Big Baits Bass Love

Putting a meal-sized morsel in front of a trophy largemouth bass might be just the tactic you need to add to your fishing arsenal. Try these lures and methods this year.

by Richard Alden Bean

You've heard it perhaps a thousand times: Big bass like to eat big meals. The reason you keep hearing it is that it's true. For a bass, getting along in life is a balancing act between the energy it takes to catch something worth eating and the amount of energy they get back from the meal. Put it this way: if you have the choice of chasing a slice of bread two blocks to eat it or having somebody bring you a burger and fries, which are you going to choose?

Bass are the same way. They enjoy a lazy lifestyle. They lurk around well-chosen spots that afford them cover from larger predators and give them opportunities to snap up an unsuspecting passerby that strays into their reach. The bigger the meal, the more apt they are to grab it.

It's for exactly those reasons that many trophy bass seekers use oversized lures. Big baits often get the biggest bass.

Heading the list of big baits that bass will grab is the so-called monster worm. At up to 16 inches in length, these hunks of plastic come in all types of shapes, colors and sizes, and how anglers rig them adds several more applications. Plastic worms are quite possibly the most important bass lure ever made.

Oversize versions of the common plastic worm perform well in a variety of situations. Appealing to a number of trophy bass anglers is that the larger the worm, the less artificial weight you need to get it to sink and maintain contact with the bottom. While a 6-inch worm may work best with a 1/4- or 3/16-ounce bullet weight, trophy bass anglers who throw worms of 9- to 14-inch lengths do so with as little as 1/8-ounce or no additional weight at all.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

"I fish the worm with a slow, stitchin' presentation, and I Texas-rig," said trophy bass guide Troy Folkestad. "I peg the sinker and just skin-hook the worm. I like to use as little weight as possible." Folkestad also noted, however, that he will fish the big worms with no weight at all, and then move up to as light as a 1/16- or 1/8-ounce with a 12-inch worm.

STITCHIN' BIG WORMS
Colors of these big worms are often dull. Black, brown or some other drab solid makes the lure appear even bigger. Despite the bulk and length of a giant plastic worm, the presentation most often used is one of dead-slow finesse, or stitchin', as most bass anglers know the method. It consists of fishing the big worms on reasonably light line, often 4- to 8-pound-test, and casting the worm with a long, medium-action spinning rod.

Stitchin' is done from a solidly anchored boat - using anchors aft and stern to hold the boat as still as a rock - or from the shore. You must locate a piece of structure that you are confident holds bass and work it slowly and carefully. Once the worm has reached the bottom, the retrieve is so slow. Yes, it's boring.

The bail on the spinning reel is left open, and the coils of line on the spool are pinched with a finger on the rod hand, so it doesn't spring off the spool.

The line being retrieved is picked up with the left hand at the last rod guide, and a simple finger-twist retrieve inches the worm along the bottom at a pace that's, well, glacial. Once you've retrieved a few feet of line, close the bail, reel up the excess line, and then open the bail to continue this painfully slow crawling action across the bottom. The process of inching the worm is mechanical and methodical, and it seems to take forever.

You can do this same slow stitch/crawl with a large jig and pork or plastic trailer. Oversized heavy jigs should always be part of your trophy bass arsenal. A 3/4- or 1-ounce jighead topped with the biggest pork trailer that you can locate makes fine bait for big bass.

Again, most serious anglers stick with solid drab shades, with black, brown, purple or dark blue as the favorites for clear Western waters.

An interesting variation is to mix a heavy jig with a 9-inch or larger plastic worm as a trailer. Fished ever so slowly, this is can be great winter bait.

SPINNERBAITS FOR BUCKETMOUTHS
Another conventional bass lure that works well in over-sized proportions is the spinnerbait. Really big spinnerbaits get deep quickly and can be used to find trophy-sized bass in their sanctuary areas in deep water.

Unfortunately, many anglers misread the capabilities of the spinnerbait. To them, it's basically a shallow-running lure, designed for steady retrieves within a foot or two of the surface or buzzed right at the surface to create the same pattern of noise and vibration you get from a buzzbait. But spinnerbaits are fantastic deep-water lures.

Spinnerbaits can be fished at many depths. To be sure, most spinnerbaits are light, with head weights less than a half-ounce. They can be fished into deeper water, but their fall rate is extremely slow.

Heavy spinnerbaits, from a 1/2-ounce to as much as 2 1/2 ounces are best for deep-water fishing, and as bass anglers have learned, a very slow retrieve - sometimes just dragging the bait along the bottom - is the way to catch bass in both summer and winter when they move into deeper water. Spinnerbait anglers call it slow-rolling, but in reality it's the stitchin' method sped up slightly and applied to a spinnerbait.

"The basic idea of a big, heavy spinnerbait is you can slow-roll it in deep water and catch fish that you wouldn't think you could," said Bob Sueakawa, a tournament angler and owner of Haddock Lures in Torrance, Calif. "Slow-rolling a big bait is especially good in the early spring when the lakes are full from winter rain and snow. Shallow shoreline brush is flooded, and some of the best is in deeper than normal water. Spinnerbaits are a lot more weedless than jigs, and the fish will hit them."

Slow-rolling is not a mystery retrieve or even some strange Western dance. It simply means the spinnerbait is being retrieved just fast enough to allow its blade to turn. A big willow-leaf blade will run at a slower retrieve speed than either a Colorado or Indiana blade, but it makes more flash than noise or vibration. You can make a slow, steady retrieve or pump the bait so it rises and falls, as long as it stays in close contact with the bottom or the structure, you are fishing.

BIG TROLLING PLUGS
Big wood or plastic trolling plugs have been used for a long time by a few serious bass anglers, but the most recent of these are the

big plugs and lures for striped bass. A number of these large lures are hand-crafted items made in small numbers by entrepreneurial anglers and distributed locally in the West where Florida-strain largemouth exist.

One, the AC Plug, designed by Alan Cole, has become famous for trophy-caliber largemouth. Another popular and effective lure is the Z-Plug, made by well-known striped bass angler Greg Silks. Other large lures, designed for everything from stripers to saltwater, are offered by the major tackle companies, and include such names as Rapala, Luhr-Jensen and Cordell, just to name a few.

The key feature of all these is they resemble a wounded fish that appears to be easy prey. Most of the home-built lures are painted to mimic rainbow trout, and most anglers in the West repaint commercial lures to match.

"Big lures like my AC Plug are great trolling lures, but most of the bass fishermen don't like to troll; they don't think of trolling as an effective bass method," said Cole, who got his baptism on trolling large lures over years of hunting for trophy brown trout. (He has caught 23 browns over 10 pounds, including a 20-pounder.) He discovered striped bass a few years ago and created the AC Plug to catch them.

Like many other striped bass hunters, he quickly began to catch hefty largemouths using the oversized lures. He's caught largemouths over 10 pounds on several occasions by dragging one of his lures behind his boat. It's a technique he thinks really shines during bad weather when the bigger fish rise to the surface to hunt.

Cole makes the point that you can retrieve big plugs either right on the surface - cranking them so slowly they merely wobble along, leaving a V-shaped wake like a sick or injured trout would do - or crank them just under the surface with a bit more speed and attract a big bass to strike.

"You can also crank them down three or four turns quickly and work them just like any crankbait," Cole said. "It takes stouter rods and heavier line to cast or troll these lures. The bass really like the big meal these plugs represent. They are an absolutely superb pre-spawn lure. That's when the biggest bass are beginning to move into shallower water, and they are hunting for a big meal. Out here that's from February into April."

Cole isn't the only practitioner of trolling. A small group of big-bass specialists from the San Diego area have used trolling to deadly effect for many years. In the 1970s, Bill Murphy, Alan and Roy Nordland, Ken Locke, and a few others produced huge catches of Florida-strain largemouths trolling Magnum Rapala plugs hand-painted to resemble rainbow trout. These big lures are trolled on leadcore line or downriggers into the 30-foot-plus depths that give trophy bass sanctuary. Anglers interested in learning the method should read Murphy's groundbreaking book, In Pursuit of Giant Bass.

"They are really deadly as a casting lure too," Cole notes. "I caught a 11-pound, 8-ounce largemouth on one of my AC Plugs at Lake Perris, fishing in rainy, cloudy weather. The big fish were on top."

So, you want to try casting these plugs all day? First, you'll need stout tackle and heavy freshwater or light to medium saltwater gear. Now prepare yourself for the sore arms and shoulders that come with this heavyweight game.

The big plugs have an enticing wobble, and the best retrieve is often just moving the plug enough so it stays on the surface, wobbling back and forth like a wounded fish, and creating an obvious surface wake. This is easily seen by bass from below and often results in the grandest topwater hit you'll ever get.

SWIMBAITS TOO
The most recent addition to the big lures for bass game will also make your back and arms ache with the effort it takes to throw them all day long. So-called swimbaits are oversized representations of baitfish that basically came from saltwater fishing by way of striped bass anglers. They've become a red hot among trophy largemouth bass anglers.

The first swimbaits used big soft fish-shaped bodies with knob tails designed like oversized versions of the Sassy Shad. They were paired with heavy saltwater jigs with external lead heads. These worked pretty well but need refinement if bass anglers were to cast them all day long.

The next step was to put the lead head inside the soft plastic body of what looked like a rainbow trout. There are also some beautiful, if expensive, swimbaits that consist of a hard head and a soft tail section that is nearly perfect in imitating the swimming motion of a sick or injured trout.

Such lures as the Optimum and Basstrix soft baits and the Castaic Soft Crankbaits are available and work very well on big fish, mostly in the winter months on bass lakes that receive regular stockings of hatchery trout. The Castaic Soft Bait product line also includes life-like bluegills and perch for places that don't have trout.

Most big-bass anglers move the boat on the electric trolling motor and fan cast an area with these swimbaits. You can also slow-troll a swimbait, thumping it along the bottom. It's a lot of hard work, and trophy seekers often cast for hours - sometimes days - without a single strike. But when the conditions are right, you could get bites from several bass weighing more than 10 pounds each in a matter of minutes.

TIMING YOUR BIG-LURE APPROACH
Best times and places to use these oversized baits? All are great winter baits. Monster worms and big jigs are excellent at getting to largemouth bass in cold-weather sanctuary spots.

These are often deep-water retreats on or near an isolated hump or submerged island or are deep on a sharply sloping point. Some advocate fishing these lures "downhill," and others like to retrieve these big baits slowly, from deep water to shallow. Often the stitchin' presentation is best done with the boat anchored right next to shore. One trophy bass specialist says this makes the non-moving boat quickly become part of the local environment and bass pay little attention to it.

The big diving lures trolled on downriggers or leadcore line will also reach into these deep-water domains and are an excellent way to search large areas for the few spots where bass are schooled up. Once you locate such a spot, you can continue to troll it at intervals, or anchor up and use one of the other methods.

The big swimbaits are most often employed right after trout plants on winter reservoirs. Bass instinctively know when the trout are there. Years ago, a bass pro told me he watched a school of huge bass congregate at the boat ramp of a local lake the morning of a stocking but well before the hatchery truck arrived.

The big wood and plastic plugs are great night baits, and trolling is a useful tactic in winter and summer, when bass are suspended or lurking in deep water. Spinnerbaits slow-rolled, or even vertically jigged over deep structure, are good in the winter and spring. The plastic worms and big jigs are nearly universal and will work somewhere at any time of the year.

The best conditions for the biggest bass are when light levels are low, either dusk or full dark - an overcast, drizzly day is perfect - and when water temperatures are less then optimum. Interestingly, a lot of trophy bass anglers who fish these larger baits and lures acknowledge that their biggest fish came not at dawn or dusk but at midday under windy, cold, cloudy conditions.



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