They had told you that predators were present in the shallows and it was safer for them on shore. They don’t really want to be out of the water but in the life and death game that they play every day shore was safer than the water at that time. The environment had just spoken to you, did you hear it?
I have had a day in a stump filled cove where we only caught fish off of stumps that had turtles or snakes on them. I’m not talking about little biscuit sized turtles or young of the year snakes, but plate sized turtles and snakes that were two feet long or better. I have never come up with the reason why but the third hit in the cove told me that whatever made these particular stumps attractive to creatures above the water was also making them attractive to creatures under the water. I listened.
It’s the same thing when I fish trees, some times I will spook a fish when the bait hits the water. The obvious thing is that they are spooky and I need a quieter presentation. The hidden factor is where in the tree was the fish I spooked? The outside edge? In the thickest tangle? Deep underneath in the darkest shade? I want to recognize that because they will be set up in the same position on most trees. Was it a maple, a willow or a water oak? It all matters.
Do you watch the herons, where are they setting up and what are they eating? If I see a heron feed and catch one bluegill and then a frog and then a small catfish, it’s being opportunistic and successful, but if I see the heron catch a long silver fish and then another and another, they have told me what the most abundant and active prey is and if there are herons in a similar cover on the other side of the cove, I’ve got a very good idea where the bass will be feeding too, as all predators live by the same rule. Minimum amount of energy expended for the maximum amount of energy gained. If there are schools of long silver fish in a foot of water, plentiful enough to keep a heron well fed and the same situation is existing in more than one place at a time then that is where I want to fish. It means the living is easy and the fish will be there.
When I see bait being attacked in water, I watch to see how they are being hit. Is the attack from below or are the fish pushing the bait? I listen to hear the strike on the bait, is it a popping hit or a swishing sound. If it pops, I’ll fish a Pop R, if its swishes I’ll throw a Spook or a Sammy. I want them to be excited and they get that way from competition, the right sound makes them think there are other bass around feeding the same way. It also makes them comfortable, it sounds just like them and caution gets thrown to the side when lots of fish are feeding due to the frenzy of competition and safety in numbers.
Early in my Bass fishing history I was taught that the two most important things were depth and speed. I will change these factors until I get a fish to hit. I then start the fine tuning process, since the first hit only sets my knowledge into the general areas of speed and depth. I define what depth I hit the fish and how fast was the lure moving. Depth is relative, be it a foot of water or sixty feet of water. It’s the top, the bottom, or somewhere in between, but wherever it is will be the sweet spot until conditions change. Speed is both directional and velocity. Slow drop or fast drop, slow horizontal or fast horizontal or any other of a million combinations, but the fish will tell you what they want. I know where I got hit and what the lure was doing when I got hit. But what I don’t know is if I was in the middle of the Bass’ preference for the day or just brushing the fringe. Do they want my bait a little slower or a little higher in the water column, dropping or swimming? I may just get a slight bump, but it’s something, the fish are talking to me and telling me I’m getting closer to the right combination of depth and speed that they want on that day. Even when you think you are there, tinker a little more to try and dial it in even tighter. Keep listening and changing until you get them to bite at every spot they have told you they should be. Then you can consider your pattern to be dialed in and it is all based on what the fish told you.