Jan 22, 2011

Book Review: Knowing Bass - The Scientific Approach to...

Have you ever wanted to know how a bass sees the world around it?  Let me be clear...not only what it sees but how it sees.  I recently learned bass have rod and cone cells in their eyes, each cell type is specialized for vision in low and high light respectively.  These cells convert light into brain signals which are transmitted via cranial nerve II (optic nerve) to the Diencephalon and Mesencephalon subdivisions of the brain.  Got that?  Yea, me either.  I have to be honest, I never really wanted to learn that much about bass. At least I never thought I did, but then I read Knowing Bass - The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish by Keith A. Jones, PhD.

Dr. Jones works at the Berkley Fish Research Center (Berkley not Berkeley) and this book is based on research he has performed on the job and in school. At times the work reads more like a textbook than anything else but he didn't go too far with the technical stuff.  The result was an interesting read, a greater understanding of how bass function and some ideas of what triggers bass to feed.  There is a lot of information here and most of it won't stick, but it is written such that you may take what you wish from it.  No need to understand and remember everything here simply because there is tons of info.

I first heard of this book while reading a post by the Stream Stalker.  He did a quick review that basically said "buy this book if you fish for bass."  So I took his advice and put it on my Christmas list and Santa came through.  Here is a break down of the book by chapter and what you can learn if you read it as well.  In general, each chapter starts out with a "far too technical" description, then follows up with what it means to the lay-person. This book really lays out the information from an anglers perspective.  This is a fishing book, not a biology book after all.

Chapter 1: Bass Basics - Here is a basic breakdown of black bass taxonomy, life cycle and history.  Descriptions of each species (Largemouth, Smallmouth, Spotted, Redeye, Shoal, Suwannee and Guadalupe).  This book focuses primarily on the mighty largemouth, but he mentions most black bass function similarly.

Chapter 2: Brain, Learning and Instincts - Technical description of the brain and nervous system, plus some valuable insight into learning ability and instincts.  I found the learning ability information valuable.

Chapter 3: Chemoreception -Description of the smell and taste systems followed by information about what scents bass like and how scent/taste trigger a feeding reaction.  Some great information here about what commercially available scents work best and what scents will actually drive bass away.

Chapter 4: Hearing and Vibration Detection - Description of the inner ear and lateral line systems.  Gives some good info about what sounds a bass can hear and what sounds don't exist in her world.  There is information about how vibration and sound trigger feeding and which sounds work best.

Chapter 5: Vision - Vision is, by far, the most critical sense a bass possesses so this chapter is the longest.  Again the author provides a technical description of the vision system.  After that he delves into how bass combine action, flash, size, shape, color, contrast to evaluate potential prey.  There is some valuable information about which lure colors work best as well as what colors a bass simply can not see.

Chapter 6: Senses of the Skin - Senses of the skin is broken down into temperature sensing and pH sensing.  Great information is provided about how bass react to temperature change and differing acidity levels.  Ever wonder why bass slow down in the cold?  The answer is a little more in depth than "they are cold blooded."

Chapter 7: Pain and Stress - Tackles the tricky question of whether bass feel pain and how they react to stress.  The author makes it clear pain and stress are unique.  Provides some great information about how to reduce mortality in your live well and at the scale.

Chapter 8: Super Lures - This chapter is exactly what it sounds like - the most valuable.  The author summarizes the previous seven chapters by expounding on what properties a "super lure" should possess.  He also speculates on what lures of the future may look/sound/taste/feel like.

Knowing Bass was originally published in 2002 and has a jacket price of $16.95 - internet shopping will get you the book for a few dollars less.  The pages are printed on high gloss paper resulting in excellent picture quality but this is not a picture book.  The paper makes the bar graphs really pop too.  At 280 pages long it'll make great bedtime reading, I finished it in about a week.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who makes a living from bass fishing. Tournament anglers and lure makers alike can really get a leg up.  Maybe even talk to your CPA about a possible tax deduction.  If you're a casual angler, this book only fits if you have a desire to think way too much about fishing.  If throwing a spinner or floating a bobber is all you need to relax, why clutter that valuable brain space with information to get in the way?

Disclaimer: As with all reviews on Lunker Hunt, the preceding review is my honest opinion, I received Knowing Bass - The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish as a Christmas present from my lovely wife. I assume she paid something for it but I don't really care how much. Lunker Hunt is not sponsored by or associated with the author or publisher and is accepting no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review. My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.


  1. Interesting. I've become a more common addition to the bass lake now that I have a kayak. Sounds like a read that will put more fish in my boat. Thanks for the well written review.

  2. @Nontyp Pursuits - Ahh, a fellow kayak angler. Welcome to Lunker Hunt, if our water ever thaws you'll be seeing more of my yak.

    Glad you enjoyed this review, the book is something else. At times, I found myself wondering why I was reading it. Now that I'm done, I don't remember much of the technical stuff, but I am left with a broader idea of what makes a bass tick.


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