The Power Of Plastics

Why haul a whole tackle box full of lures to the lake this month when you can get by handily with just this bevy of proven plastic baits?

It's forever etched in my memory: sliding across the calm waters of a small lake in an aluminum johnboat, out for an evening bass fishing trip with my angling buddy Scott Cox.

In hopes of catching a largemouth bass -- and maybe, with a little luck, one of the big ones for which this lake was well known -- I tied on a large Texas-rigged plastic worm.

As the shadows gathered, I tossed the worm next to a laydown out of which a few limbs stuck up out of the water. As I the ripples gradually subsided, I began to pump my graphite rod tip up and down so that the 8-inch motor-oil-colored worm would slowly rise and then fall toward the bottom.

Mere moments into that routine, I felt a telltale tap-tap at the end of my monofilament line -- small sensations, but like jolts of electricity to an angler. I reeled up the slack, lowered the rod tip, and then powered it all backward as I drove the hook home.

Little did I know that I was connecting with a 7 1/2-pound largemouth -- the biggest bass of my angling career at the time.

Ah, yes: the power of plastics -- especially when springtime's spawning bass are on the prowl in shallow waters across the Southern states.

From the Texas-rigged plastic Jelly worms, Crème worms and Mister Twisters that helped start this lure craze to today's myriad of tube baits, salty craws, Power Worms, Ring Fries, lizards, jerkbaits and pork-resembling chunk trailers for jigs, there's certainly no shortage of soft-plastic baits at your local tackle shop. And the reason for this plethora of plastics? Simple: When they're fished the right way at the right time in the right place, plastic baits can result in your landing a bass of bragging-sized proportions!

Want to get in on the big-bass-catching magic of the ongoing soft-plastic lure revolution? Then read on!

THE JIG-AND-PIG

OK: Technically speaking, a jig isn't itself a soft-plastic bait -- but the trailer on its hook certainly can be. And just as solid as the argument for the Texas-rigged plastic worm as one of history's best all-time bass-catching lures is the claim that can be advanced for the jig-and-pig combo as one of fishing history's most versatile all-time lure selections.

Given the right circumstances, the jig-and-pig sporting a soft-plastic trailer can prove enormously effective at just about any time of the year: deadly in the cold months when worked around the rocks and dropoffs along which wintering bass can be found; wonder-working in the spring, when bassin' is a shallow-water affair in a cover- and-vegetation-rich environment; and super in the summer, when you'll pitch one into a hole in the middle of a hydrilla bed and wait to see how quickly it gets smashed.

In fact, Bassmaster Pro Tour veteran Gary Klein -- one of the greatest pro bass anglers of all time -- confided to me in a conversation that I had with him a couple of years back that when it came down to lure selection around this particular time of the year, the first bait he'd make sure he had in his tackle box was a 1/2-ounce black/blue Rattle Back jig.

"I like to fish target-oriented baits," he said. "Those include spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, lizards, and jigs -- lures that I can cast to a target and effectively fish that target with."

As for color combinations, it's tough to beat a black/blue, black/ brown, or black/blue/purple mixture, although at times a lighter-hued shade resembling a shad or a crawfish can work well, too.

When you fish a trailer behind any of those jigs, a plastic chunk in a variety of colors is always a solid choice. If you're looking to bulk up the bait's overall appearance in the water, attach a salty craw worm to the jig's hook; if, conversely, you're looking for a slenderer profile to pitch into tight cover, consider using a short curlytail plastic worm or a longer curlytail grub on the back of your jig.

FLOATING WORMS

At times, the plastic worms that 2000's B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, Tim Horton, likes to fish are of a type different from that described in this story's opening.

"In April," Horton offered, "I love to fish floating worms, as you're fishing targets. Since bass spawn around some type of cover that is usually not too thick, it's real important to look for objects that are off to themselves -- maybe not a real thick hydrilla bed, but where there are clumps of grass, or something like that."

The six-time CITGO BASS Masters Classic qualifier successfully used the floating-worm technique in a MegaBucks tournament a few years back on South Carolina's Lake Murray. In fact, more than half of the bass that Horton weighed in at that event came on a floating worm that he was throwing in and around spawning cover.

"The floating worm works really well for that," he explained, "since you can work it through the cover with a more subtle presentation. The floating worm will sink very, very slowly, and in doing so, you can give it some real small twitches, which tantalizes the fish while the worm is in that strike zone."

To give a floating worm that tantalizing action, Horton typically pops his rod tip about 2 to 4 inches, which will actually make the floating worm fold up as the ends come together in the water. "The bait then opens back up," he said, "and when this happens in a short period of time, it can really be enticing to bass."

How does the three-time winner on the BASS circuit rig a floating worm? "I like to use a Yum Houdini worm, which I'll Texas rig with a 4/0 hook," he stated. "Usually I will put a swivel 10 to 12 inches above the hook. My leader will usually be the same pound-test I'm fishing -- something in the 12- to 14-pound monofilament range. As for worm colors, I like yellow, white or a sherbet."

How does the pro angler fish a floating worm setup? "Usually I'll fish it on a bait-casting reel," Horton said. "About the only exception is when I'm trying to get it under overhanging willow trees or trying to skip it around boat docks and get it up under the boat docks. Then I'll use a spinning reel."

According to Horton, you need to keep in mind that strikes on floating worms are generally less aggressive ones -- a bass comes up and quietly sucks the bait in, for instance. "I think it's a reaction strike," he remarked. "A floating worm doesn't really represent a baitfish or crawfish, but maybe a catalpa worm falling out of the trees, or something of that nature."

LIZARDS

Another popular plastic bait for this time of the year is one that BASS pro Edwin Evers puts near the top of his lure list: the versatile lizard, a bait that can elicit a smashing strike from a female on the spawning bed.

"It's a good bait to fish," said Evers, one of the hottest young anglers on the CITGO Bassmaster Pro Tour. "In terms of catching big bass, lizards and salamanders really prey on the eggs that big females lay, so the bigger fish are more apt to eat them. I do get a lot of bites from bigger fish in the spring on lizards."

How much bigger? Evers has caught lots of 8- and 9-pound bass on this type of lure, which he fishes primarily during stable weather conditions.

"With a lizard, I like to keep it on bottom," he offered. "I'll do that by popping it and scurrying it across the bottom, still looking for isolated cover. I usually like a Yum 6-inch lizard in green pumpkin or watermelon colors with a 1/8-ounce weight. I'll fish it Texas-rigged around cover that I can see using a 7-foot All-Star rod in medium-heavy action with a Pflueger President 6:3:1 reel spooled with 14- to 17-pound-test Silver Thread monofilament."

JERKBAITS AND FLUKES

Evers is also a big fan of fishing soft-plastic jerkbaits and fluke-style baits -- especially as the spawn winds down.

"These are huge in the post-spawn pattern," said the five-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier. "Bass are starting to feed up on shad again -- that, and bluegills. So those two baits can imitate those really well, plus bass are starting to school.

Evers noted that since these baits imitate shad really well, an angler can skip them up under boat docks and back into tight places. "It is a bait that covers the upper water column," he explained, "and I like to work it in heavy cover," Evers said. "When I fish one of these baits, I'll twitch it side to side. I'll do that two or three times, let it die and fall, then do it another two or three times, and let it die and fall again. They'll typically hit it in between twitches, or when you're letting it die."

When he fishes such a bait, Evers typically rigs up a Bass Pro Shops white or a baby-bass-colored model with a green back with a 4/0 offset round-bend hook; this the pro throws with a high-speed reel spooled with Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line in the 12- to 14-pound-test range and mated with a 7-foot medium-action BPS Pro Qualifier rod.

"The high-speed reel is real important in fishing these baits," he explained, "so that you can reel in the slack in a hurry to set the hook."

TUBES

The soft-plastic tube-style bait is another weapon that Evers keeps a healthy supply of in his tackle box. That's been true since the three-time winner on the BASS circuit experienced some big-bass success during a tournament several years back on Toledo Bend Reservoir. The tactic: flipping a black neon tube into flooded buckbrush.

"They were holding between two pieces of cover," he recalled, "and I would throw it in there, move it as slowly as possible. And I was catching big ones."

Today, fishing tube baits is one of the pro's favored methods for targeting bass. "I think tubes are a great year-round bait, especially spring through fall," Evers remarked. "They're a basic imitation of a crawfish or baitfish, depending on what color you fish."

On the topic of fishing tubes, Evers said, "My favorite way is to use a flippin' technique in the spring. I'll be flippin' bushes, grass, anything that could be spawning cover with a 3/16-ounce or 1/4-ounce Bass Pro XPS Tungsten weight head."

As for the color of the tube itself, Evers usually lets the bass' current feeding habits on shad or crawfish dictate that, although he also likes fishing a black neon tube. Whatever color he's actually using, he'll hook the soft plastic onto the tungsten-weighted jighead's big 4/0 hook sporting an extra-wide gap. Frequently, Evers will also put an XPS Big Tube Rattle into the tube, which he'll cast and retrieve with a 7-foot medium-heavy rod, a high-speed reel, and line in the 20-pound fluorocarbon or 65- to 80-pound Spider Wire range.

The key to fishing this bait, in Evers' view, is to work it slowly -- to the point that, to a shallow springtime bass, it becomes a source of irritation. "I'll flip it in the bushes, let it sit there, hop it up and down, and let it sit there for an extended period of time," he offered. "A lot of times, the fish won't pick it up on the initial fall. But as you leave it in there and hop it up and down, air is coming out of the tube in bubbles as it falls. It's an added attraction for bass."

Evers recommends leaving the tube bait in cover for 10 or 15 seconds, or maybe longer if the bass are locked down to the spawning beds. He'll also leave it a little longer when the water is murky or the bass aren't very aggressive.

While Evers likes to fish a tube bait tight to cover and a little faster as the pre-spawn moves into the spawn, he reminds anglers that such a lure can be an excellent choice later on as well. "It's a great bait in the post-spawn," he observed. "You can flip it into flooded bushes, into other flooded cover. Or bring it closer to surface. Use that rattle, and bang it on branches, and shake it on braches higher in the water column during the post-spawn period."

PLASTIC WORMS

And then, of course, there's the venerable plastic worm -- the bait that started off this story. For practically everybody from weekend warriors (like yours truly) to young guns looking to make their marks on the tournament trail and legendary pros who've become household names, a Texas-rigged plastic worm is tough to beat at just about any bass water in the South.

Take, for instance, Erik Burns, a young bass angler who spends his fall with the waterfowling clients of his Rugged Duck Outfitters guide service. Between duck seasons, he occupies his spare time during the spring and summer months by targeting big bass, often with a Texas-rigged plastic worm or Ring Fry tied on the end of his line. Unlike me with that 8-inch motor-oil-colored worm described at the top of this piece, Burns prefers at times to downsize his plastic worm offerings.

"I like to go to plastics and finesse-fish with the smaller stuff when the fish aren't as aggressive, when they're about to go shallow, or when they are still suspended and the bigger fish haven't gotten their metabolism up yet," he offered.

Burns will go bigger with the soft plastics under certain circumstances "Later on in the summer, when the fish are deeper, I enjoy flippin' Texas-rigged worms around lily pads and in the pockets and along the edge of hydrilla," he said. "That's when I like to fish bigger worms in the 6- to 8-inch range to go for the big boys."

* * *

Big, small, or somewhere in between, it pays to have your tackle box stocked well this spring with a versatile arsenal of soft-plastic lures in an array of hues like grape, tequila sunris

e, red shad, black with a neon-yellow or red-flaked tail, motor oil, and junebug (among others).

Why do you need them? Because when fished at the right time, in the right way, and at the right place, plastic lures could help you land the biggest bass of your angling career.

And when it comes to springtime bass fishing, that's the true power of plastics.

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