Want to catch a few largemouths this month? Then you better have these baits in your tackle box.
Pictured: Reaction Strike Rattlin' Revolution Shad
Whether it’s the ubiquitous Rat-L-Trap, or similar models like the Sugar Shad, Sebile Flat Shad, and others, these are about as universal a lure as one can find. Not only can they operate at virtually any depth and speed, but when properly used they are one of the best baits to trigger a reaction strike from non-feeding or sluggish post spawn bass.
Rip one quickly by a bass, and even the most disinterested fish is likely to take a swipe at it. Lure speed is a key, and the quicker the retrieve the more likely the bass is to react.
If that lure zips in from behind and above the bass, and then moves quickly away from the fish, a strike is almost guaranteed. It’s like dangling a ball of string in front of a cat! I’ve watched bass rocket up from the bottom in clear, 10-foot-plus water to nail a Trap presented in that manner.
One way anglers can capitalize on that strike trigger is to use the wind or current to their advantage.
A non-active bass normally faces into the current. In the absence of current they normally face into the wind. Regardless of the depth or cover, if an angler puts the wind or current to his back and retrieves the bait quickly against it, he has an excellent chance of making that strike-triggering presentation. And, there are a number of situations that savvy anglers look for to apply this tactic.
In lakes where bass have finished their spawn and are moving out from the shallow spawning sites, outer weed lines are a key habitat this month. A breeze blowing parallel along a weed line creates a perfect situation. Experienced anglers move their boat tight to the weed line with the wind at their back and burn a Trap tight to the weeds, and just a couple of feet below the surface.
In some shallow lakes, offshore hydrilla beds become the summer home of the bass and many fish are moving to them this month. That hydrilla hasn’t grown to the point where it tops out into surface mats. Often, it still is 3 to 5 feet below the surface. But, bass are holding on top of it. Burning a Trap over the top of it can be deadly, especially if there is a breeze the angler can put at his back. The lure may catch an occasional strand of hydrilla, and savvy anglers consider that a bonus — ripping the lure free from the hydrilla often results in a strike.
The same wind-at-the-back tactic also can apply in reservoirs along rock banks, standing brush lines, or any other cover edge bass may be holding on.
The speed of the retrieve is a strike trigger and a high speed, casting reel is an asset. So too, is monofilament line and a rod with a soft tip. A bass exploding on a fast-moving treble-hooked lure creates a violent collision that can rip those smaller hooks free. The stretch in mono line, combined with a soft tip and a lightly set drag, act as a shock absorber and turns many of those strikes into boated fish.
Speed isn’t the only way to score with these baits. On many deeper reservoirs bass are in the later stages of the spawn, and those that have finished their spawn are migrating back to main-lake waters from the coves and creek arms they spawned in. That migration occurs on the same main-lake points they used to reach the spawning areas and they stage there for a while. Many anglers have found that putting the boat on the shallow end of the point, casting a countdown vibrating crankbait towards the deeper end, letting it sink to the bottom, and then working it up the structure in short hops i0s very effective. Another option is to crawl it up the slope with periodic sharp jerks of the rod to make it leap off the bottom and then flutter back down.
Pictured: Smithwick's Devil Horse
The basic physiology of the bass gives them excellent upward vision and they are geared to attack from below. This month they definitely have an extra incentive to look upwards!
Once the bass finish their spawn many species of panfish and forage fish begin theirs. Some of those smaller species don’t survive the rigors of the spawn and it’s not uncommon to see them struggling their last on the surface. They are easy meals and the bass know it. That’s one reason why topwater baits are an excellent choice. One of the better choices is a slender model with front and rear propellers, like the Devil’s Horse, Boy Howdy, and similar baits.
The design of these lures allows them to be effective at a wide variety of retrieve speeds and styles that can suit whatever mood the bass happen to be in that day. They can be deadly when worked in very short twitches that do little more than ruffle the surface, or in longer sweeps and pauses. On some occasions, just reeled steadily works too.
These baits are often at their best under dimmer light. Top places to fish them are any shallow vegetated areas where panfish are spawning, or along cover edges in water depths up to 12 or so feet. They can “call” bass from quite a distance. The most effective colors can depend on your locale, but don’t overlook gold, chrome, or firetiger.
As effective as topwater plugs can be, there are times when bass merely boil and roll at them, but don’t take them. Just why the bass sometimes refuse to break the surface film to take a floating plug is known only to the fish, but savvy anglers have an effective response to those indecisive fish. Instead of dancing a topwater plug on the surface, they shift baits and dance one 4 or 5 feet below the surface.
Slender-bodied “minnow” plugs, like the Bomber Long A, and Rapala Husky Jerk, can be cast, cranked down, and then do an erratic dance below the surface. That often turns those boiling bass into biting bass. These lures can also be a better bet than surface baits when a wind ripples the surface enough to make topwater offerings ineffective. The top colors include gold with a black back, chrome with a blue or black back, or Tennessee shad.
These baits are normally at their best in relatively clear water with depths of less than 12 feet. But, anglers in deeper highland reservoirs have found that the can be effective in deeper water by adding wraps of lead soldering wire to the shaft of the hook, or using a countdown sinking model. Deeper running jerkbaits can be deadly along rock bluff walls and ledges.
Like the countdown vibrating crankbaits, these are lures that also benefit from mono line and softer-tipped rods to turn more strikes into boated bass.
The key is the right bait, the right retrieve, and more importantly, the right depth and cover situation.
The baits that have proven most effective are those single-blade models in 3/8 to 1/2 ounce. Some anglers favor bending the blade-holding arm down so that the blade strikes the main wire to produce a “clicking” noise. Some models also are offered with a metal extension that strikes the blade as the bait is retrieved to produce that sound. Some days a clicking bait out produces a non-clicking bait, and some days the reverse it true. It pays to have both options.
Adding a trailer hook is mandatory. Some of the largest bass caught on buzzbaits do not explode on the bait. They just nip at it, and the trailer hook gets them. Even on an explosive strike, that extra trailing hook is a plus. It can keep the bass from throwing the heavy lure on a head-shaking jump.
Color selection isn’t always critical. Plain aluminum blades with a white, chartreuse or black skirt are normally the most effective. Sometimes one skirt color is more effective than another, so it pays to have a few different skirts on hand. If the bass are just blowing up on the bait, but not taking it, changing the skirt color can sometimes help.
The retrieve speed is important, and fast isn’t best. Under virtually all conditions, the best retrieve is one that brings the bait to the surface at a speed just fast enough to keep it on top while hearing the steady “gurgle” of the blade on the water. Erratic retrieves are not as effective as a steady, smooth, and moderately slow one.
Where the bait is fished is critical. Water depths of less than 8 feet are best, but the most important factor is to allow the bass to hear the bait approaching, but keeping it shielded from the bass until it is right on top of them. The longer a bass has to look at a buzzbait the less likely they are to hit it.
This lure is made to order for locations where eelgrass, peppergrass, dollar bonnets, or bulrushes provide the ability to cast the bait into cover and bring it over an open pocket or a distinct edge where a bass may be holding. While doing so, avoid the temptation to watch the bait intensely. That can result is setting the hook too soon on a strike. Instead, watch it out of the corner of your eye while you focus on your next casting target. That small delay gives the bass time to get the bait down, turn away, and results in more hook ups.
Plastic worms are available in a staggering array of sizes, and the most effective size often depends upon water clarity and the cover they’re fished in. Under most circumstances, clear water and a lack of vegetation make 5- or 6-inch models the best bet. In darker waters, especially those with a lot of vegetation, models in the 7- to 10-inch range are often best. When it comes to colors, bass in some waters have color preferences, but overall it’s hard to go wrong with June bug, green pumpkin, black-and-blue combinations, red shad or translucent blue.
There are a number of ways to fish plastic worms.
The classic Texas rig is an excellent choice for probing weed or wood cover. In deeper rock-bound reservoirs slipping a worm onto an exposed hook, lead head jig is an effective way to cover pea gravel shores and bluff banks with ledges.
Shifting to a Carolina rig with a sinker in the 1/2- to 1-ounce range and a 3- or 4-foot leader is a deadly way to thoroughly cover deeper main-lake points, channel edges, offshore humps and bars that hold bass on many man-made reservoirs this month.
In shallower, weedy, waters, a modified version of the Carolina rig has proved highly effective. Rig a 1/4-ounce sinker ahead of a swivel, add a 12-inch leader, but use a Texas rigging on a 7- to 10-inch curly-tail worm. Crawl it slowly through submerged hydrilla, eelgrass, bulrush, lily pads, or any other cover you can find. It’s as weedless as one can make a lure, covers water pretty quickly, and the bass love it.