You’re retrieving a lure, and just as it nears the boat you spot a big bass following the bait. Then, just when you think it’s game on, the fish turns away. How many times has this happened to you? The scenario usually creates a moment of sheer panic as you scramble for another rod rigged with a different lure. Now ask yourself how often you actually end up scoring that fish. I can’t really say that I’ve found a magic button to trigger those followers, but I can say that preparedness is half the battle. This is particularly important in the fall, because bass are notoriously temperamental during this transitional time of year.
Though I’m sure every angler has a theory on hooking up the lock-jawed followers, what seems to work best for me are these two general approaches: Either hit ’em again immediately or come back a little later. If you’re going to try the first approach, you have absolutely zero time to ponder what just happened, nor time to say “holy crap, did you see that” to your buddy, nor time to rig up your favorite Banjo Minnow. You need to get anything with a hook in front of that hyped-up bass as quickly as possible, even if that means recasting the lure that was just refused. I always have various rods rigged with follow-up lures reeled right to the tips close at hand on deck. The key is speed and accuracy on the follow-up cast. If you panic and fumble through a pile of rods looking for the one with the right lure, not only will you be making noise that can spook the fish, the time spent doing so will account for a lost opportunity. So what exactly makes a good follow-up lure? I keep a neutrally buoyant bait rigged in case the bass is sitting still next to the boat in a sort of shocked state. I also have a substantially smaller bait tied up, which can be the ticket if the primary bait that got followed was on the larger side. But in truth, sometimes the best bait to cast is the one that got followed the first time, because it already got the interest, and 9 times out of 10, you didn’t get the strike because the presentation was slightly off.
The other concept that is not taken advantage of as often is what I call “the return policy.” Mr. Bass may not have eaten the first time, but he just disclosed his location to Mr. Bass Angler. And unfortunately for Mr. Bass, he doesn’t have the memory of Mr. Bass Angler. Generally speaking, if you give a bass that wasn’t hooked an hour or so to relax and reposition, you’ll get another shot at it. Your job is to remember every little detail from the first follow and use it to your advantage when you return. Approach the spot with more stealth than last time, think about your presentation, and get that lure where it needs to go on the first cast. Bites can be fewer and farther between in the fall, so you need to make every play count.