When Virginia pro angler John Crews sees a bass in shallow water, he reads its body language to determine if the fish will eat a lure. By watching how it reacts to the boat or a lure, he knows if it is worth a few casts.
“Most bass that are caught sightfishing are hooked within the first five minutes, although I will work a real big fish for an hour if I already have a limit of smaller ones,” says the three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and two-time FLW Championship qualifier.
One of the first things he looks for is how the bass reacts to the presence of the boat. If the fish turns toward his boat or the trolling motor, that’s a good sign, he says.
“It means it is guarding that spot and will probably eat a bait that falls in or near the bed. If it turns and takes off as I get near, that’s not good. It’s not locked onto a bed or a particular spot.”
Crews also looks to see if the bass is aggressively chasing bluegills and other small creatures out of the area. When he sees that, he’s confident the fish will eat his lure.
HOW IS THE FISH SWIMMING?
“If the bass swims off slowly, or just swims in a circle and stops to look back, or returns to the general area of the bed, that’s good. I’ll wait for it to return to its original spot. The fact that it doesn’t want to leave the area means it is committed to that spot, either a bed or a specific area that it is protecting.”
Before he makes a single cast, however, he pays close attention to the fish’s fins, especially the pectorals. If they start moving back and forth rapidly, that’s a lock. Crews says that indicates an agitated bass, one intent on defending its territory. In fact, he believes that anytime a largemouth acts defensive, it’s catchable. However, if it takes off at the splash of the bait, the fish isn’t locked onto the bed.
“If you keep making casts but the fish won’t eat the bait and its fins are going fast, that just means it hasn’t decided to grab your lure, but it probably will eventually,” he notes. “If it’s busy chasing other fish away, all you have to do is put your lure in the bed when the fish isn’t looking and wait for it to come back.”
If the fish turns to look at the bait or tips up like it is interested, but still doesn’t inhale the lure, Crews will continue to work it. Those actions are signs of aggression. However, if the bass won’t commit after repeated attempts, Crews will change lures or colors, or he’ll work the fish from a different angle. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.