You wouldn’t think that poker and fishing would have much in common but there is one thing they definitely share. You can bluff your way to success in both endeavours. As a matter of fact, bluffs—some anglers call them walls, while others refer to them as cliffs —are one of the best places to catch lake trout, smallmouth bass, muskies, and pike. Especially in the warm summer months.
There is something else both games share. It is difficult to know when your friend is bluffing at poker and it is just as challenging to figure out which bluffs are worth fishing and which ones aren’t worth a plugged nickel.
The best bluffs I’ve discovered over the years are typically found in moderate and deep lakes with clear water — even if you’re fishing shallow — that offer the predatory trout, bass and big toothy critters a smorgasbord of soft-rayed silvery forage fish like ciscoes, smelt and shiners. The predators hide in the shade of the granite walls and pick off members of the wandering schools of bait fish as they mill about and congregate against the face of the granite and limestone barriers.
I remember one time, on the third and final day of the Kenora Bass International when my partner and I were in the Top 10 and, scheduled to come through the tent for weigh-in. Our last spot of the day was a huge hundred-foot rock wall that I had fished for years and knew was coveted by wolf packs of big burly bass. I pitched my jig as close to the vertical rock face as I could get it, let it fall, watched my line suddenly straighten out, tightened up, felt a huge head shake and watched a gorgeous smallmouth rocket out of the water. What happened next, though, had my knees knocking. When I got the bass to the side of the boat, there were at least half a dozen equally big bronze bombers swirling around it, eating the ciscoes and shiners it was spitting out.
Now, normally, I’d have kept the fish below the boat and used it as a decoy so my partner could double up and catch one of the followers. We’ve caught as many as five fish doing this. But this day with the clock ticking down, a long high-speed boat ride in front of us, and a kicker fish already hooked that would solidify a top ten finish, we decided to land it and not risk having it pull off. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? It worked out that way, too, and we cashed a nice check, but I often wonder if we might have won the tournament if we’d used the bass as a decoy and picked off at least one of his buddies.
It is worth mentioning, too, that this bluff is as close to a “gimme” as you can get — for one huge reason. It has several ledges, jutting out below the surface on which the bass can rest. If it simply plummeted straight down and had not offered these wide, stair-like steps, it would be next to worthless.
The reason this bass bluff episode is so fresh in my mind is just the other day, I was relating it to Liam, as we were casting a similar rock wall for muskies. Like the bass bluff, this one, too, has several extensive ledges poking out below the surface on which the big toothy predators often lie, hidden in ambush, ready to pounce on anything that swims by. In this case, it was my 10-inch Waterwolf tube jig with a grey back and white body that perfectly imitated a stray cisco searching frantically for its buddies. The muskie shot off from the ledge and chased my bait back to the boat. When I spotted her, I swung the tube into a figure eight, but it was so sunny that I lost sight of her in the glare. Fortunately, Liam was looking in from the side, watched her open her mouth, devour my bait and hollered, "She's got it." That is when I set the hook and the rest is history.
Really, I am not bluffing.