- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some 40 years ago when Ray Scott innovated highly structured bass fishing tournaments, the P.T. Barnum-like Alabamian advised the followers of his newly founded Bass Anglers Sportsman Society that they should use strong line, stout rods, and, when a largemouth bass sampled a plastic worm, to set the hook hard enough to cross its eyes.

It became the mantra of Scott’s earliest devotees, Southern bass fishermen.

Back then, dues-paying BASS members traveled the states to compete in well-advertised fishing contests, wearing jumpsuits that were covered with tackle company patches, and to Scott’s everlasting credit were told to do all they could to keep their catches alive so they could be weighed and released, hopefully to be caught again another day.

Scott, who conducted squeaky-clean events, making sure that contestants didn’t cheat - if they did, they’d never compete again - became fabulously wealthy. He sold BASS for many millions of dollars but stayed active in the fishing industry and eventually experienced an epiphany.

The Bass Boss, as he was referred to, suddenly urged anglers of all stripes to begin using 4-pound test line, ultralight rods and small reels so they could enjoy their sport more. No longer should you quickly reel in a fish, flip it into the boat’s livewell and resume fishing. No, now the accent was on sport, on fun, on enjoying the beautiful state of unspoiled nature. But not many bass fanatics listened.

What freshwater trout anglers had known and practiced for centuries was copied by only a handful of bass purists.

Which brings me around to a fellow who recently challenged me to a day of light, but not pure ultralight, tackle bass fishing. Because he took a day off from his job and his boss thought he might be ill, I’ll protect my fishing partner and call him Wally. No one ever calls him that.

Wally and I met on a local, tidal feeder creek to the Potomac and stuffed a half-dozen light-action spinning rods into his boat. No more than 8-pound test line could be spooled to the reels, and, to tell the truth, it was 6-pound monofilament line that was found most often on our spinning models.

None of the lures could weigh more than 1/8-ounce, and we also had plenty of 1/16-ounce artificials.

Wally began with a 1/8-ounce Teeny Popper surface lure that looked like a Rebel Pop’R, only much smaller. He quickly landed three average-size bass alongside a marsh bank during a slow-moving ebb tide.

I used the 2-inch Berkley PowerBait minnow, either in a yellow perch finish or something known as black shad. In no time, two bass and a crappie thought the perch model looked good enough to eat.

We then switched to diving crankbaits. Wally favored a 1/8-ounce, nondescript lure in a crawfish finish. I chose a chartreuse-back-with-red-throat Norman Deep Tiny N that weighed the same.

With the tide falling ever more, both of the long-lipped little crankbaits were attacked by small bass, mostly. Not once did we fear that our light monofilament would not hold up until Wally slid a 1/16-ounce slip sinker to one of his lines, tied a 1/0 hook to the nylon and attached a short plastic rib-worm in electric blue (with a chartreuse tail section) in what is known as a Texas rig. It simply means that the hook hangs straight down, its point buried inside the plastic, making it weedless.

Along the edge of a dense milfoil and hydrilla weed bed that little rig attracted a 4-pound largemouth bass that charged left, right, under the boat and away from the boat and back again. For once, Wally said, “Let’s get a net ready.”

It all worked out wonderfully well, and although we didn’t use the tiniest lures ever, or even the lightest lines - there are, after all, carp fishing purists who use leaders made of single strands of human hair - but the stuff we caught our fish on could give a modern bass tournament hero a case of the jitters, I assure you.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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