June means it’s time to prepare for bass season
The Sentinel welcomes award-winning writer Harry Guyer Jr. to its outdoors page.
Guyer grew up in central Pennsylvania. His father was an avid hunter and fisherman, who instilled his love of the outdoors in his son. Guyer graduated from Shippensburg State College with a degree in English and taught the subject on both the high school and college level for 35 years.
Guyer began writing as an outdoor columnist for the Bedford Gazette in 1987 and has also written for Tri-County Outdoors, Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, and some other state and regional magazines.
He is a past president of both the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association.
His first book, “Ghost Brother, Outdoor Tales of the Supernatural” is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ex Libris. It garnered an Excellence in Craft award from POWA. He is presently working on his second collection of short stories.
When June arrives, thoughts of gobblers fade, trout fishing enters a doldrums for many anglers, and for others the attention turns to bass. Saturday marks the bass opener, a season many anglers await each year with great anticipation.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass, also known as black bass, are not bass at all but rather members of the sunfish family. Their genus name Micropterus is also based on a mistake. The first preserved specimen to arrive in Europe had a deformed, smaller than normal dorsal fin. The French scientist who classified the fish gave it the Latin name meaning “small fin.”
The largemouth’s species name is also a goof. In South Carolina, where they were first described, they were called “lake trout.” So they were given the Latin name salmoides, meaning “salmon-like.” The smallie’s species name dolomieu honored a French mineralogist.
The jury is still out as to whether Pennsylvania, at least the Susquehanna drainage, was part of the historical original range of either species. Probably not. Our drainage was home to the rock bass or redeye, with smallies and largemouths introduced into our waters.
Largemouth fans brag on their quarry’s larger size and willingness to hit big baits. Smallmouth lovers boast their favorite’s fighting ability and aerobatic skills. Both are fun to catch, and only a few freshwater species are better in the frying pan.
Bass are America’s fish, with more enthusiasts pursuing them than any other species. Bass fishing has become big business, with a genuine risk of a path beaten to the door of anyone building a better small- or largemouth trap.
Products come and go. All have their moment in the sun as the Bait You Can’t Live Without, the one that threatens the species with extinction. Later you can hardly give them away.
Older bass busters can remember when the Bass-Oreno was the hottest thing around. Then the Lazy Ike, the Jitterbug, and the Little George.
I remember the first plastic worm I ever saw, brought from Florida by my grandfather nearly 60 years ago. It was black, rigged with three hooks and a shiny propeller. It really caught bass, but it also melted everything plastic it touched in my tackle box.
I can also remember my first spinnerbait — a monstrosity that I couldn’t catch a fish on to save my soul. A few years plus some expert advice from a friend, and the lure has become a go-to bait for me, especially later in the season when weeds grow up in bass waters.
At present I rely on two soft bait rigs. One is a fairly thick three- to four-inch worm rigged “wacky,” impaled in the middle on a wide-gap octopus hook. This allows both ends to wiggle enticingly as the bait sinks slowly to the bottom. No weight or even a swivel is added.
For largemouth, I generally fish from my johnboat, casting to the shoreline of the lakes I am fishing. I like to place my bait no more than a foot from the bank. I take the slack from the line as it sinks, let it sit for a few seconds then shake my rod tip vigorously to make the worm wiggle. Then I retrieve it a foot or so at a time, again letting it sink and repeating the wiggle, all the time watching the line closely.
Bass generally will hit on the fall and move with the bait. At any indication of a bite, I draw up the slack and set the hook hard.
This technique has been effective for me from Pennsylvania to Florida and points between. My favorite colors are white, black and pumpkinseed.
On two occasions last week my fishing partner and I caught more than 70 largemouth on Lake Gordon in Bedford County. Then a few days later we hit Lake Raystown in Huntingdon County where we landed over two dozen apiece. The lunker of the trip was a 22-incher.
While this rig works for river smallmouth too, my go-to smally bait is a jig inside a soft tube. For this species I hit the rivers, either in my johnboat or canoe. I like to drift downstream, tossing the bait around logs, rocks, or other structure. As with the worm bait, I let the tube sink to the bottom, then bounce it along, giving it as much action as possible.
Smallies usually hit and run hard with the tubes. At the strike I tighten the line and try to cross their eyes on the hookset.
White is again a favorite color, along with smoke and purple. Three-inch tubes are my most productive size.
On a trip to the Allegheny River last year, the tube bait garnered me more than thirty smallmouth. Right under the bridge going into Oil City, I literally hooked up on every cast for more than 10 minutes.
Bass season continues through Sept. 30 for rivers and streams and Oct. 31 for lakes. July 4 has been designated a Fish-for-Free day when no license is required, a great opportunity to introduce a newcomer to bass fishing. And remember, whenever possible, take a kid along.