Here's a spring plan of attack using those bass soft plastics that fill your gear bag.
Take a look at the front deck of the typical bass angler's boat and what do you see? In many cases an arsenal of rods rigged with a multitude of presentations.
Why? Because, like the tools in the tool chest of a mechanic who must tackle a variety of jobs in a day's work, a well-rounded angler is equipped to face diverse scenarios, something especially important during the spring, when largemouth bass activity exists in a mixture of patterns. Soft-plastic baits are a major player in this game.
Today's anglers have available a huge variety of soft plastic bait options available to them. On any water open to bass fishing during the springtime, when largemouth bass are in some sort of pre-spawn to spawn-related phase, soft plastics — both stand-alone and fished in combination with other lures — are often an extremely effective choice for catching bass.
DEFINING SOFT PLASTICS
Worms, minnows, shad, crawfish — for every natural critter that could potentially be bass food, there's a pretty good chance a soft-plastic bait exists that mimics it.
Consider sinking worms like Yamamoto's Senko; Zoom's Super Fluke, which represents slim-profile minnows; soft swimbaits such as Keitech's Fat Swing Impact, which suggests shad and similar baitfish; Strike King's Rage Tail, representative of the many crawfish imitating soft baits; and Yum's Chunk, which serves as a great trailer on jigs and spinnerbaits, adding bulk to the combination, slowing the rate of fall, and providing more action.
All these styles of soft baits and trailers have a place in springtime bass fishing.
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Some baits fish faster and others more slowly — soft-plastic baits included — and that is an important consideration during the pre-spawn, when your first objective is to find fish. And since many soft baits tend to fish on the slow side, a choice outside this family is often an option for the first rod off the deck. Find the fish fast, then fill the livewell with slower soft plastics.
For veteran tournament angler and Bassmaster Elite pro Dave Lefebre, a fast-moving lipless crankbait like Rapala's Rippin Rap is often the first tool to be put to use, particularly when he's starting cold, with no recent prior knowledge about where bass might be located.
A Terminator spinnerbait is another option in this case. Lefebre fishes the Rippin' Rap on a 7-foot, 3-inch medium heavy 13 Fishing casting rod paired with a high-speed (7.3 to 1) casting reel loaded with 12-pound fluorocarbon Sufix. For the spinnerbait, he goes with a 7-foot, 6-inch medium rod, the high-speed reel spooled with 17- to 20-pound test fluorocarbon.
"I like to really cover the water," Lefebre said, explaining his initial use of the Rippin' Rap. "I'm targeting areas where fish are likely to be coming up from deeper basins and bluff areas, paying attention to grass points, stumps, any kind of target that could hold a fish at this time. I like to fish fast, and then slow down once I've found them."
Lefebre said initial movements of bass to the shallows are likely caused by a variety of factors such as increases in daylight and the first major warming trends that elevate water temperatures to around 55 degrees.
Once he's made contact he slows down and pitches a skirted Terminator jig dressed with a Yamamoto Flappin' Hog. When using the Flappin' Hog as a jig trailer he scales down its size by trimming off the two long appendages located where the antennae would be on a live craw.
Soft jerkbaits like the Super Fluke and soft swimbaits such as the Fat Swing Impact also warrant space on the deck during the pre-spawn period. Both can be used to cover the water in a relatively fast manner, such as when working over a flat or shelf located close to a drop into a deeper creek channel or basin.
It's more likely the flat will attract bass if suitable spawning locations are close by. These areas often serve as staging areas, collecting bass before they scatter into the shallows and begin making beds. As such, it really pays to do as Lefebre suggests, slowing down and working the water more thoroughly once you've caught one.
A variety of rigging options can be used to fish a fluke-style jerkbait. During this time, simply rigging it with a wide gap worm hook in the 3/0 to 4/0 range (for a bait in the 4.5- to 5-inch range) is a good option. This makes a nice setup for working shallow flats that feature water in the 2- to 5-foot range. Fishing the fluke unweighted allows you to tailor its depth by the way you fish it.
You can keep the bait moving, employing a twitch-pause cadence, when randomly covering the water. Giving the bait a touch of freedom by not recovering all of the line after each pause keeps it from pulling up close to the surface. When you come upon a higher percentage spot, such as a stump, rock or weed clump, you can slow things down, allowing the fluke to sink deeper.
Flukes can be line twisters, so it pays to incorporate a small barrel swivel, in line, a few inches in front of the hook. This helps eliminate line twist and also adds a bit of weight out front, which also helps keep the fluke from pulling to the surface on the twitch. Fishing a fluke on a baitcaster rather than a spinning rod another means of reducing line twist.
Flukes can also be fished in tandem on a Donkey Rig. This presents two baits at the same time as well, and has the potential to catch 'em two at a time, something quite possible when you bump into groups of fish during the pre-spawn.
Swimbaits are another cover-the-water option during the pre-spawn. One of the better rigging options, particularly during the spring before weed growth gets too high, is on an open jig hook like VMC's Half Moon jighead or a darter head. Underspin jigheads like Picasso's Single Barrel Underspin and Fish Head Underspin add a touch of flash, and can increase the catch rate, particularly if the water is dirty.
Be sure to rig the swimbait as straight as possible. A drop of super glue to affix the head of the swimbait to the back of the jighead helps economize baits. A steady retrieve often works best, stalling the cadence for a split second occasionally to help trigger any followers.
Once water temperatures reach the high 50s and low 60s, Lefebre expects there to be some bass in the shallows, even if they are not yet on beds.
"At that time, I know the time is right," Lefebre said. "The buds are out on the trees and there should be some fish shallow."
Lefebre gets as shallow as he can, feeling that many anglers make the mistake of not getting in "thin enough" water as they should. He targets logs and stumps, places bass will use as shallow cover just before they get on beds. Flooded bushes can be excellent when present.
"And when it happens, it happens fast," he noted, referring to the movement of bass onto beds. "It's not a case of a bed here, a bed there. They move in overnight in waves."
As with the pre-spawn, Lefebre fishes fast with a spinnerbait or lipless crankbait when covering flats, fishing relatively featureless banks and flats in between the obvious cover.
When he comes upon specific targets he runs the spinnerbait by it, and often flips a jig next to it. In the case of a bush, he makes sure he gets a jig up underneath the bush, catching bass most folks bypass, thinking it's too shallow to hold a fish.
Where visibility allows, Lefebre likes to target specific beds, maximizing the effort by picking times when the sun is high, allowing for the best light penetration, and choosing sunny, windless days to apply this tactic.
"I go into a kind of 'hunting mode' when sight fishing, using light colored clothing that blends well with the sky background, and keeping the boat back as far as possible," he noted. "And I like to make the first cast count, so I don't spend two hours trying to catch a big one."
While sight fishing can be productive, in most cases beds are not visible due to murky water, cloudy weather or a rippled surface. Under these conditions and when the water temperature is in the mid-60s, and Lefebre knows fish are on beds but can't see them, he covers the water with a flashy spinnerbait or jerkbait.
He uses them as search baits, beause bass will often flash at the lure and even if they don't get hooked, they expose their location. When he comes upon a specific target, he again picks up the jig rod, or one set up with a Texas rig, typically a Terminator tungsten worm weight, 3/0 hook and Yamamoto Flappin' Hog.
"Bass spawn around logs, bush roots, dock posts, things like that, so I get a lot more specific when I'm around that type of cover, and really slow down," he said. "At that time of year, you miss a lot of fish. People think they are missing fish and just keep on going, and keep missing fish. But these are bed fish. You need to stay on them. You might miss fish the first five casts and then catch it."
In addition to the jig/plastic trailer and Texas-rigged options explained by Lefebre, other soft plastic baits come into play during the spawn. Senko-style baits and tube jigs are along them.
The Senko and the similar cigar-shaped sinking worms are ideal for fishing over visible beds, or areas highly likely to feature beds. They are not a fast bait, so they're best when you have a specific target to fish, at which point the slowness of the bait is an advantage.
The slow sink rate of the Senko allows it to "hover" as it slowly sinks toward a bed, an action that can be maddening for a bass protecting the nest. In fact, bass on any kind of cover, before and after the spawn, also have a hard time resisting a meal that looks so easy to catch.
Some things to consider when fishing a Senko: The size of the bait has much to do with how it fishes — for example, a 5-inch bait is not only longer than its 4-inch counterpart, it's also significantly thicker. As such, it sinks quicker. This allows you to tailor things to the situations you're faced with. If it's perfectly calm, the shorter bait might be the right choice.
But if there's some wind — which plays havoc with unweighted Senkos — it might be necessary to move up to the heavier bait. The same is true regarding depth, in which case it's wise to fish the bigger bait to achieve the proper sink rate and maintain feel.
While Texas-rigged Senkos work at this time of year, the fish often respond better to wacky rigged baits. Applying an O-ring to the bait (by use of a special O-ring tool) and then running the hook under the O-ring maximizes baits. Simply hooking through the middle of a Senko (and not using an O-ring) will catch fish, but you'll go through a lot of baits, as Senkos are soft and tear easily.
It's easy to deep-hook bedding bass when using a Senko, particularly when it's breezy and you have a reduced sense of feel. Under these conditions it's wise to switch to a bait like a tube jig. Last season I fared well during the spring working a Z-Man TubeZ on a VMC Half Moon jighead.
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Coming off an extremely stressful time, bass in the post-spawn are typically not aggressive chasers of prey, which can make them tough to catch.
On large reservoirs, where bass do not all spawn at the same time, it's possible to minimize this by focusing on areas of the lake that warm slower, where it's likely some spawning fish are still present.
But once the spawn is complete, rather than trying to locate post-spawn stragglers that might still be scattered around spawning sites, Lefebre moves out to areas where he expects to catch summertime fish, targeting fish already waking up from the post-spawn blues, ones in a more active mood. Skirted jigs with trailers and Texas-rigged soft baits again become key presentations.
In conclusion, the judicious use of soft-plastic baits during the spring spawning period will help you put more largemouth in the boat this spring.