The Four P’s of Fishing

A Lesson Learned with Rock Bass and Friendship

Most avid smallmouth bass fishermen do not consider the Rock Bass (or Red-Eye) a sporting game fish. Most lump those smaller smallmouth-cousins in with Bluegill and Perch … just a panfish for the skillet and nothing more. But for those anglers looking for a truly fun day, these little giants of the bass world can be a blast. One trip to the river with me in late spring would make believers out of most of you. Sure, most of these fish don’t measure up to a pound or so, but many are over that size and put up one wickedly-fun fight. They are the little brother to Old Man Smallmouth, and I (for one) love to catch them. Some days I’m a serious smallmouth man. Other days…I can wade the creek and relax in one of my favorite environments, catching Red-Eye and catchin’ rays knee-deep in cool creek current. We start our spring Red-Eye fishing in late April and fish well into early summer, enjoying this fishing game when our smallmouth are locked up and bedding on the lakes.

It wasn’t until I took my good friend, Carl Haley, to the creek that I realized just how special our local winding creeks can be to those who’ve never been fishing there. Carl is a novice at fishing, but has been an outdoorsman all his life. When my son, Jay, and I took him to the river for some Red-Eye action, he had a great time. His words said it all. “I’ve got to do more of this.” And after all, ya’ll … fishing is supposed to be fun. We had fun that day.

So, at the risk of losing my smallmouth readers, let’s talk about that taboo-rock bass of the creek and use what we learn in our serious smallmouth fishing. Carl, Jay, and I will let you tag along ... (somebody’s got to carry the stringer…)

We started our morning with a quick lesson in catching live crawfish to use as bait. In some states, this is not a legal practice, but our Tennessee waters are still legal as crawfish seining areas. It’s possible to catch a few crawfish by hand, turning over rocks and logs in the creek, but a far better method has been used for decades … the seine.

Proper seining isn’t a difficult thing with a few simple tools. All you really need is a small seine, a bucket, and well…a creek.

We start our bait catching way up in the small creeks, those easy to wade (only a few inches deep), and where both banks can easily be reached by the length of our seine. Two individuals (me and Carl on this day) held the ends of the seine downstream from the many little shoals of the creek, still very much in the current.

Another person (Jay on this trip) walks in the creek upstream, turning over rocks and debris. As the muddy water from the upstream agitation flows downstream toward our open net, minnows, crawfish, and snails also swirl downstream into the net. In a matter of a few minutes, hundreds and hundreds of crawfish pill up in our simple little seine. We toss out the minnows (a legality) and any other accidental bluegill or snail or debris. The remaining crawfish were scooped up and placed into our waiting minnow buckets. These same minnow buckets would soon be attached to our belts (further downstream) were we could allow the bucket to float in the fresh water and allow us quick access to our bait. These little crawfish are the perfect bait for our day of wading these creeks and fishing.

We’ve fished many of our local creeks in Tennessee in such a way. We’ve loved the upper Harpeth River, the Buffalo, and others like the Piney. They are all good for those fun little Red-Eyes we were searching for (and the occasional smallmouth).

Prior to our morning on the water, Carl had been reading what Darren and I had been writing for this new book (The Last Smallmouth). He’d studied up before we left and did his best to utilize what he had read by practicing here in the creek. He was using what he’d learned about House and about the importance of placing his bait in exactly the right spot, given current conditions and his new thoughts on feel. Though a novice at fishing, Carl approaches everything in life wide-open. In seconds, he can find the best and fastest way to conquer his goal. On this day, his task was fishing for Red-Eye in the creek, and he learned a lot and loved his relaxing day on the water. And although he might not have realized it in the beginning, he was also learning tried and true smallmouth methods by simply wading the creek and learning by observation. It was a great day for learning!

Carl’s first few casts just weren’t quite perfect, but he was getting the hang of it quickly. Jay made one quick (and perfect) cast into the first hole we wanted to fish—and sure enough—bang! One cast, one good Red-Eye. Jay had targeted that one fish and managed to add it to his stringer before the fish spooked and darted away down stream. It was lesson number one for Carl — Presentation.

As we moved on to the next hole, Carl got the chance to observe several good Red-Eyes moving in and out of certain structure. (Seeing fish always gets you excited.) His first cast missed slightly, but cast number two hit home dead-on, and Carl caught his first Red-Eye (he had a death grip on the poor thing!!!).

What fun!

A couple more holes downstream helped fill our creel and Carl was having a blast. Yeah, Jay and I were having just as much fun, but we’ve been here before. Jay grew up with two wet feet, so this stretch of river is as familiar to him as his bedroom. Having Carl tag along to our special place was just an added treat for us.

At the next hole and while Carl was still talking about his first Red-Eye, another form of creek cover came into play. This was a fallen treetop with slower moving water. Carl had remembered from reading some of the chapters that you never throw in the middle of the house on the first cast. He made the correct cast and another Red-Eye was in his hands. I believe his words were, “Man … this is great”.

Learning were the fish relate to structure, another lesson presented itself — Proximity.

We soon spied another Red-Eye lurking beneath a rock ledge. Carl made his cast and hooked the fish just as he’d planned. But as quickly as it took the bait, the fish got off his line. To our surprise, the fish went right back to the House. Using our polarized glasses, we could easily see the fish back at home in the House.

Another few perfect casts had the same fish back on the line. Again to our surprise, another fish moved right in where the other fish had been. And soon, Carl had picked that one from out of the House and was learning the last two lessons of the day — Patience and Persistence.

For the last twenty-five years on the seminar circuit, I have always tied these four words together, and I have been looking for a place in this book to place them. Successful fisherman use these 4 P’s of fishing to their advantage.





I asked Carl how he felt about his first creek trip his reply was, “It was just a lot of fun, and I feel like when I go back my fishing ability will increase from a three (on a ten-scale) to a big five. Now I know how to catch the crawfish and how to hook them properly. I now know where to look and how to line up on a certain spot. Feel and watching the line is important. Those fish don’t exist just everywhere in the creek—you have to find the right House. I also learned that when Jay moves out some distance ahead of you he is not doing that just to give you room…he’s beating you to the good spots!!! He has fished these areas many times and he knows where he needs to go, just like your keeping records, it all ties together.”

I wanted to add this segment into the book for two reasons. One, it was great watching Carl enjoying his first creek fishing experience. And two, I cannot express how important it is to learn every thing that you can to improve your fishing, and the creek is just another one of the tools to help you along the way. Whether you are tossing a grub at smallmouth in a big lake or casting for Red-Eye in the river, the lessons learned (and remembered) will increase your odds of both catching fish and improving your fishing ability. — Tony

Jay Bean (left) and Carl Haley had had a day at the creek to remember. Rock bass as close to smallmouth bass in the creek as any other fish. Not only can you learn from them they also make a tasty meal, while Mr. Smallmouth swims back to the house.
Jay holds a typical river smallmouth bass taken on a earlier trip to the creek.
 Jay Bean holds a rock bass taken in the creek on a live crawfish.
Jay Bean holds a smallmouth bass caught in the creek.

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