Bass aren’t the fastest fish in the world. But no matter how quickly you retrieve that crankbait or topwater, you can’t get it away from them--- if they want it.
That’s because even the fastest reels are capable of retrieving baits at only 3 or 4 miles per hour. A bass, meanwhile, can swim in bursts of 12 to 18 miles per hour.
Most of the time, they don’t, not even when they’re feeding. Three to 4 miles an hour likely is more common. That’s because bass are pot-bellied, ambush predators. Much of the time, they would rather chow down on a slow-moving worm or injured minnow. Walleye are much the same way.
The key to success when you’re out fishing is not to know how fast a bass or other species can swim, but how fast it is willing to swim. Experiment with speed until you find the right one.
Knowing your reel’s “speed” is important for this. One reel can look almost exactly like another but be faster or slower.
“Speed” refers to the amount of line retrieved in one full turn of the handle. A fast reel (7.0:1 gear ratio) can take in 30 to 31 inches of line per turn, while a slower one (5.0:1) only 20 or 22.
If you’re fishing with a crankbait, you might think that you want a faster reel, but probably you don’t, says Jeremy Sweet of Shimano. That’s because fast reels are used mostly when fishing soft plastics, to take up slack line quickly before the hook set or to get the bait back to the boat in a hurry after it is out of the strike zone.
Although not always, slower reels usually are better for faster-moving crankbaits. For one thing, they allow time for the baits to go to their proper depths. For another, they encourage more erratic, lifelike action.
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Here are estimated top speeds of other common freshwater species according to various internet sources: rainbow trout 23 mph, catfish 15 mph, northern pike 11 mph.
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With many salt-water species, you do want a speedy retrieve. That’s because tuna, wahoo, dorado (dolphin), billfish, and others are roving hunters that chase down their prey.
No one knows for certain how fast the fastest fish can swim. But experts estimate that a leaping sailfish can hit 68 miles per hour, based on the fact that it can strip out 100 yards of line in 3 seconds.
Other speed demons include the swordfish (60 mph), marlin (50), and wahoo (47).
Not surprisingly, the flounder is one of the slowest in the ocean, poking along at 2.4 mph, about the same as an eel.
And in case you’re wondering: the flying fish can reach gliding speeds of 35 miles per hour.