Is it the bait, or the angler?

As an angler, there’s one question that I’ve always wondered about when it comes to catching bass: “Is it the bait, or the angler” to understand why people catch bass.

Ever since I started bass fishing back in the late 1960s on our farm ponds in east Texas, having the right bait has been important — or so I thought. Just like other sports, some people are just more gifted than others. They have natural ability that only the good Lord above can give. They might be faster, stronger, or just mentally tougher than their competition. Some people just have a higher level of determination and refuse to lose. So, “Is it the bait or the angler” is similar to the age-old question — which came first, the chicken or the egg? 

The man who is considered the greatest bass angler of all time is Kevin Van Dam, a man who has amassed over $7 million in winnings since arriving on the professional bass fishing circuit in the mid-1990s. I had the chance to talk with Kevin’s brother, Randy, and we discussed what makes him so great. Randy stated that ever since Kevin could pick up a rod, he possessed skills and instincts other anglers don’t seem to have. He said it was commonplace for them to be on the lake fishing when Kevin — for no apparent reason — would switch to a different bait and start catching fish immediately while everyone else in the boat could not even get a bite. That’s called instinct and it’s something you can’t teach; that’s God-given.

During a recent interview I had with KVD, I asked him what was the No. 1 bait in his tackle box. I’m anticipating something earth-shattering, but without hesitation he responded with an answer I was not expecting. His number one bait in his tackle box is — confidence! I was looking to hear something like a homemade spinnerbait, a secret crankbait or maybe a special-colored jig. But to my surprise, it was not a specific bait or color at all.

After this interview I began to wonder once again: when catching bass, “Is it the bait or is it the angler?” If confidence is the most important tool in an angler’s tackle box, then the bait nor color must be as important.

Over my years of fishing the BFL’s, Toyota Series and ABA events, I’ve heard that the many different colors that bait companies offer are designed to catch anglers instead of bass. It’s amazing how there are hundreds of different colors, especially when it comes to the soft plastics side of fishing. I’ve seen colors like bubblegum (pink) that catches fish and I’ve always questioned, “What does a bass think that is?” It looks nothing like anything natural in the bait fish world. But I have caught a lot of fish with that particular color. So it’s not the color, but how you fish it!

Many pros that I’ve interviewed over the years have all said that color doesn’t matter as much as the ability to fish the bait properly. This is where KVD says the confidence part comes into play. If you believe and have confidence in a bait and the color you’re using, you’ll fish it differently than you would a bait and color you don’t believe in. From this angler’s perspective, I do have one color trickworm that I have a ton of confidence in. If I’m struggling in an event and having trouble putting fish in the livewell, I will and have always turned to my confidence bait. It is a black emerald trickworm with a 3/16th-ounce tungsten weight with a Gamakatsu 2/0 Skip Gap hook. This combination has saved the day for me several times and helped me earn a check in many events when I was struggling. 

When I get the opportunity to speak to a group of young up-and-coming anglers today, the one thing I tell them is how they need to figure out early in their career what their “confidence” bait is when the fishing is tough. What can you tie on that gives you the most confidence to catch fish?  For some it might be a certain colored jig or spinnerbait or maybe it’s a specific crankbait. But whatever it is, make sure you believe in it!

‘Til next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook. Also make sure to wear your sunscreen and good UV protective clothing. 

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