largemouths habitually feeding upon big prey, perhaps a large crankbait or swimbait might prove too tempting to resist.
"If a fish misses a fluke, it's because it didn't want it," Thliveros quipped. "It was interested in it and wanted to feed, but it wasn't exactly what the fish wanted. If a bass misses a slow bait like a fluke, I follow up with a fast bait like a Rat-L-Trap and run it aggressively through the same area. The opposite is also true. If I provoke a reaction with a fast bait, I'll follow up with a slow bait. The same is true with colors. If I'm throwing a subtle color and miss a fish, I'll follow up with a bold, flashy color, such as orange or chartreuse."
Even if a bass rises from cover to aggressively smash a topwater or spinnerbait and misses, it doesn't necessarily leave the area. Big bass love home lairs, and usually return to cover to pounce on the next potential meal. After missing something on top, an angler might want to probe the cover thoroughly with jigs, Texas-rigged worms or similar baits. Experiment with different baits and sizes. If nothing happens, return to that spot a few hours later and try again.
Regardless of bait type, changing lure colors might also help. Anglers usually go from brighter colors to more natural subtle hues to entice bass a second time. However, a fish might actually want a bold, brighter color.
"Size and color choices depend upon water clarity," advised Kevin VanDam, Bassmaster Classic champion. "In really clear water, I use a 6-inch worm with a little bit of a curled tail. If I want a shorter, more compact bait, I go to a swimming tail grub. In dirty water, I might use a paddle-style tail or gator-tail worm. A bigger worm displaces more water and gives off bigger vibrations. That attracts fish in stained or dirty water. For colors, I like watermelon, green pumpkin or cotton candy in clear water. In dirty water, I like darker colors, such as black neon, June bug or red shad. I often use firetails or pearl tails, especially if the bass are chasing baitfish. A pearl grub can be dynamite in stained water when bass are chasing shad."
Fish don't always want something radically different. Perhaps a bass wants the same lure that provoked a strike, but in a slightly different size or shape. When fishing a reservoir known for producing big bass, try a larger version of the same lure.
In addition, anglers may think the first fish responded again on the second cast, but more frequently, several bass occupy the same hole. What attracts one bass to a spot typically attracts others. If the first fish doesn't hit again, others might. Sometimes, competition from other bass makes fish attack more viciously. Therefore, they might want bigger baits with more sound or action.
If one bass bites, keep working over the honey hole with multiple casts. Try multiple bait types and colors. Also try the same baits with various presentations or retrieval speeds to see what the fish want on that particular day. If a bass wants a bait, nothing prevents it from striking.
In any situation, plan ahead to offer several options. Take note of what works that day, how and where it produced the most strikes and make adjustments accordingly. Also watch for bass attacking natural forage to determine what they want at that time and place. Then, try to mimic that natural choice.
Anglers who remain vigilant, react swiftly and make adjustments tell about the lunkers they landed rather than relating just another "big one that got away" story.