Bass Fishing: Attention to Detail


By: Matthew Mattingly

​​Thump! There he goes, the one you have been looking for all day long to anchor your limit. You set the hook and feel the classic head shake on the other end of the war string. Adrenaline is pumping, heart is racing, then in an instant the line goes slack the moment is gone. The fish has come unbuttoned and your only opportunity to find glory has been lost. You disappointedly reel in the lure to readjust and notice something, the hook point has a slight bend in it. That is what caused the lost fish. Sound familiar? Simple attention to detail.

​I firmly believe that attention to detail is the difference between average Joes and Elite Pros. It can be the x-factor between a livewell full of fish and loading up early to hit the burger joint on the way home. When I say attention to detail I really place detail into three categories: environment, equipment and fish. Fishing is a constant puzzle, you have to know what to pick up on and it isn’t always easy.

​Environment is the first thing everyone looks at when they get to the water. What is the water clarity? What is the temperature? What is the wind like today? All those are typical things every angler sticks into the equation of fishing, but what about the subtle details? Over the past 3 years I have really learned to look for subtle details constantly. If I were ever to watch a video of myself it would seem as if I was being chased by a psycho judging by the amount of times I look over my shoulder and scan the scene. I’m looking for things out of the ordinary. Is there a current break behind that rock, did a mayfly drop on the water near that log, or is that a wounded shad kicking the surface? Scanning the environment can help piece together the puzzle. Insects or dying shad can help you match the hatch and figure out what the fish are feeding on. Current breaks or position of trees can help you determine how the bass are relating to the structure or if they are simply cruising a certain depth. The best bit of advice I can give about the environment is to expect the unexpected. Sometimes noticing that fish are relating to the backside of logs as instead of the front can make all the difference. It can also help you be more efficient with your day and aide you in knowing what to focus on.

​There is one thing that holds you to the fish, it’s your equipment. Those of us who are competitive spend countless time and money getting the best equipment that we can afford so that we can compete to our fullest potential. Sometimes that potential is compromised because of our lack of attention to detail of our equipment. I fished with a Bass Opens Pro about 4 years ago that taught me this lesson. We had been catching fish left and right and all of a sudden he missed a fish. After a few choice words he blurted, “The hook is dull!” He proceeded to show me that by running the hook point down your fingernail you can judge if the hook is still sharp enough to fish with. If it catches you, then it will catch a fish, but if it drags on then throw it away and re-tie. The normal angler ignores details like this. Change your line when you first get the thought to change it, if it looks bad then it is bad. Change your hooks early and often. Re-tie with every nick, one nick can take 20lb. test down to 4lb. in a hurry, cut off the first 5ft. and re-tie. My general rule is that even if I don’t fray my line, I re-tie every thirty minutes. Aside from re-tying and reapplying you really need to take better care of your equipment in general. If you spend the time and money to get quality equipment, do your best to keep it the best. I have an assortment of rods and reels and I’m very proud that I have quality, sensitive, strong equipment, and every rod has a sleeve and every reel gets oiled and cleaned twice a year. Simple precautions such as regular reel cleanings and storing rods in rod sleeves protects your investment. You don’t throw your truck tools in any place, you store them in a toolbox, use the same mind frame for your fishing equipment. A guide missing the insert can cut and fray a line instantly, scratched rod blanks can break on hooksets, and gummed up reels cast just about as good as a smart car running diesel. In other words, clean and care for your equipment, it is simple, easy and saves your investment.

​The last and most overlooked detail that we as fishermen overlook is the actual fish itself. Right now you are saying, “I am fishing for crying out loud, how am I overlooking the fish?”Most of us get caught up in the moment and high-five and give a warrior yell to let everyone know we caught big mama. What we don’t realize is that we could catch another big mama if we pay attention and play our cards right. Remember where you just cast to catch that fish. A lot of times if we make the same exact cast another fish is right there with it. Bass are not lonely creatures; they love to be around others. Second notice what species of bass it is. Whether it be a largemouth, smallmouth or spotted bass, it can give you cues as to why it was there and why it bit what it did. Then look at it’s stomach and tail fin, notice whether it is a female or male. Those things can show you whether it is pre-spawn, currently spawning, or has already spawned, helping you to piece the puzzle together and place together a pattern. The last thing I always check is the mouth, I look at what’s in it and what it looks like. Sometimes you can find out what they are eating because they are gorging so much it still has some in it’s gullet. Then look at the actual mouth, whether it has red lips or is beat up because that can be a tell-talesign of the fish lifting up rocks with its mouth to find crawfish. One fish catch can say a thousand words, you just have to pay attention and listen.

​Fishing is unique, it is a puzzle that everyone must figure out for themselves and then sometimes even that isn’t enough to be competitive. We as fishermen have to be the best at what is in our control and do the little things right, such as paying attention to detail and then acting upon it. The more you do that the better of an angler you will be. Pay attention to the details and everything else will follow suit.