Bass-ic Instinct: Follow the Crowd, but Stay Six-Feet Apart

Bass-ic Instinct: Follow the Crowd, but Stay Six-Feet Apart

Pete Robbins is a veteran writer who’s been covering the bass world from all angles with a discerning eye for more than a decade. His work has appeared in many publications, including Bassmaster, Field & Stream, and Western Bass. He blogs regularly at Yamamoto’s Inside Line and he’s covered more than a dozen Bassmaster Classics from the water. Robbins is also a well-traveled bass addict and glitterboat freak. He’s based in Virginia, and MeatEater is proud to have him head up our new “Bass-ic Instinct” series. 

The Potomac River is my home water. It’s a prolific fishery with some scenic sections, but for the most part it’s a gritty urban waterway surrounded by hordes of humanity. No matter how early I rise, not only are the locals lined up at the boat ramp ready to fish, but they’re joined by anglers from up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Worse, if you’re not in a crowd, more often than not, you’re not around the biggest concentrations of fish—a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. You can catch onesie-twosies here and there, but the big wads, the types that win tournaments, are usually under a carpet of bass boats.

People get too close all the time. On more than one occasion I’ve seen someone step onto another angler’s boat and clock him across the face or over the back with a flipping stick. That’s why, if you hook a good one here, you fight it low, minimize your range of motion, and shut the hell up.

This phenomenon is not limited to the Potomac. Go to any monstrous bass lake, from Erie to Okeechobee, and it seems that 90% of the anglers are fishing approximately 1% of the water. So, where does this leave us in the era of social distancing?

This is my first opportunity to address the MeatEater audience, you dedicated consumers of wild experience, and it just so happens to occur during an unprecedented global pandemic. I’m working from home, cooped up with the dog, growing a ZZ Top beard, and more or less going apeshit crazy. I need to get out of the damn house and fish.

Anyone who knows me might expect me to celebrate this current situation—not the sickness or recession, but rather the chance to be socially isolated in a socially acceptable manner. In fact, as a confirmed introvert, someone exhausted by small talk, I’m convinced that my initial attraction to bass fishing was the opportunity to get away—which effectively means that I’ve spent the better part of 50 years social distancing, long before the term dripped from every newscast, radio story, and article.

It’s taken me 25 years of fishing the Potomac to learn how to overcome my misanthropic ways when forced to join the crowd, thereby avoiding both jail and aneurysms. Even my wife, who never fished until she was 35, gets the big picture. A few years back we spent an entire April tournament day at the mouth of Aquia Creek. At one point, she counted 75 boats around us in an area the size of a few football fields.

Gradually, people started to boat a few nice bass. I’ve often thought that there’s nothing worse than finding other people on “your” fishing spot, but there is—seeing them catching “your fish.”

All of a sudden, I heard a loud whisper from the back of the boat: “Pete.” I didn’t turn around.

Then slightly more urgent, but not much louder: Pete!”

This time I spun and there was my redheaded bride, fighting a feisty 3-pounder that had swallowed her Rat-L-Trap.

Why hadn’t she screamed? Because she knew that if she did, she’d call attention to herself, and maybe some boats would move in on us, or maybe she’d give away a hint about the right lure to use or the right way to fish it. I netted the fish, put it in the livewell, and we celebrated with a fast, low-key high five.

The “Trap” bite died, but we tied on a couple of lightly-weighted “centipede” soft plastics and filled our livewells with quality limits. I learned something that day: even when you think every bass in a two-mile radius has been caught, and every stalk of underwater vegetation has been stripped clean, more fish than you can imagine are probably still down there.

Stay where you are, swallow your damn pride, and adjust your game plan—better to end the day with a full livewell than the prideful boast that you “went down swinging.” I finished second out of 150, and she finished eleventh. I took home a nice plaque and enough dinero to pay for our gas and a decent dinner.

Look, this Corona shit is going to be over sooner rather than later. The fish will still be there. In fact, after a few months of lighter pressure, they might be eager to bite your big power lures again. That’ll bring back the crowds. At that point, maybe we’ll remember these days cooped up in the house, and the inability to social distance on the water won’t seem quite as painful. Maybe we’ll even be nicer to each other when we combat fish.

Featured image by Joe Cermele

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