We started the Bass Fishing Archives because we not only love the history of the sport – we feel its history needs to be told accurately and preserved for all to see. We’re proud to have the only site dedicated to the subject and for the great readers who visit the site.
When we conceived the idea for the Bass Fishing Archives, we knew we couldn’t tell the whole story. We just weren’t around in the early part of the 20th century. That’s where we knew readers would eventually jump on the bandwagon and correct us if we were wrong with respect to some part of the history or introduce us to something we missed.
This is where the today’s book review comes into play.
A couple months ago we posted a piece on the Shannon Twin Spin and received an email from a gentleman by the name of Bill Sonnett. I’ve been familiar with Bill for a few years due to his contributions on the Fishing for History website run by Dr. Todd Larson. Bill is an ardent historian when it comes to fishing literature and old lures and when he emailed us about more Shannon history, I got pretty excited. Since that first email Bill has helped me with a lot of the history pre-1960 – to include introducing me to the book Advanced Bait Casting by Charles K. Fox. 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. To say the book, published in 1950 but written from field work (that means fishing) as early as the 1930s, opened my eyes would be a huge understatement. 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.
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 and was able to do this revue so quick 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. You see in your mind what he’s talking about. 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 am 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. What you’ll notice is I haven’t posted any pictures other than the cover. That’s because the book has no pictures, only renderings of bass jumping and maybe a silhouette of an angler or two.
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.
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, 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 learn more about every aspect of angling was inspiring.”
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-then-normal baits is the cast.
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 in the book at 34 pages, Fox goes into detail 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 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.
Chapters 7 through 13
We’ll discuss chapters 7 through 13 and the Post-Face in Part 2 of this piece early next week. In the meantime I hope you’ve learned a little about the origins of our sport, specifically some of the origins of finesse fishing, the roll cast and other techniques thought to have been developed by more contemporary anglers.