Early Season Bass Lures
March 07, 2011
Early season bass move around a lot. Finding them is easier when the lure does the searching for you.
A lipless crankbait works well for searching in cold water because its tight wiggle suggests a winter-slowed baitfish and it can be cast long distances and worked horizontally. Photo by Jeff Samsel.
It's sort of like hide and seek, except you don't do any hiding. Just seeking. Early-season bass often aren't difficult to fool -- once you find them -- and where you catch one you may catch several others. The fish move a lot with ever-changing conditions, though, so you often have to do quite a bit of searching.
Seasonal movements, recent days' conditions and your own history on the same waters or in similar situations tell you quite a bit about where to begin looking, and today's electronics offer tremendous help for locating bass, their food sources and the types of places where they are apt to be congregated. Still, the most effective way to do much of the searching is by making plenty of casts with the trolling motor down.
The best search baits, overall, lend themselves to fairly steady, horizontal presentations, allowing you to make long casts and cover plenty of water. The water remains cold early in the season, though, so you don't want a lure that a fish has to chase or attack aggressively. Buzzbaits are fabulous for late-summer searching, but not for now. Let's examine a few specific types of lures that do work well for early-season searching.
A lipless crankbait, such as a Sebile Flat Shad or Strike King Redeye Shad, performs really well as an early-season search bait for a variety of reasons. First, these lures are versatile. You can use the same lure to work the tops of points, the sides of bluffs and the deep edges of channels, and you can swim it steadily at or use a lift-and-drop retrieve. For all presentations you'll continually cast and crank and therefore cover a bunch of water. Plus, many of these baits are quite compact and lend themselves to long casts.
Lipless crankbaits also tend to have tight wiggles. Along with suggesting an easier target than a wide-kicking lure, a tight action most accurately imitates the natural movements of chilled baitfish. Meanwhile, rattles help get the fish's attention and allow them to home in on a bait, especially on dark days or in stained water, when visibility is poor.
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A lot of lipless crankbaits look similar, but each brand has a distinctive wiggle and sound. Finding the ones that work best for you simply calls for experimentation. Sink rates also vary. A 1/2-ounce Cotton Cordell Spot sinks slower than most other 1/2-ounce lipless crankbaits, for example, making it a good choice for a shallow, snaggy area but not quite as good for getting farther down in the water column. Size is also important. Half-ounce models are the standard and dominate the market, but bigger versions work well for fishing deeper and appealing to bigger fish, while smaller ones can be better when the forage is extra small or the bass extra fussy.
The two most popular presentations are straight cranking and yo-yoing the lure by alternating lifts of the rod with pauses. Rod angle, retrieve speed and the lengths of pauses all help you control depth the bait swims.
A soft-plastic tube, such as 3- or 4-inch YUM Tube, comes nicely into play any time bass are holding close to the bottom and searching is required. Dragging tubes allows you to cover a flat, a point or the top of a hump very thoroughly and is extremely effective for fish that are feeding along bottom. And while a tube will catch a fish year around, its subtlety makes it extra appealing for early-season searching.
The most effective presentation couldn't get much simpler. Make a long cast, let the bait sink to the bottom and drag it slowly back to the boat. Better yet -- if the wind is conducive to doing so -- position the boat at the upwind edge of the structure you want to work, make a short upwind pitch, let the bait settle on the bottom and hold onto the rod as the boat drifts and the bait drags across the bottom. If you haven't done much tube fishing, you'll most likely find yourself wanting to hop the lure along the bottom, as you would work a plastic worm. Resist the urge. You'll catch far more fish with a straight drag in most cases.
If the bottom make-up allows, rig with jighead and an open hook, using a narrow "tube jighead." These are designed to be inserted into the open bottom of the tube, with the line eye then punched through the plastic near the head of the tube. Although these are a little touchier to rig and you have to re-tie when your tube gets tattered, "inside" rigging give the bait a better action. If the bottom has too many snags for an open hook, use a Texas rig.
If you want to cover a lot of water at a big range of depths, go back to the basics of fishing and rig a simple curly-tail grub on a 1/4- or 1/8-ounce jighead and start casting. A grub looks like a very easy meal to a bass, and it's an easy lure to fish very effectively.
A 4-inch Mister Twister Twister Tail is well suited for the job in most cases, and it's hard to beat smoke flake or good old-fashioned white. Depending on water color, forage size, fish size, etc. you might also look at larger (or smaller) grubs or designs with thicker bodies or longer tails. Berkley GULP! Grubs add a strong scent, which can be valuable when you're searching for fish.
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Vary your presentations until you find what the fish want, trying straight retrieves, pumps of the rod and bottom hops. Err on the side of slow for early-season fishing, though. It doesn't take a very much movement to put a grub tail into to action and start the fish attraction. Vary jighead size, line size, retrieve speed and the angle of your rod to control the depth.
A modern alternative to a grub is to rig a soft-plastic swimbait on the same jighead and swim it through the water column. The technique remains the same. It's just a way to change up the look and add a touch of realism when the fish are extra fussy.
Any time you catch a fish during early spring, duplicate the exact cast that produced that fish. That fish was where it was for a reason, and often there will be one or more others holding in the same area and oriented the same way. Of course, if you catch two back-to-back, you'll want to try the same thing one more time before you do anything else!
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Before you move an inch, take mental notes about the spot that produced that fish: water depth, water color, bottom make-up, structure, location relative to channels, wind direction... Effective patterning, which gives direction to your searching, begins with being highly intentional about noting every detail.
Also, before you move away too quickly, try working the structure the fish was using from a variety of angles.