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Old-Fashioned Bass Tactics

4/10/2007

When I was a youngster, more years ago than I care to remember, my uncle, Guy McClintock, taught me how to jiggerpole for bass.

In those days (the 1960s), this was a fairly common bassing method, at least in the backcountry waters we fished. While crappie fishing, we'd watch many anglers working shallow shoreline cover with their jiggerpoles. And if the crappie weren't biting, often we'd join them.

For jiggerpoling, we employed the same cane poles we used for crappie. The light line was replaced by heavy dacron run along the pole, from butt to tip, and secured at regular intervals with strips of electrical tape. A 12- to 24-inch piece extended beyond the tip. To this was attached a topwater lure, usually a Heddon Dowagiac or Creek Chub Pikie.

"You want to make it look like a little fish is chasing an even littler fish on the surface," Uncle Guy explained. "You do this by tapping your rod tip on the water ahead of the lure as you pull it around. This makes it look like the lure is chasing a minnow, and when a big bass sees this, he'll rush in and grab it."

Back and forth went Guy's rod tip. He held the jiggerpole in his left hand, and balanced it across his right knee. He would gently shake the pole with his right hand, flipping the water with the pole's tip.

Then, without warning, the water would boil like someone flushed a toilet. Bass on! Uncle Guy would back the pole in and hoist another largemouth into the boat.

To compensate for poor-quality, short-range tackle, anglers in the 19th and early 20th centuries developed many innovative fishing techniques designed to draw up-close strikes. Jiggerpoling is one such technique that remained popular until a few decades ago.

Skittering and doodlesocking are two other old-fashioned bass tactics. Few of today's bass anglers have tried these methods, but each tactic can bring incredible success. All it takes is a bit of improvisation to adapt modern tackle for use when skittering, jiggerpoling and doodlesocking. And you're sure to find the results pleasing.

Jiggerpoling

When Uncle Guy and I were jiggerpoling, we thoroughly worked all cover near the banks. This provided a sure advantage. Anglers who cast and retrieve may miss fish lying between targets, but with a jiggerpole, you can cover an entire shoreline. The pole is long, so you can lift your lure and put it in pockets that might otherwise be missed.

You can fish in the center of logjams, under low-hanging boat docks, behind stumps and bushes and other hard-to-reach places. The lure also stays longer in the strike zone than a lure being cast and retrieved. Bass see and hear the lure coming down the bank and wait in ambush. When fish aren't feeding aggressively, an angler can slow the pole's rhythm and make the lure look so tempting bass will strike even they're not hungry.

When jiggerpoling was at the peak of its popularity, cane poles were used, but modern practitioners prefer 12- to 16-foot fiberglass or graphite/composite jigging poles. Dacron was once the line of choice, but folks now use braided lines. The line should be 30-pound-test minimum.

To avoid losing fish if the pole's tip breaks, run line along the whole length, and tape it at several points. Leave only a foot or two beyond the tip, and place a snap swivel at line's end to lessen line twist.

I suppose any topwater lure could be used, but prop baits seem especially effective. My favorite was always the big Heddon Dowagiac, a model with propellers fore and aft, which was armed with five sets of treble hooks. In fact, this bassing technique once was called "dowjacking," a name that originated from the use of this lure.

Other lures I have employed successfully include the Smithwick Devil's Horse, Cordell's Boy Howdy, Luhr-Jensen's Nip-I-Diddee and Heddon's Torpedo.

Skittering

When thick weeds hinder an angler's use of more conventional fishing techniques, bass can be caught by skittering, too.

This old-fashioned tactic, once used by market fishermen swinging perch bellies or frogs, typically employs a sturdy 10- to 12-foot cane pole, jig pole or fly rod and an equal length of line.

A pork frog or strip of fish belly is affixed to a stout hook, and the bait is skittered across broad openings in weed patches. If bass are present, they'll hit with frenzied charges.

One earliest description of skittering was written in 1791 by naturalist/explorer William Bartram who observed it being used in the southeast U.S.

"I found some of my companions fishing for [bass] … with a hook and line, but without any bait. Two people are in a little canoe, one sitting in the stern to steer, and the other near the bow, having a rod ten or twelve feet in length, to one end of which is tied a strong line … to which are fastened three large hooks, back to back. These are fixed very securely, and covered with the white hair of a deer's tail, shreds of a red garter, and some parti-coloured feathers, all which form a tuft or tassel, nearly as large as one's fist, and entirely cover and conceal the hooks: this is called a bob. The steersman paddles softly, and proceeds slowly along shore, keeping the boat parallel to it, at a distance just sufficient to admit the fisherman to reach the edge of the floating weeds along shore; he now ingeniously swings the bob backwards and forwards, just above the surface, and sometimes tips the water with it; when the unfortunate cheated fish instantly springs from under the weeds, and seizes the supposed prey. Thus he is caught without a possibility of escape …"

Skittering was another method my Uncle Guy often used. He would first catch a sunfish and cut a piece of flesh from its belly. This was affixed to a stout hook tied to several feet of dacron line on a long, sturdy cane pole.

While I sculled him about, he skittered that piece of fish flesh across openings in weed patches and caught dozens of bass. In later years, he sometimes used a weedless Johnson Silver Minnow spoon with a pork frog or eel trailer, a technique still used by some anglers.

Doodlesocking

In many ways, doodlesocking is like jiggerpoling. You can use the same pole, line and lures, rigged as I have described. But while jiggerpoling requires finesse to work successfully, doodlesocking does not.

The lure is worked back and forth very quickly with short repetitive sweeps of the pole, the objective being to make as much noise as you can.

Doodlesocking is similar to skittering as well, but the lure is on a short line — no more than 24 inches and usually shorter — so it can be fished in a circular or figure-eight pattern in small openings. Skittering uses a line as long as the pole, and the lure is usually worked on the open surface above weed beds.

It's exciting when a bass gets a bellyful of your doodlesocking plug making bubble trails across its ceiling. Strikes are violent; sometimes a fish hits so hard it throws water in your face. If a bass misses your lure, no problem. Drag the lure back over the fish and hold tight. Lunkers may hit several times before you hook up.

Shad or big minnows also can be used for doodlesocking. Tie on a 3/0 hook instead of the lure, add a small sinker to get the bait under the water, then run the hook down through the bait's mouth and out its side. Then doodlesock the bait around cover with a swimming motion.

As this technique comes back into vogue with more anglers, fishermen are learning quickly that doodlesocking is a hard-to-beat lunker bass tactic any time the fish are up shallow.

Catching bass using these old-fashioned techniques takes a bit of learning. But don't let that discourage you. These tactics may seem out-of-date for catching today's largemouths, but skittering, jiggerpoling and doodlesocking are just as potent now as they were decades ago.

To contact Keith Sutton, email him at catfishdude@sbcglobal.net or visit his Web site, www.catfishsutton.com