Don Allphin

Don Allphin looks at his AQUA-VU underwater camera from inside an ice tent.

Over the course of the 20-year history of this column, sensing, recognizing, and reacting to strikes has been a significant slice of the content pie. Since Christmas, I have developed a new understanding of why we miss strikes. I am excited to share the latest things I’ve learned on the subject.

Back in my Bass West Magazine days (circa 2000), we published research that showed that bass anglers miss up to 70 percent of strikes, so my (professional) interest has been percolating for at least two decades.

My Christmas gift this year was the “AQUA-VU” underwater camera complete with a 10-inch screen and 125 feet of cable. As I mentioned in last week’s column, my wife, Jeri, and I tested my “gift” on Moose Pond later in the week.

The results were nothing short of amazing.

Moose Pond is extremely shallow. We drilled our holes through the ice in 5 feet of water. So, when we lowered the AQUA-VU it was only three feet under the surface and showed our lures and the background behind them.

We were thrilled with the clarity of the picture as we watched trout in the distance move (shark-like) towards our lures. Our rods were sitting on holders inside our tent in completely calm conditions.

As we watched both our rods and the screen, a trout “bulldogged” a lure, took it entirely in its mouth, chewed on it, and neither of our rod tips moved, not even twitched. By the time we got to the rod, the fish had spit out the lure.

Now, if that happened once, you might understand, but for the next hour we watched at least 10 other fish do the same thing and we couldn’t set the hook on a single fish!

For those who “sight” fish (when fish are on beds getting ready for the spawn) they might know how “anticipation” of a strike might convert into a premature hookset. However, the camera didn’t lie and Jeri and I watched fish inhale the lures, sometimes two or three times without even a hint of a line or rod twitch.

Through the frustrating process, I began to understand that the fish were moving ever so slightly up (towards the surface) as they struck. It might have been just an inch or two at the most but it took all the pressure off the line and since the fish didn’t turn and run with the lures but rather “mouthed” them in place, there was no way to tell fish had struck.

I hope to record some footage of this phenomenon so you will be able to see for yourselves what took place.

So, what can we learn from this? And, how can we learn to hook more fish?

My good friend, Buddy Bunnell of Salem, taught me a great way to recognize strikes by using a tiny bobber hooked to the line below the tip of the rod and resting on the surface. By doing so, any movement of the line, up, down, or side to side would register on the bobber. Then, Buddy would set the hook (with the rod) and then hand-over-hand his fish in without using the rod again.

Back in the 1990s I came pretty adept at this technique but I must say I missed feeling the fight through the rod.

Another way to “see” the strike without “feeling” it is to use real-time graphs such as flasher units like my Vexilar. It is a color version that shows lures and fish as green lines and when a fish line and a lure line come together, the combined (now) one line turns red. When you see red, set the hook. There isn’t a need to “feel” anything.

Jeri and I had a great time watching the camera and trying to anticipate the strikes and hooksets which we never did. However, we were able to discover another piece to the ever-present puzzle of why anglers miss so many strikes.

Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.

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