By Nick Simonson
It’s a jungle out there. Every man for himself. Greed is good. These mantras aptly describe the competitive drive in the world around us; natural laws that even mankind hasn’t rid from our collective psyche after millennia of becoming civilized. Whether it is in big business or the food web, one thing is for sure, the strong survive; and the strongest keep on surviving by beating out all other competitors and taking advantage of the weak.
The same is true below the water’s surface, where the game hasn’t changed since the first finned creature appeared on the scene eons ago. Big fish eat little fish. Those big fish also protect their territory and food supply with sometimes reckless abandon, chasing off any competition that might threaten their survival. But when things get heated, like when fish have the late-season feedbag on, the next biggest fish may be right behind to snag just the tiniest bit of food left behind by that aggressive alpha-fish.
So it is not unusual, particularly when angling for smallmouth bass in late summer and fall, to encounter other fish rising up toward the boat after a hooked schoolmate, waiting in the water below to see what’s happening and if there is food involved. This follow-up phenomenon appears to occur when there is a notable disturbance coming from a nearby fish. The ones that hone in on the hubbub hope to get a portion of what the more aggressive fish has been eating or join in the feeding frenzy.
What’s more, some species are known to regurgitate recent meals in moments of stress, with the surprise of a fishing hook triggering this natural response. Sometimes the mere act of setting the hook into a smallie will cause the ejection of a recently eaten crayfish from the fish’s mouth. Occasionally, other bass brought in by the commotion have gobbled that crayfish up before it drifted out of sight, robbing its previous owner of precious protein. In the competitive setting of the natural world, a slightly-used meal is better than no meal at all. Whether it is for the chance to join in on a school of scattering minnows, or for a bite of a previously-owned entrée, it is not uncommon to see other bass follow a hooked fish around. This natural reaction provides anglers with a chance to increase the excitement in their boat.
As a hooked fish is being reeled in, keep your eye on the area around it for followers. When one is spotted, you or your co-angler (depending on who has the fish on, and if a second rod is legal on your water) can pitch a jig or tube near the action to get the following fish to bite. Have a medium action spinning combo in an easily accessible place rigged with a jig and twister combo or a three-inch bass tube set on the cork handle or in the rod’s hook holder. By keeping the lure secured near the reel, it can be quickly freed and flipped out to following fish.
Keep in mind that the window provided to target these followers may be small, and you’ll have to mind the other angler’s line (and a hooked fish) when casting at them. If you’re the angler with the first fish, try not to overplay it to draw more bass in, but work with your co-angler efficiently to take advantage of the natural draw a hooked fish generates. Recognize that the followers are often smaller fish, but when you stumble upon an area of summer-fattened smallmouth in your lake, those followers could be four-pounders, making the frantic operations worth your while.
In the late stretch of summer and into the cooling waters of fall, take advantage of the rule of nature that spurs on feeding and seize the opportunity that following fish present. After you’ve turned an aggressive follower into a fish on the line, you’ll find yourself in agreement with another adage: more is better.