Audio Angler Reveals Secrets of Deep Bass

The performance of deep bass is one of the most perplexing questions we face. Timeless as the search for eternal youth or the meaning of life, the quest for truly satisfying deep bass has engaged generations of philosophers and inventors. Until recently, the subject was primarily one of conjecture, opinion, and hypothesis. Even so, almost no hard science had been devoted to this enduring issue.

But recent research has led to some surprising and some not-so-surprising conclusions. Dr. Bobby Ray Tucker, a professor of marine biology at the University of Florida, recently leaked part of the results of his seminal study, "Deep Bass: a Statistical Analysis of the Behavior of Selected Species of Centrarchidae and Serranidae in the Presence of Several Common Lures," soon to be published by the University of Florida Press. Dr. Tucker is also the author of "Siren's Song: a Comparison of the Efficacy of Several Varieties of Music in Attracting Popular Gamefish," which appeared in the Feb. 17, 1997 edition of Modern Fishing.

Dr. Tucker, an audiophile and avid fisherman, studied the effectiveness of several commercially available lures, and some custom-made varieties, on sea bass near his home in Gainesville, and on freshwater bass in streams in Michigan's Upper Peninsula during two consecutive summer vacations. He reported his results two weeks ago, prior to publication, in an e-mail response to a Stereophile "Vote!" question regarding the importance of deep bass.

"For really deep bass," Dr. Tucker posted, "I use a Ronco pocket fisherman and the Willis Wiggler." Tucker finds that the Willis Water Walker performs better with bass near the surface. "Works just fine," he commented. The Wiggler and Water Walker are handmade lures from Willis Works, Inc., a San Rafael, CA-based specialty manufacturing company. Willis Works is best known for its Wet Weenie, a budget lure effective with large, slow-moving fish like the grouper. The company's legendary Wily Wanker has reportedly attracted the attention of mermaids in Santa Monica Bay, at Mission Beach, and at other locations along California's coast. A "statement product," the Whopper, is rumored to be in development.

Dr. Tucker's fascination with deep bass also led him to investigate the relationship between various types of music and the landing rate of bass by skilled fishermen, primarily himself. He played cassette tapes and compact discs of several popular types of music on a "Megabass" boombox in his bass boat, and tracked the results.

Classical music---particularly the works of Brahms, Vivaldi, and Mozart---had a lulling effect on the fish, Dr. Tucker said. "They would swim right up to the boat," he said, rating the ease of landing them "moderate." New age music had a similar lulling effect, but the fish were so stupefied they refused to bite. "Apparently, new age music tends to induce passivity in listeners outside the human species," Dr. Tucker quipped. "It was like pouring a barrel of Prozac in the water."

Country music---with the exception of Trisha Yearwood---tended to drive fish away. Noting the popularity of country music among fishermen, Dr. Tucker advised them to keep their boomboxes turned off if they don't want to go home empty-creeled. "From the fishes' perspective, the bottom of the boat is a very good loudspeaker. Even a low volume can carry a long way in the water." Rock music fared almost as badly as country in the fish-gathering competition. "Bon Jovi, Metallica, and Hanson---to name just a few picked at random---tended to keep the fish agitated, but at a distance," Dr. Tucker commented.

Rap music, surprisingly, seemed to have the opposite quality. Its characteristic bottom-octave punch had a kind of mesmerizing effect. "The fish seem to enjoy the 20Hz visceral massage," he said, "which made them fairly easy to hook, but they fight like crazy once you start to reel them in." Overall, Dr. Tucker rated rap as "fairly effective, but unpredictable" in its ability to draw fish. "It can definitely add some interest to an otherwise uneventful day of fishing." Referring to rap's typically angry lyrics, he added: "If you don't mind the carping."

Perhaps the biggest revelation in the study was the devastating effect certain varieties of pop music can have on the fish population. The works of John Tesh, Kenny G and Yanni were equally lethal when played at any volume. "I had the stuff because my wife likes it," Dr. Tucker said from his office-laboratory. "I'm a Miles Davis man, personally."

He found that 10 minutes of Tesh, Kenny G or Yanni was "like throwing a stick of dynamite in the water." Whole schools of fish were soon floating belly-up around his boat. "It's great if you need to feed a large family in a hurry, but it's not an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon," Tucker said. The purpose of fishing is catching fish, he emphasized, not their wholesale destruction.

In the musically aided quest for truly deep bass, he recommends that Tesh, KG and Yanni be held back as weapons of last resort. "It's like sending Mike Tyson into the ring against a five-year-old," he cautioned. "Something that effective takes all the sport out of it."