Retrieve speed is one of the most overlooked factors in angler success. Work a bait too slow and the fish get too good of a look at it, which can cause finicky fish to shy away from striking. Conversely, a bait burned through an area too quickly can be in and out of the strike zone before a bass even knows it’s there.
The speed factor becomes even more important when the bite is tough, and knowing when to slow down or speed up is a skill that can turn tough days into memorable ones.
Fast Retrieve Speed
The best times to speed up your presentation can be summed up with the words hot, clear, and calm. Since all fish are cold blooded (bass and baitfish), their metabolism is linked to the water temperature. When the water temperature is warm, their metabolism is higher and thus they move and react much faster. For that reason, you’re better off working baits faster during the warm water period from late spring all the way through the summer.
Although it’s seemingly counterintuitive, another ideal time to speed up is in clear water. Since bass are primarily visual feeders, in clear water they are at their most observant. If you work a bait slowly through an area in clear water, the bass get a really good look at your presentation, which means that they can more easily tell that it isn’t actual prey. Burning spinnerbaits, swim jigs, and soft plastics in clear water gives the bass just enough time to see the bait, but not a good enough look to decide it’s something unnatural.
The same can be said for calm water. Wind breaks up the surface and adds a level of commotion to the water column, which helps your bait of choice fool interested bass into striking. When it’s calm, speeding up is extremely effective for the same reasons it does in super clear water.
Slow Retrieve Speed
If the mantra for speeding up is hot, clear, and calm; then the mantra for slowing down is the opposite, cold, dirty, and windy. When it’s cold, bass and prey fish are lethargic, and less willing to move quickly to strike. To compensate, work your baits slower than you would in the summer. If it’s extremely cold, don’t be afraid to dead stick bait for up to several minutes to allow lethargic bass to close in and bite.
In dirty water, bass rely more on their lateral lines to feed, and their strike windows are much smaller. For that reason, it pays to work through areas with slow moving baits or saturate individual pieces of cover to give bass time to find your bait through the murk.
If it’s windy, slow rolling a crankbait can be deadly because it gives bass a longer time to hone in on the presentation through the chop and disturbance.
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