Pulling a Fast One on Fish

Turn on a lure's afterburners to trigger strikes from fish that aren't even hungry.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Pity the fool with an instinct for flight who saunters into a grizzly bear's domain, startles the beast and sprints away quickly-but not quickly enough. (Rrrrrrggggghh...chomp!) The hostile reaction to sudden movement is not confined to bears. Consider a house cat comfortably ensconced on the floor, whiling away the hours between meals. Nothing much happens when you attach a toy to a fishing line and sneak it past the disinterested cat at a slug's pace. But snap it across the room and quarter it in front of the cat's face. (Meowwww...pounce!)

Fish often react in the same manner to something that lands in their domain and then leaves in a hurry. Slap a lure down in front of a bass and crank it back to the boat so fast it seems to barely skim the water. If the bass's metabolism is running on all cylinders, the fish's reaction is strikingly similar to that of the bear and the cat. (Boom, crash...adios!)

Speed is a ploy that pays in the summer. The concept, like the worst-case scenario with a grizzly, is to provoke instinctive strikes by entering the realm of a fish and goosing it into action with speed. It's a technique that applies to smallmouths in clear water, muskies when the water's warm or walleyes on otherworldly Lake Erie. And the list goes on.

Why? Scientists say that deep down in the evolutionary programming of fish there's a biological rule that requires them to get while the getting's good. "Both animals and fish have to feed when the opportunity arises, and it's more or less built into their genetic makeup," says Pure Fishing researcher John Prochnow, a developer of Berkley PowerBaits. Prochnow has spent years testing the reaction of fish to a lure's scent, speed and action. "If something comes by fast, they must eat it or miss the opportunity. For them to be able to survive in the wild, where food is not always available, they've been programmed to strike." Under certain circumstances, speed kills. Rip spinnerbaits, hustle lures, troll beyond the standard speeds-such power presentations can trigger strikes when all else fails.

Blitz a Bigmouth
When bass are in a funk, it's only natural to try to tempt, not torment, them. But anglers in the know are aware of the efficacy of shock therapy.

"A lot of times speed can be the only trigger under extremely tough conditions," says New Jersey bass pro Pete Gluszek. "Fishing slowly and finessing are not always the way to go. By zipping a spinnerbait past a bass or dropping a big jig in front of it, you'll often snap that fish out of a negative mode."

Where largemouths are concerned, the best situation for speed is clear water over 60 degrees. According to Gluszek, sudden movements short-circuit the already simple functioning of a bass's tiny brain. "When you present a bait to a bass, it might come over and inspect the lure but not eat it," Gluszek says. "What you're trying to do with speed is eliminate the thought process and get a reaction."

Gluszek's favorite way to do that is by pitching a big jig-a ponderous one-ouncer with plastic trailer-in water as shallow as a foot deep. It's the combination of the splash and the fast sink that does the trick. "You want the jig to go 'kerplunk,'" Gluszek says. "I don't want it to drop like a ton of bricks, but I don't want it to go in there silently, either. When it falls fast, the bass know it's now or never."

Mitch Looper of Barling, Ark., extends speed principles to other baits, including lipless crankbaits and even a quarter-ounce Riverside Counter Attack spinnerbait to which he adds a half-ounce Rubbercor sinker on the hook shank. Looper can reel the weighted spinnerbait as fast as he can turn the reel handle without having the bait pop out of the water. "If fish are boiling at the spinnerbait and not hitting it, you're not cranking fast enough," Looper says.

Believe it or not, speed even works th a go-slow lure like a tube jig, especially for spotted bass, which are particularly susceptible to fast retrieves. "A lot of times, while your line is dropping, it will jump like crazy because spots are hitting the tube and knocking it back up in the water," says Looper. "When that happens, I'll let the tube fall back down and then give it four to six quick turns of the reel handle. If it's a spot, it will usually inhale the tube then."

The next time the bite is tough, get moving with some aggressive maneuvers that befuddle a bass's thought process.

Smallmouths Think Fast
Nothing makes smallmouths crazier than lickety-split retrieves. Even more than their big, wide-mouthed cousins, smallmouths have a need for speed. "When the water's clear, and anytime it's not too cold, speed is important," says Michigan's Kevin Van Dam, the 2001 Bass Masters Classic champ and a smallmouth laureate educated on clear waters. His thinking: "'Hey, that looks like something I've never seen!' The key is to work a lure quickly, and they'll whack it."

The guidelines Van Dam offers are temperatures above 60 degrees in spring, 55 degrees and above in fall. To warp in a spinnerbait, Van Dam turns to heavier models with 3/4- to 1-ounce heads and twin No. 4 willow-leaf blades. Or he'll remove the Colorado blade from a Strike King Premier Model and replace the No. 41/2 willow with a No. 4. From there, Van Dam "burns" the bait in and shakes it, working it something like a jerkbait. "Snap it to make it shake and change the rotation of the blades," he says. "Keep the bait trucking along." Tip: If a fish follows, crank even faster.

The speed gambit also applies to tubes with heavy jigheads. Added weight translates into faster drop velocity, which triggers smallmouths. "I fish a lot of three-eighths-ounce jigheads and up in five to ten feet of water," Van Dam says. "You move them fast and the fish react." When he pitches one out on spinning tackle, he gives it a sharp hop and a few turns of the reel to lift it off bottom, then jerks it three or four times and lets it fall.

Erratic is what smallmouths are all about. Spinnerbaits, tubes, grubs-when you get them going at full-tilt boogie, there's no turning back.

Bombs Away for Muskies
The muskie is arguably North America's meanest and most elusive freshwater predator. Muskies can streak along at 30 mph, slashing into ducklings, gulping down muskrats, devouring northern pike half their length.

All of which is why it makes sense to get as aggressive as they are. "If you fish a surface bait fast, you'll get all kinds of swirls and boils," says Mark Windels, a muskie hunter and lure-maker from Bemidji, Minn. "But it's self-defeating when fish miss. If a fish is capable of catching a fast-moving lure, I always make speed a priority."

Enter the bucktail spinner, a subsurface bait that can be bombed out and zinged in rapidly. "I don't know that you can retrieve a bucktail too fast, given reasonable water temperatures of sixty-five or above," Windels says.

But not all bucktails are created equal. The key is to have a smallish blade, preferably a French blade or a wide willow-leaf, like the metal on a Blue Fox Musky Buck, or Windels's Harasser, for minimal water resistance on a 11/2-ounce bait. Windels acknowledges there's a trade-off with the tame blade. "There's always a problem with running an easy-to-pull blade because it's not drawing fish from a long distance," he says.

Nevertheless, you can compensate with a no-holds-barred assault. Where it might be possible to make 50 casts with a bigger blade, you're going to be able to squeeze in 100 with a smaller blade in the same amount of time.

Take Salmon for a Spin
"I think of speed as an artificial barrier that exists in the lore of generations of fishermen and the limitations of our tackle," says Chip Porter, an Illinois charter captain on Lake Michigan who specializes in salmon and steelhead.

When salmon are surface-oriented and temperatures are in the 50s, speed is essential for Porter, who ranges from 2.7 mph to 4 mph. When temperature at depth is in the 50s, speed is again the deal. "But when temperature at depth reaches the low sixties, speed doesn't apply as much," Porter says.

Dodgers and flies, ordinarily not considered speed-compatible, are the rigs for a fast troll when water temperature is in the 50s. "One of the greatest fallacies in salmon fishing is that you can't spin a dodger and expect to catch fish," Porter says. "Sometimes if you're not spinning dodgers, you're not catching fish. You really max out at 3.5 mph with a dodger."

The steelhead is another fish that doesn't mind a robust race when it comes to running down prey, especially in wide-open waters.

Porter's favorite lures for such high-speed approaches are Rebel FasTraks, which seldom spin out in hyper-drive, and Cordell Spots, lipless crankbaits normally associated with bass fishing.

Wake Up Walleyes
Live bait and painstakingly slow retrieves: So it goes with walleye fishing throughout much of the Midwest. But that's not always the best approach.

A case in point can be found on Lake Erie, where a baitfish buffet of shad, smelt and shiners boosts walleye size into the double digits.

"The difference in Erie in cold water is that when you have so much bait, and such a variety of bait, the fish have their choice," says Scott Stecher, owner of Reef Runner Tackle in Marblehead, Ohio. "The trick is to have a high-speed bait with a hunting action to trigger reaction strikes."

By "hunting action," Stecher means a wobbling body bait that also veers from side to side. Stecher has refined the motion in his banana-shaped Rippers and Ripsticks in walleye central of Erie's Western Basin. "We're contradictory to most of the pros on the walleye tour," says Stecher, who cooks along at 2.2 to 2.7 mph. "Fast to them is in the 1.2 to 1.5 mph range. I don't think walleyes are as oriented to low speed as people think. I've been out too many times and caught too many fish going too fast."

Mark Martin, a pro from Twin Lake, Mich., has witnessed trolling speeds as fast as 3.5 mph draw strikes in summer tournaments. "The walleye's instinct in warm water is to chase something," Martin observes. "To us, it seems like we're bebopping along at a pretty good clip. To them, the lure looks like a meal getting away fast-but not fast enough."

Despite the walleye's somnolent reputation, speed will tap into the predator's primordial instinct to attack.ur tackle," says Chip Porter, an Illinois charter captain on Lake Michigan who specializes in salmon and steelhead.

When salmon are surface-oriented and temperatures are in the 50s, speed is essential for Porter, who ranges from 2.7 mph to 4 mph. When temperature at depth is in the 50s, speed is again the deal. "But when temperature at depth reaches the low sixties, speed doesn't apply as much," Porter says.

Dodgers and flies, ordinarily not considered speed-compatible, are the rigs for a fast troll when water temperature is in the 50s. "One of the greatest fallacies in salmon fishing is that you can't spin a dodger and expect to catch fish," Porter says. "Sometimes if you're not spinning dodgers, you're not catching fish. You really max out at 3.5 mph with a dodger."

The steelhead is another fish that doesn't mind a robust race when it comes to running down prey, especially in wide-open waters.

Porter's favorite lures for such high-speed approaches are Rebel FasTraks, which seldom spin out in hyper-drive, and Cordell Spots, lipless crankbaits normally associated with bass fishing.

Wake Up Walleyes
Live bait and painstakingly slow retrieves: So it goes with walleye fishing throughout much of the Midwest. But that's not always the best approach.

A case in point can be found on Lake Erie, where a baitfish buffet of shad, smelt and shiners boosts walleye size into the double digits.

"The difference in Erie in cold water is that when you have so much bait, and such a variety of bait, the fish have their choice," says Scott Stecher, owner of Reef Runner Tackle in Marblehead, Ohio. "The trick is to have a high-speed bait with a hunting action to trigger reaction strikes."

By "hunting action," Stecher means a wobbling body bait that also veers from side to side. Stecher has refined the motion in his banana-shaped Rippers and Ripsticks in walleye central of Erie's Western Basin. "We're contradictory to most of the pros on the walleye tour," says Stecher, who cooks along at 2.2 to 2.7 mph. "Fast to them is in the 1.2 to 1.5 mph range. I don't think walleyes are as oriented to low speed as people think. I've been out too many times and caught too many fish going too fast."

Mark Martin, a pro from Twin Lake, Mich., has witnessed trolling speeds as fast as 3.5 mph draw strikes in summer tournaments. "The walleye's instinct in warm water is to chase something," Martin observes. "To us, it seems like we're bebopping along at a pretty good clip. To them, the lure looks like a meal getting away fast-but not fast enough."

Despite the walleye's somnolent reputation, speed will tap into the predator's primordial instinct to attack.