Catching bass is so much easier when they hit the bait hard so you know they are there. But when they aren’t slamming it, you get bites that can easily go undetected. That always makes for an interesting day on the water. Throw in the fact that it may happen while you are in a tournament, and it can drive you crazy.
Three things might happen when a fish bites softly. One, you can miss him altogether and wind up with nothing. Two, you can catch the bass, but by the time you realize you have a bite, he has swallowed the hook and may die if you aren’t really good with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Three, you can be lucky and on top of your game and catch fish like normal. Honestly, the first is most likely.
This soft bite is what I experienced at our last tournament. Numerous times, I had to watch the line or feel for that “mushiness” at the end of my line to notice the strike. I can’t tell you how many bass I missed, but I did manage to get a limit of bass and even a few that I could cull out. But when the bass bite like this, it is very difficult to get fish in the boat.
You can’t change the fish, so you have to change something on your end. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to enhance your chances of getting the hook into their mouths when the bite is soft.
Early in the day, I realized that the bite was a little off. I missed the first three strikes I had, but none of those bites were the bone-jarring type that you love to feel. They were more along the lines of a soft mushy feeling at the end of your line — almost like you were trying to get your bait free from the weeds. Then you feel that slight twitch and realize that the grass can’t do that and you better start setting the hook.
This type of bite can be detected when you lift the bait to move it. Keeping your line tight in this situation will allow you to detect that type of a soft bite even sooner. You stand a fair chance of getting a good hookset on a soft bite like this, if you’re paying attention and are alert to the possibility.
The other type of soft bite is the one where you feel nothing at all, but then you see your line slowly moving off to one side or the other. The bass has your bait and is attempting to swim off. For me, this is the toughest bite to detect. Frequently a fish will grab the bait and come straight back to the boat. If you’re fishing grass clumps near deep water, that bass will pick your bait up and swim to deeper water to enjoy what he has. Unfortunately, that slacks your line and you won’t know the fish is there. Of the two soft bites, this is the tougher one to get a hookset on.
When a bass is moving with your bait, you need to detect the bite as soon as possible. How? Pay attention to your line. If it isn’t tight, you won’t be able to see it move until it’s too late.
The next trick is to hook that fish. First, determine which way the bass is swimming. Then, make sure when you set the hook it is back into the path of the bass. If you sweep your rod the same way the bass is swimming, you’ll pull the bait right out of its mouth and get nothing for your trouble. If you swing the rod in the opposite direction of his travel, you stand a much higher chance of getting the hook lodged in the bass’s mouth. Yes, that’s hard when the fish is coming right at you.
Feel is everything when you’re working soft plastic baits along the bottom. But when the bites are too soft to feel, the onus is on you to use anything possible to detect that strike. Watching your line is a great way to tip the advantage back into your favor. So is knowing what that initial feel is like as you lift your rod tip to move your bait. If something doesn’t feel right, start swinging. You either remove your bait from that spot sooner than you’d like, or you wind up with a hook the mouth of a bass.
This soft bite is something we all have to deal with. When you do, you have to be prepared to catch those bass anyhow. Hopefully, these tips will make you more aware of a bite that might otherwise go undetected.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.