Approaches and techniques for the difficult European black bass.
By Michele Fanfani, Florence, Italy.
A bit of background
In Europe, and specifically in Italy – the country in which I live – there are not many fresh waters big enough to be right for bass fishing. The only species that can be found is the largemouth black bass. It was imported at the end of the 19th century for food (something that could not happen today since importation of non-local species is forbidden). The bass has acclimatized well, especially in warmer regions, but it rarely attains a weight greater than 7lb.
It is usually found in relatively small areas of clear water, where lots of fishermen can also be found. This pressure of competition means we must use a very light approach and this approach characterizes almost all bass fishing in Italy.
Fishing in the Dam
Many of the hillside dams that have been built in Italy from the ‘30s onwards host a good size black bass population. These gave us our first experience in fishing using artificial bait alone. With rare exceptions the water in these dams is for drinking, so fishing can be done only from the bank or else from small jon boats with trolling motor, or belly boats. Even when there are floating trees, which are the best hiding places for the bass, we are forced to use very light equipment and very often fish by sight.
The most common technique is that of the spinning rod with wacky rig, using worms of varied lengths and forms, but always with the purpose of surprising the fish with a very delicate and precise cast. A weight should be inserted to lower the worm to the desired level. We usually use fluorocarbon lines with a very fine diameter, up to 3lb. To make this approach efficient it is very important to use simple knots which don’t stress the line, like the Palomar.
Another trick to protect the line is to make 4 or 5 plain knots one after the other just before the Palomar knot.
In this way the knot is protected in case it brushes against trees or other obstacles.
We use wacky hooks of different types and forms, but when the water contains many obstacles we prefer to use the ones with guard system. Otherwise it is better to use simple hooks. In Italy all the best softbait brands are well known, but we prefer the especially soft ones. These allow that extra second in the bass’s mouth, which is often precious.
Fishing in big natural lakes
Luckily for all of us bass fishing lovers, the black bass is also found in some of the big natural lakes, such as Bolsena Lake. This old volcanic lake has a surface of about 44 square miles and a maximum depth of 42 ft. The shore is a mixture of cane thickets, sandy beaches and surfacing rocks. The bottom is rich in vegetation, and from June to September the bass tend to live in these ‘grass gardens’. This is exactly where we look for them in our bass boats, with ordinary gas engines. In these spots – the location of which we jealously keep hidden away in our GPS – we can use techniques other than the finesse one, like the deep crank or top water. We still prefer the light approach, however.
There are two rigs that we love to use in this situation: the split shot and the drop shot. For both of them it is important to be careful of the stress on the line which should not normally go below a 5lb breaking load.
For the split we insert two small stoppers of a rice-grain shape, before and after a cylindrical and with a small hole in the center weight. In this way we are able to regulate the distance from the hook as we like, and more importantly we do not add any further knots. The weight can be between 1/16 and 3/16 oz. It is not important to touch the ground with the bait – it is usually enough to caress the aquatic plants with it to get the attention of our friend bass. We use offset round bend hooks to a max of 3/0 with plastic worms both with tail and with cut tail, always in natural colors.
For the drop we insert on the line a simple #3 drop shot hook at a point about 15 inches from the weight. In this case the weight should be the one resembling a small chain. The weight can vary depending on the wind, but should not normally be greater than 5/16 oz. It can also be useful to trigger shrimp-like or small-fish-like baits, besides the always effective small worms.
In all these situations it is very important that our lure gets to the strike zone silently and in the most natural way. Using spinning reel rods you can cast towards the chosen area, but as the line leaves the reel you must curb it with the free hand (which is the left one for us Europeans…) in order to control the drop of the lure.
If the fish bites, and especially with the drop shot, it is enough to lift the rod and tense the line. The free hook will already be in the bass’s mouth. Moreover, the thinness of the line will not support strong rebounds. If the fish is big, you must keep the line tense once it is hooked. Even if it hides in the algae, you must be patient and keep up the tension. If not, the fish will probably free itself. When it finally gets into free water it would then be easy enough to catch it by using the drag of the reel.
The secret Italian lure?
And now for the real secret of Italian finesse and super finesse fishing…
In Italy, as you probably know, every lunch begins with a big plate of spaghetti cooked exactly the way mamma makes it.
So – next time your mamma makes you spaghetti, put some aside. Let it cool, put it in a wacky or Texas rig, and take it out on the lake when the sun is high in the sky. The bass love their “spaghetti worms” – they won’t be able to resist.
No – only kidding. The secret to Italian bass fishing isn’t quite as simple as that. But we do love our bass, and we have a few good tricks for fishing it – even without mamma’s cooking!