December 15, 2016
My buddy Bill fishes for big bass exclusively. He’s caught hundreds of largemouths over 10 pounds, scores over 12 and a few that topped 15. He catches these hawgs on jumbo lures, including some he designed himself.
“What kind of lure are you fishing?” I asked him on our first bassing trip together. It was autumn. Trees surrounding the lake were painted crimson and gold. I was tying on a normal-size chugger plug, not watching my fishing companion. He made a cast just as I started.
Bluuurp! I heard his lure before he answered. It made a sound like a big stone dropped in the water.
“A buttermilk Pop-a-Top,” he answered. “It’s a chugger plug from my line of lures, about twice as big as that little thing you’re tying on. You said you wanted big bass for photos, but you won’t catch any on lures that every little bass in the lake will hit. Cut that little thing off, and tie on one of these.”
He tossed me another huge chugger from his tacklebox. Then, he yanked the plug he had cast just a moment before, producing another blurping noise. At the same instant, Old Faithful erupted, or so it seemed. The chugger disappeared. Bill reared back on his rod. A big bucketmouth skyrocketed from the water.
The largemouth gave a tussle, but Bill won the bout. That bass, which he released, pushed the 8-pound mark. The one he caught next, on the same lure, was even bigger.
Both those bass, and several 4- to 6-pounders taken later that day, were all caught on topwater lures bigger than any I’d ever seen. And amazingly, even I caught bass, including a fat 7-1/2-pounder. The fact is, never, on a single day, had I caught so many sizeable largemouths. And never before had I used such huge lures. I’m slow at times, but this fact did not escape me. BIG LURES. BIG BASS. There was a distinct corollary. That fishing trip opened my eyes to that fact, and now I believe in big lures for big fall bass more than ever.
If an angler sticks to extra-large lures exclusively, he’s likely to catch many more big bass over the long haul than he will casting smaller lures. However, he’ll probably sacrifice quantity for quality. The total number of largemouths hooked is likely to be considerably smaller. But the average size of those landed will probably far exceed the average size of bass caught on smaller offerings.
After that first trip with Bill, I took some of his big Pop-a-Tops and tried them on several close-to-home bass ponds I’d fished many times before. In three of the 10 ponds I fished, the larger lures produced the biggest bass I had seen in that particular body of water, a fact I could not attribute to mere coincidence. During the 15 years I’d been fishing one pond, I had never caught a bass exceeding 5 pounds. But the first time I blurped one of Bill’s big chuggers in the water there, I caught an 8-pound, 7-ounce largemouth.
I have several ideas why larger lures are more effective on larger fish in fall. First, all the forage animals hatched in spring have grown to mature or near-mature sizes. Thus, it’s only natural that bass, especially larger specimens, will be keying in on these bigger prey species to fatten up for the coming winter.
Also, bass don’t get big by using lots of energy running down mere tidbits of food. Big fish want a big mouthful. As often as not, heavy bass ignore small forage animals and small lures. They are more apt to grab something large so they don’t have to feed as often.
It’s also possible that bigger lures are effective because they’re more unique. Fewer anglers tie on giant lures, so bass aren’t accustomed to seeing them. If you bring a lure past a big bass, and it resembles a lure the fish has seen dozens of times, the bass may be reluctant to strike. It won’t be as reticent, however, about grabbing a bigger lure that has a profile not seen on standard-sized lures.
A bigger lure also eliminates most smaller bass bites, some of which may interfere with a larger bass getting to the bait.
In autumn, the big lures I fish most often are topwaters. As the water cools with the changing of the seasons, bass migrate from deep, summer haunts to shallow shoreline cover, making them easier to find and catch. Bait animals also move to shallow areas, and bass go on a feeding binge preparing for the lean months ahead. The fish are ravenous and willing to travel farther to take a lure, so topwater fishing is at its best.
Of course, surface lures aren’t the only good enticements for fall bass. I frequently nab jumbo bass on oversized diving plugs, spinnerbaits and other lures as well. I strongly believe, however, that the only thing better than catching a big bass is catching a big bass on a topwater lure. Watching the wake of a big bass homing in on a surface lure is one of bass fishing’s greatest thrills.
Chuggers, or poppers, are my favorite autumn hawg-catchers. These lures have a concave mouth designed to catch water and make a variety of noises when worked on top. Two of my favorite “biggies” are the 7-inch Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper, a lure more than twice as big as most standard-sized chuggers, and the 5-inch Creek Chub Knuckle-head, another monstrous chugger. Cast one close to cover and allow it to sit quietly a few seconds. Then tighten your line and jerk the lure. A gentle yank may produce a little spritz of water, a sharper snap will make a noticeable pop, and a forceful jerk elicits a deep bluuurp! Experiment with different movements to see which produce the most strikes.
I love fishing prop baits, too, with my favorite biggies being the 4-1/2-inch Smithwick Devil’s Horse, Heddon’s 4-1/2-inch Wounded Zara Spook and Cotton Cordell’s 4-1/2-inch Boy Howdy. On retrieve, water twirls the propellers, causing them to sputter. Use a slow, steady retrieve to cover large areas or employ a twitch-then-pause retrieve to fish small spots thoroughly. Another method is to begin your retrieve the instant the lure hits the water, keeping it sputtering with back-to-back jerks all the way back to the boat.
Heddon’s Zara Spook and other so-called “stickbaits” also are favored fall lunker lures. These long, cigar-shaped lures have no propellers, lips or other built-in action, yet they’re extremely effective when walked across the surface with the proper combination of rod movement and reel retrieve. Most are already large compared to standard-sized topwaters, yet the bigger versions perform even better than smaller ones in this regard. Don’t use a 3-1/2-inch Super Spook Jr., for example, when you can use the 5-inch Super Spook.
Other larger-than-average topwaters I like include big crawlers such as Arbogast’s 4-1/2-inch Jitterbug XL (half again as big as a regular Jitterbug) and, when working really heavy cover, big soft-plastic rats and mice like Snag Proof’s Frogzilla (which is as big as a full-sized bullfrog). Shallow-diving plugs also work well this time of year, and there are many oversized versions to try, such as Bomber’s 7-inch Magnum Long A and Cordell’s 7-inch Red Fin.
The bottom line is this: if you’re targeting trophy largemouths this season, it doesn’t matter so much what brand of lure you use, so long as it’s a big lure. In fall, big lures equal big bass, and big topwater lures equal big excitement. Check it out and see.