Bass fishing with mini-lures and light tackle is hardly new. Yet even in these days of heavy fishing pressure and super-wary bass, few serious bass anglers use this type of tackle due to some noticeable drawbacks.
Most obvious is the problem of landing fish. An angler will definitely break off a certain number of bass, especially big bass, on light tackle. This problem is compounded in the thick and sometimes rocky cover frequented by largemouths and spotted bass.
Anglers also find it difficult to set the hook with the whippy light or ultralight rods needed to cast mini-lures. Bass have bony mouths, and such rigs often don’t have enough backbone to consistently drive the hook home.
There are some bass anglers, too, who still prefer to horse their fish into the boat as quickly as possible. This technique lands fish, certainly, but only if bass follow the script. Horsing techniques that frequently fail even with stout gear are absolutely doomed when applied to light tackle, which isn’t designed to handle such strain.
Despite any shortcomings, however, mini-baits and light tackle are legitimate and sometimes necessary tools for serious bass anglers. Bassing with such gear is pure fun, too. Nothing you can use will outfish small lures for sheer numbers of bass or eclipse the sheer joy of catching these fish.
Certainly, there’s more to light-tackle fishing than catching lots of bass. But that advantage shouldn’t be downplayed. If you’re like me, you occasionally need dividends on your angling investment. How many times have you fished all day and only caught one or two bass? Or no bass? Doesn’t it revive your spirit when you’re catching fish left and right, even if most of the fish are small?
Other advantages are equally noteworthy. For example, small combos allow anglers to place mini-lures in tight places without those maddening nuisances called “professional overruns.” Few fishermen can consistently toss lures very far beneath a wooden pier or boat dock without slight backlashes from a level-wind reel. As a result, most baitcasters fish the edges of such structures, catching a few fish but leaving many lurking in the darkness.
The practiced light-tackle angler, however, easily flips small lures into often neglected corners. His tiny artificials are about the size of natural forage and quite likely will elicit more strikes than larger lures thrown off the mark.
Another common situation where small lures and light tackle yield big payoffs is when the water is extremely clear or calm. If you’re throwing big lures under these conditions, you might as well be chunking bricks. This spooks fish, and if you don’t believe it, try this. Fish a stretch of bank with a big lure, then fish a similar stretch - or even the same one – with smaller lures that make a barely audible touchdown. You’ll find light line and mini-lures are less intimidating to bass, thus increasing your catch.
Yet another place where mini-lures shine is when bass move into large expanses of dense cover like willow thickets. There’s usually a lot of fishing traffic on the outer edges of cover, but few anglers try to get into the center where many angler-shy bass hide.
In this situation, the basser can pull his boat over the edge and back into the thicket. Then he can use a long pole and small jig to work the cover. Grab the line, pull the jig snug against the rod tip, work it back in the brush carefully, then let it down into an opening. You’ll probably lose many fish and get hung some. But when bass are buried in cover, this may be the ticket to success.
The small spinners often used by panfish anglers also are effective bass-catchers. These include some of my favorites like the Mepps Aglia, the Panther Martin Spinner, Worden’s Rooster Tail and the Luhr Jensen Shyster. Fish them around open-water structures - bridge pilings, riprap, rock outcroppings, boat docks, underwater points, submerged humps, etc. - to avoid snagging the treble hooks.
Small crankbaits also work wonders on persnickety bass. Many models are available, but I’m partial to those in Rebel Lures’ line, which have proven to be great bass-catchers for me for years now. These include the ¾-inch Rebel Humpback (my favorite), the 2-inch Wee-R, the 1 ½-inch Teeny Wee-Crawfish (a really superb smallmouth and spotted bass lure), the 1 ½-inch Teeny Wee Frog, and a variety of mini bug-imitators such as the Bumble Bug, Big Ant, Crickhopper, Hellgrammite and Cat’r Crawler.
A back-pocket-size tackle box is big enough to hold all these lures in a variety of colors, and because this collection allows fishing from the surface to the bottom, it’s hard to beat during fall when bass may be almost anywhere within the water column.
If you give some of these mini-lures a try and hook a big bass as a result, there’s no need to kiss your fish goodbye. Keep your cool, don’t rush, and apply steady pressure against a properly adjusted drag. You’ll be surprised how quickly bass yield to light gear.
Yes, some of the best fish you hook will break off or twist free. But you’ll catch a surprising number of them, and you’ll understand what fishing mini-lures is all about - putting fish on the dry side of a boat when nothing else will produce.
Beware, though. After you’ve tried fishing with mini-lures, you may find yourself coming back to them again and again. Catching bass on light tackle compounds the thrills, challenges your angling abilities, and is pure, unadulterated fun. It is, in a word, addictive.