In bass fishing there is a saying, "It all makes sense once you start catching fish". Bass fishing to me is the exciting process of putting together a live-action puzzle. Every piece of the puzzle is a variable. Most variables are constantly changing and in motion: weather conditions, sunlight penetration, fish behavior, fish location, and boat position. Add to these factors the vast number of fishing lures that an angler has to choose from and you almost get a sense of overwhelming odds against the angler.
Figuring it all out makes a fishing trip worth something special. It is only after you catch a fish or two does the puzzle start to make sense. Take for instance my last tournament experience. The weekend before the tournament the water was warm and bass were setting up to spawn. I had found some bass on shallow-water beds and I planned on catching them in the event. Nevertheless, a cold front the night before the tournament dropped the air temperature 20 degrees and altered my day. After I ran across the lake in 30 degree morning air temperatures the first thing I had to do was thaw out my hands and feet. This Florida angler is not fond of winter weather!
The harsh cold front ended up lowering the water temperature in my spawning area over ten degrees and caused my bass to leave the beds. On most Florida lakes you can find the bass repositioned somewhere nearby, a dropoff or deep hole, but not on the Harris Chain of Lakes. Harris bass flat disappear!
After fishing for nearly three hours without a bite I finally decided to change my approach and leave the shallow water behind me. I went back to a fall/winter fishing pattern where my bass keyed in on shad. One of the best lures that I use to mimic shad is a lipless crankbait.
An hour into my new fishing pattern and I caught a two-pound bass. The fish swallowed the crankbait and gave me a clue that I did everything right to fool that fish: the right color, right lure speed, the right fishing depth. That single hit reminded me of a similar fishing trip and put another piece of the puzzle together. When my next bass was a four-pounder I knew that I had figured something out. The only problem was that this last fish did not eat the lure well; in fact, it was only hooked with one barb of the treble hooks. That told me something was wrong with my presentation or the fish-feeding period was slowing down. A few casts later I missed a two-pound bass that swam up to eat my lure just when I was lifting it out of the water to make another cast. The conditions were changing and I lost the piece of the puzzle that told me lure color and presentation.
Regardless of this loss I maintained the same lure and presentation until the event was over. After landing eight bass and missing three I felt my performance was acceptable but not great. I felt confident about putting some of the puzzle together and giving me a chance to win, but I never figured out the other changes I needed to make to get the fish to bite later in the day when they quit feeding so good.
I walked away from the tournament in seventh place and feeling good about the experience that I had gained in adapting to changing cold-front conditions. Maybe next time I will put enough of the puzzle together to win.