Swinging for the Fence

Big bass eat large, so sometimes you'll want to go with XXXL lures and tackle that can haul them.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

A mourning dove dipped across the September sun and cut the edge of the South Texas stock tank. I turned, swinging and shooting a shade late, and clipped the bird. The dove fell on a slant and plopped into the dark water. The floating bird kicked a final twitch, rocking a band of ripples across the surface.

Tough shot; at least I got him, I thought, waiting for the breeze to push the dead dove to the bank. Then it was gone, claimed in a vicious splash. I saw a quick turn of bristling fins, gaping maw, and shining back. A big bass had snatched my dove.

A hunting partner hailed from the far side of the pond. "Can you get that bird or do you want me to come over with the dog?"

"Too late. A bass just ate it."

"Yeah, right. No margaritas for you tonight." ** Big Mouth, Bigger Attitude **
That twist to the old bird in the hand adage occurred quite a while back, but it underlines the opportunistic nature of the largemouth bass. This is a predator that leads with a big mouth and, at times, a bigger attitude. Fish and crustaceans are the preferred forage, but frogs, rodents, turtles, and at times even birds, snakes, and baby alligators are claimed by this warm-water headhunter. Put another way, there's probably not much that moves that a hungry bass will not try to grab -- assuming the intended prey can more or less be swallowed.

The image of that departed dove continues to flutter in my memory, a reminder to occasionally swing for the fence by chunking the biggest and most outrageous lure I can command. We sometimes get caught in the middle ground and forget that big bass have a mean streak. The standard-issue 1á4- to 1á2-ounce topwater plugs, crankbaits, and spinnerbai that imitate routine forage such as threadfin shad and crawfish are proven producers for keeper bass, but why not stir things up now and then and lob a bomb into the weedbeds? This is no time to be conservative. Heave something big, really big, and see what happens.

I followed this lead on a recent trip to a private pond near Houston, Texas. Fishing from a johnboat, a friend and I used 1á4-ounce topwater plugs to catch three or four 1- to 2-pound bass from an isolated logjam. The tangle of heavy cover sat in 6 feet of water near the dropoff edge of a channel, a defined hide for a big fish. Several followup casts with the small lures failed to raise another player.

"Wait a sec, let me try something," I said as my partner stowed his rod and prepared to juice the trolling motor. I fished into a tote bag and fetched a huge AC Plug. It was one of the original hand-turned wooden lures -- the plug ran 11 inches in length and featured a jointed body, a plastic tail, and a tapered head as thick as a cucumber.

I lashed the preposterous plug to a heavy flippin' rod and side-armed an awkward cast toward the timber. The AC landed with a crack just beyond the cover. The lure floated at rest for lingering seconds, then twitched and plopped and rolled.

The strike was terrifying. This was the real thing; the swamp bass of legend had risen from the blackness and crushed its prey.

The johnboat rocked as we flinched. Somehow I missed the strike. How a bass could displace that much water, scatter so many hostile vibes, and vanish untouched is one of those vivid mysteries of fishing. The lake held several 10- and 12-pound bass (verified by electroshocking surveys); this emphatically was one. Significant to this discussion, the hoary old sow had not moved during the previous activity with small lures on small bass. She was right there, peering up with goggle-eyed indifference, until the big bait pulled the trigger.

The Nature of the Beast
"The largemouth bass is an extremely voracious, aggressive fish," says fisheries biologist Mac McCune, president of Lake Management Services in Richmond, Texas, an operation that specializes in grooming and stocking warm-water lakes. "I once watched a bass try to eat a crippled duck -- a coot, actually. The coot was too big for the bass to hold onto, but the bass kept grabbing at it anyway."

The fact that the average American coot weighes approximately 11á2 pounds says something about the ambition of a hungry bass.

"One thing I'm sure of," McCune told me. "A big bait is the best way to catch a big bass. A larger bass, say an 8- or 10-pounder, requires more food, and the fish would rather get that required food from one or two meals than from five or six.

"There's a discernible difference in the behavioral pattern between big bass and small bass; the big fish don't like to chase helter-skelter after prey. They become more ambush oriented and it usually takes a real mouthful to interest them. For example, when we put bass in brood ponds, the females are in th had not moved during the previous activity with small lures on small bass. She was right there, peering up with goggle-eyed indifference, until the big bait pulled the trigger.

The Nature of the Beast
"The largemouth bass is an extremely voracious, aggressive fish," says fisheries biologist Mac McCune, president of Lake Management Services in Richmond, Texas, an operation that specializes in grooming and stocking warm-water lakes. "I once watched a bass try to eat a crippled duck -- a coot, actually. The coot was too big for the bass to hold onto, but the bass kept grabbing at it anyway."

The fact that the average American coot weighes approximately 11á2 pounds says something about the ambition of a hungry bass.

"One thing I'm sure of," McCune told me. "A big bait is the best way to catch a big bass. A larger bass, say an 8- or 10-pounder, requires more food, and the fish would rather get that required food from one or two meals than from five or six.

"There's a discernible difference in the behavioral pattern between big bass and small bass; the big fish don't like to chase helter-skelter after prey. They become more ambush oriented and it usually takes a real mouthful to interest them. For example, when we put bass in brood ponds, the females are in th