Surefire Baits For Early Bass

Before you start casting just any old artificial bait for bass, maybe you should consider why these lures consistently produce strikes when it counts.

My early-season bass tackle box doesn't have much variety. All I carry are the sure-fire baits that produce time after time, regardless of where I'm fishing or how.

As a youngster, I became a fan of the then-Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League because of their defensive front -- a group known as the "Fearsome Foursome." When bass-fishing time finally rolls around, I rely on another Fearsome Foursome to generate on-the-water excitement not unlike that generated when one of those Rams (Roosevelt Greer, David "Deacon" Jones, Lamar Lundy and Merlin Olsen) went crashing through an opponent's line with a bead on the quarterback.

My bass Fearsome Foursome includes weighted stick baits, safety-pin-style spinnerbaits, Carolina-rigged lizards and Hula Grub-style soft plastics on stand-up jigheads. Talk about having the tools necessary to "sack" big bass!

Each of these lures is included for specific reasons. Most important, however, they will help anyone effectively fish bass during a time of the fishing year that can be more dynamic than any other. At least one of the Fearsome Foursome baits will trigger strikes in any situation.

Here are some other reasons I've included these particular baits over myriad of other lures available today.

WEIGHTED STICK BAITS

You can use these wonderful lures to cover a lot of water quickly. Moreover, their very nature makes it possible for you to vary your presentation, as necessary, to match prevailing conditions and the fishes' collective mood.

In the early season, you're liable to fish back-to-back days that can be (1) blustery and cold, then (2) bright, comfortable and even shirtsleeve warm in nature. Conditions change now, and they can do so very quickly.

What makes weighted stick baits so attractive is that you can change them just as quickly . . . simply by how you fish them.

In general terms, you'll be using this bait when bass are still relatively deep. As they start to move up into more shallow water, they are going to feed fairly heavily and water temperatures will affect how relatively active they will be on a given day.

If a morning dawns bright, cloudless and sunny, bass generally are going to be more active. As water warms, however, an overcast day might keep them more active longer because there won't be so much light penetration. The time alluded to here comes after the initial period of warming in the early season, when temperatures have reached levels conducive to active fish. They don't need the warmth of the sun so much to trigger their feeding and movement, so more muted light levels will work to your advantage.

Bass now are going to be using cover and structure breaks at depth levels between their deepest winter haunts and the shallows they'll use later. You'll do best by positioning your boat over what you believe to be the deepest water they'll be using, and making casts as long as possible toward the shore. Doing so lets you cover various depths.

You're going to be using a jerk-pause-and-crank retrieve. Sweep your rod tip to jerk the stick bait through the water several feet, and then pause. As you do, reel in slack line to get the rod tip back into position for another sweeping jerk.

Bass often will hit the bait as it sits motionless, suspended at its working depth, thanks to its weight.

You can imitate nature with this bait and give bass something that's going to look like an easy meal.

SPINNERBAITS

Like stick baits, these workhorse bass lures give you the ability to cover a lot of water effectively from one position. My goal when opting to use them in the early season is to get in the same position I'd be in to fish stick baits. That is, over the deepest water I believe the bass are using, and directing my casts toward the shore and into shallower water.

You have so many options for retrieving spinnerbaits. Even in the early season, they can be effective cranked in quickly so that the blades are working a foot or less under the surface. This tactic can be particularly successful on sunny days with just enough breeze to put some chop on the surface.

Or you can use a stop-and-go retrieve not unlike that applied with weighted stick baits. The difference is that you can't pause as long as you might with a stick bait because your spinner will sink. This kind of retrieve is used to suggest a wounded baitfish.

You also can cast the bait, keep your line as tight as possible as it sinks, and then use a slow-rolling retrieve back to the boat. That can be a killer tactic early in the season.

As is the case with the stick bait, you should let prevailing conditions dictate your best approach to fishing a spinnerbait. On the earliest of sunny, warm days, you'll likely be able to fish a little quicker than you would on a day with heavy cloud cover and a stiff, chilly breeze.

As the early season progresses and water warms, however, the overcast will help you, as will the kind of breeze that turns the surface a bit choppy on sunny, warm days.

Using trailers of some kind on your spinnerbaits can often help trigger more strikes, but you really should use a trailer hook as well. Bass, even when they first start getting active, can short-strike quite often during the early season. A trailer hook will help you connect with more of them.

CAROLINA-RIGGED LIZARD

Because this bait is intended to be fished near the bottom, it's great to use anytime in the early season when bass are neutral or just plain sluggish. I say "near" the bottom because for best results, that lizard of yours should be moving along just off the bottom as you retrieve.

You're generally using enough weight with a Carolina rig (a half-ounce or more) that long casts are easy. As a result, another reason this bait can pay big dividends for you is that it lets you cover so much water effectively.

If there is a "trick" to this bait that will help you catch more fish, it has nothing to do with specifically how you rig it, or the speed of your retrieve. Rather, it involves learning how not to react when you feel a bite.

Kevin VanDam, 2005 BASS Masters Classic champion, talked with me about this years ago, right after he'd used a Carolina rig to set a one-day weight record in a B.A.S.S. tournament. "T

ommy Martin taught me how to hook way more bass with a Carolina rig," he explained. "Like many anglers, I was setting the hook as soon as I felt a bite, and I was often pulling the plastic bait out of the fish's mouth. Tommy told me to slowly count to three when I felt a bite, reeling in as much slack line as I could as I counted. It really works."

As with the two baits already mentioned, you should let conditions dictate how quickly you fish a Carolina-rigged lizard. Slower is better when water has not yet begun to warm, or on days dominated by a cold front with a chilly wind. You can speed up on brighter, warmer days.

HULA GRUB

There are certain times of the early season when this bait will work better than the others, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

First and most important, I fish this soft plastic on a standup "mushroom"-style jighead so that it looks like a crawdad going "defensive." Bass absolutely love crawdads.

Second, you can effectively fish these baits really, really slowly. That means during the earliest days of a new season, when every living thing under water is still sluggish, you can imitate nature with this bait and give bass something that's going to look like an easy meal.

Another situation where you can switch to this lure from another of the Fearsome Foursome is when you've stumbled across a whole mess of nice bass staging in one fairly small spot. And if that spot involves rocky cover, all the better!

Remember, this bait fished the way I fish it imitates a crawdad. They're generally found in rocky structure, and bass know that. They'll be looking for and expecting crawdads in spots like these.

Using this bait allows you to keep an enticing offering in front of bass as long as possible, and that often will trigger strikes.

You'll enjoy versatility in your fishing during the early season with this Fearsome Foursome. And you'll enjoy plenty of bass action.

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