As readers of the Bass Fishing Archives, you all know we take our history seriously. So, when we get a suggestion from one of our resident historians to read a particular book or periodical, we listen. In this case, Bass Fishing Archives contributor, Bill Sonnet suggested I read a book, Advanced Bait Casting by Charles Fox.
Bill is an ardent historian when it comes to fishing literature and old lures. When Bill said it wasn’t just a “must read” but a “must own” I listened. Bill sent me a copy of the book and between six flights on an airplane I went back in time.
What I found within the thick, rough-cut pages was information on how to catch bass I thought was only as new as Jason Lucas’ writings from the late 40s on or even from the 60s or 70s. Published in 1950 but written from field work (that means fishing) as early as the 1930s, the book opened my eyes. Like I’ve said before, not much in fishing is new, it’s just been forgotten about.
The above paragraph is meant in no way to demean the works of Lucas. Contrary, Lucas developed his own style and techniques based on his own observations and angling. He also fished deeper water lakes more often than Fox, who primarily fished the rivers of Pennsylvania, and therefore each of their works are different in that way. What is amazing is both came to many of the same conclusions on their own.
I’m not sure anyone today, or even back then for that matter, knows who developed some of the parallel techniques first but I can say this from reading Advanced Bait Casting that Fox talks about the development of these techniques taking place in the early ‘30s.
One of the reasons I read this book so fast is because of the way Fox wrote the book. When you read the words on the pages you feel like you’re there with him. Each word drives you to read the next – something a good text book should always do in my opinion.
Lucas’ book, of which I still owe you all a review on, isn’t like that – and I’m glad it isn’t. Lucas wasn’t much of a story teller. His talent was more like a scientist or engineer (a subject I’m all too familiar with), dissecting his methods to the point of being a bit confusing. Top that off with his Queens English-way of writing and the book is difficult to read without taking a needed break. One thing about Lucas, though, he left no stones unturned for the angler willing to learn his way.
So, on to the Review.
Advanced Bait Casting sounds like a book about learning how to cast. In fact that was what I thought when Bill told me about the book. I was pleasantly surprised when I read the preface and determined this was a book about bass fishing techniques and tactics with casting gear.
The book is divided into 13 chapters with a Preface by Alfred W. Miller AKA “Sparse Grey Hackle” of 20th Century fly fishing fame, an introduction by Fox and a Post-face also by Fox entitled In Retrospect.
Here are the chapter titles and a brief look into their content.
Preface – What Sparse Grey Hackle had to say about Fox and his book was nothing short of astonishing when you consider his pedigree and the fact that fly fishermen (even today) look down their noses at anyone wielding anything but a fly rod. SGH was so impressed with Fox’s writings in The Pennsylvania Angler in the late 30s and 40s he credited Fox and his limited followers, as the anglers who reinvented bait casting tactics. Here’s a short excerpt from the Preface as written by SGH.
“In 1944 I spent a week fishing with Charlie and his friends, and their advanced technique was a revelation. The sophistication of their methods and tackle was astounding, their sportsmanship was admirable, and their determination to learn more about every aspect of angling was inspiring.”
Introduction – In the Introduction, Fox talks about how bait casting (bass fishing), a relatively new sport at the time, was on the decline due to fishing pressure. Yes this was the day of catch and kill but Fox believed that because of the increased pressure, the bigger fish that hadn’t been caught were getting smarter by the day and breeding smarter fish year after year. His solution to this was to fish smarter than other anglers. Here is a sample of how he thought – in the 1940s and earlier.
“There is plenty of action to be had and ample opportunity upon which to capitalize for the one who rises to the occasion and meets the situation with refined, intelligent angling. Gone are the days in most sections when indifferent, methodical plugging consistently produced. The Time has arrived when only the intelligent, the observant, and the resourceful enjoy consistent action.”
Those words could have been written by any number of anglers today, yet it was published in 1950.
Chapter 1 – Practice and Theory
In Chapter 1 Fox mainly talks about his theories of bass, their environment, what they eat, long casting rods and small lures. It is his firm belief that small lures (what we’d call ultra-light or finesse baits today) are less intrusive to pressured bass and therefore more effective if fished properly. The most important topic he touches on with respect to fishing these lighter-than-normal baits is the cast.
So this bares the question, who invented finesse fishing?
Chapter 2 – Evolution
Here Fox doesn’t talk about the evolution of man or bass but the evolution of his fishing tactics starting when he was a young kid. He writes of getting hooked on plugging early in life in Canada and Maine where he had much success and then took those tactics to his home waters in western Pennsylvania – only to be skunked. He then started experimenting with smaller lures with some success – a discovery that would lead him to develop his new tactics of light line and lure fishing.
Fox talks of going from his normal 18-pound-test braided line down to 9-pound test with 6-pound braided gut (generally called cat gut) leaders. Fox’s next step was to try a longer casting rod – normal casting rods of the time were only 4 1/2- to 5-feet in length. His reasoning was more leverage could be placed into the cast and therefore the lure would go further. Not only this, the extra length allowed for better shock-absorbing ability when fighting a fish. The year was 1931. As time would tell, his reasoning was right.
His new rods, lines and small lures weren’t the only thing he employed that year. He learned of a new casting technique that allowed him to cast to his target without creating but a small ripple when the lure landed. A topic he discusses fully in Chapter 4.
Chapter 3 – Lures
The title of Chapter 3 is aptly named and is just that. Fox goes through the lures available at the time 1) surface lures, 2) floating underwater wabblers (sic), 3) sinking underwater wabblers (sic), 4) sinking propeller lures (spybaiting in the 30s?), 5) spoons and 6) weighted fly and spinner pork rind rigs (spinnerbaits).
In this chapter, the longest of the book at 34 pages, Fox goes into detail about all the lures in each category that are of the finesse size available to the angler. Not only does he describe them he tells the reader the best situations in which to employ the baits and how to effectively retrieve them. What I found particularly interesting was his description of the underwater prop baits (again, spybaits) as being one of the best lure designs ever. Seems we may be reliving that right now.
Chapter 4 – Casting
As stated above in the Chapter 3 review, Fox talked about a new casting technique he learned of that allowed him to place a lure in the water without as much as a splash. He credits this casting technique to Iowa angler Sheridan Jones, who developed the technique pre-1923.
The cast was simple and effective. Instead of making an overhand cast past your target, Jones developed a means in which to cast the lure inches above the water and just before it hit the target, he’d lift up on the rod, the line would straighten, the lure would stop and land in the water, only rings showing its entry. The crux of the cast was in the wrist action imparted on the tip of the rod. The underhand roll cast was born.
Chapter 5 – Rods
In this chapter Fox describes what he feels are the best rods for the situations he fishes. He describes his classification of rods with respect to the weight lure being used. Because of the time, Bamboo was the premier rod material, being much lighter and having much better action than the tubular steel rods of the time. He goes into describing what a perfect light-tackle rod should look like dimensionally from tip to butt – rod diameters at given lengths from the butt given in thousandths of an inch.
The chapter then delves into reels, line and hooks, leaders and tackle boxes. With respect to leaders, Fox had turned from his use of gut leaders to the new nylon monofilament that came out in the mid-40s. He also talks of leader-to-mainline knots.
Chapter 6 – Hooking, Playing and Landing
The title of this chapter may seem to be an innocuous subject, but the fact still remains, many fish are lost on the hookset, during the fight and when landing. Fox’s solution to the hooking of fish was pretty straightforward – retrieve the lure with the rod pointed where the line enters the water and lift up with a sharp pull of the rod when a fish eats the bait. He also talks about double-setting on lures that have large diameter hook wire.
As for fighting the fish, he cautions on forcing the fish and to let the fish work against the rod, the angler keeping enough pressure on the fish only to keep the line tight. Doing so will not only tire the fish faster and keep the angler from breaking his tackle (remember this was the day of bamboo rods and sub-standard reels compared to today’s equipment) but would keep lightly hooked fish from tearing away.
Chapter 7 – Resting Locations and Feeding Grounds
As with many of the other chapters within this book, the title pretty much sums up what is covered. Fox, as he does throughout the book, starts off this chapter spinning a story of a trip from the past and segues into the theories of the chapter.
He talks about the resting locations and feeding grounds of the bass and starts right off stating that the big fish, because of their size and demeanor, always occupy the best spots in any lake or river. He then goes on to say that anglers need to concentrate their efforts fishing the feeding grounds when activity is high, and resting grounds when activity is low. Knowing the difference is what makes a good fisherman good. He states, “The greatest difference between the two environments is their respective depth.”
Fox also talks of the use of Polaroid glasses to be able to see into the water and the practice of sinking branches to make cover for bass.
“If the angler expects to concentrate his attention on one lake he most certainly is ahead of the game if he will cut large branches of saplings, wire them together along with heavy rocks, and submerge the entanglements in the places of his choice – thus providing the fish with fine new resting places to which they will readily congregate.”
Ahead of his time? I think so.
Chapter 8 – Night Casting
As the title would suggest, this chapter is not about night casting but about night fishing. Fox talks about the tactics used along with the best baits and times. From what I read, the best time being when you can get out there at night. Fox’s primary baits for night fishing are pretty much all topwater baits, as would be expected. This chapter is mostly filled with stories of trips past but is definitely an entertaining read if you like fish stories.
Chapter 9 – Fall Fishing
From what I took from Chapter 9, Fox had not always fished the Fall season and only started after a buddy of his had shared his successes with him. Fox describes the Fall season and talks of the fish moving to their deep-water haunts of winter. In his area, this may be true but to me, the Fall season is dictated by a drastic surface temperature drop of at least 10 degrees within a week.
This was probably the least informative chapter in the book but filled with a number of great fishing stories – many of which we can all relate to.
Chapter 10 – Field Problems
Field problems deals with mostly specific scenarios that Fox and his buddies had faced over their angling careers. He tells of the ways they determined how to catch fish out of places where “there were no fish” according to other local experts, how to catch fish when certain bug hatches were prevalent and what to use to imitate crawdads and various prey fish. It’s a good all-around chapter on how to make an outing successful with what you’re dealt with.
Chapter 11 – Reflections
This chapter deals primarily with “when to fish,” be it daily times, seasonal times or with respect to weather and its changes. One interesting thought I found in the chapter was Fox’s preference for fishing during a rising barometer – complete opposite of what we are all taught today. In fact, he states that the falling barometric pressure is the worst time to fish. I wonder how he came to that realization, be it from his field notes or hearsay.
He also talks of his disdain for competitive fishing. Although there weren’t tournaments such as we have today, he was talking more about going out with other anglers who wanted to beat “the expert” at all costs. It’s obvious he was more into fishing for the sport of fishing and camaraderie amongst anglers. To Fox, fishing was all about character.
Fox also discusses his belief in closed seasons for bass fishing – especially during the spawn. A devout conservationist, his belief was that just prior to the spawn – what we call prespawn now – and when the males are guarding beds are the worst times in which to have an open season. Today this topic is argued amongst anglers and biologists.
Chapter 12 – Recollections
Recollections is just that. A compendium of fishing stories/events that Fox tells from his past. The book is filled with these stories and in subsequent chapters, these stories were told to drive a point home. Chapter 12, on the other hand, is just good story telling. From the preceding chapters alone, it is obvious that Fox had done a lot of fishing in his time. His ability to tell a story about a past fishing trip was on par with his fishing ability, though. For those of you only interested in gaining knowledge of tactics and techniques, you might want to open your mind up to some stories of bass fishing days past. Fox will not disappoint.
Chapter 13 – Conservations
In Chapter 11 Fox talks a lot about his views on conservation. In Chapter 13, though, he delves deeper into the subject – something that during the catch-and-kill timeframe must have been controversial.
Fox doesn’t just talk of the conservation of fish, though. He talks of the conservation of trees, the prevention of soil erosion and the prevention of pollution from industry being feed into lakes, streams and rivers. He talks of fishery management and the induction of creel limits and closed seasons. This all before the advent of Ray Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, Peg-a-Polluter and Don’t Kill Your Catch campaigns. Unfortunately, it seems Fox’s opinions didn’t take hold nationally, especially when you think of water pollution. I wonder if this is where Ray Scott got his initial ideas concerning the subject.
Fox’s end to the book is but a page and a half of words. Within it is one group of sentences that really caught my attention.
“An analytical mind and an observant pair of eyes compose the better half of the sum total of our angling equipment. The constant employment of these two assets, which in effect are a fisherman’s personality, account for more action when fish are readily takable, and they are responsible for more pleasure when conditions are more complicated. One cannot afford to overlook anything for fear that that necessary little something, which is the difference between action and the lack of it, might be omitted. Furthermore, the use of imagination adds zest to our sport all of the time.”
These words could have been written by any of today’s best anglers in the sport. They are the words that drive today’s top anglers to do better, they are the words they make their living from.
Again, there isn’t much new in bass fishing, it’s just all been forgotten about.
Past Reader’s Comments
Bill Sonnett: I really have never found a fisherman young or old who was not captivated by this book. My next effort is to get Terry to read BLACK BASS AND BASS CRAFT by Sheridan R Jones. (1924). Jason Lucas, Charles K Fox and Robert Page Lincoln were all great bass fishing authors and each was amazed by how far ahead of his time Sheridan Jones was!
Al H to Bill Sonnett: Went direct to amazon and found a copy listed as very good… can’t wait to read it.
Ralph Manns: WOW. I really enjoyed this review. I can’t wait for the rest of the story.
Terry to Ralph Manns: Thanks Ralph! It was an amazing book to read. Do you have a copy of it?