May 01, 2017
Want a remedy for persnickety, won’t-strike-anything bass? Try this prescription.
Long jigging poles. Ultralight rods and reels. Four- to 8-pound fishing line. Fraction-of-an-ounce jigs, crankbaits, spoons and spinners.
“Looks more like a cure for crappie fever,” you might say. “Pretty weak medicine for big ol’ bass.”
Well, granted, this type of fishing gear is more likely to be used by crappie anglers than bass fishermen. After all, no basser wants to lose a heavyweight trophy on too-small tackle.
There are times, however, when crappie systems – combinations of the lean tackle mentioned above – are legitimate tools for the serious bass angler.
When water is extremely clear or calm, for instance, and you’re casting big bass lures tied on heavy line, you may be inadvertently spooking your quarry and puzzling over the lack of action. If you observe these water conditions, and your normal bass tackle proves unproductive, try switching to the light line and mini-lures employed by many crappie anglers.
For example, toss a 1/8-ounce spinner on 4-pound line instead of a 2-ounce crankbait on 12-pound line. Or trade your big baitcasting rig and 4-inch topwaters for an ultralight spinning combo and some mini-crankbaits or tiny spoons. Chances are, the delicate crappie gear will be less intimidating to bass in such quiet, transparent environments, thus increasing your catch rate.
Yes, you’ll break off some bass, especially big bass, on such light tackle. But wouldn’t you rather lose a few than get no strikes at all? Thought so.
Light crappie tackle also yields big payoffs when bass move into dense cover like weedbeds, willow stands and submerged treetops. Most anglers fish the outer edges of such cover, but few get into the center where many angler-shy bass hide.
In this situation, try moving your boat into the thicket as far as you can, away from the heavily fished edge. Then, set your bass gear aside, and use a long jigging pole, 6- to 8-pound line and a crappie jig to work the thick cover.
How? First, tie on a small jig, pulling the knot up to the top of the hook eye so the jig hangs perpendicular to your line. Then, grab the line near the reel, pull the jig all the way up to the rod tip, work the pole back into the brush carefully and release your line, lowering the jig down through an opening into the water.
Now, slowly raise and lower your rod tip, letting the jig down to the bottom, then gradually bringing it to the surface and repeating the process. If this doesn’t elicit a quick strike, lower the jig to mid-depths, then hold it at that level. A stationary crappie jig quivers and “breathes” like a tiny, nervous baitfish, and that’s usually all it takes to entice a nearby bass to strike.
Of course, you still must contend with breakoffs, and you’ll get hung up occasionally. But you’ll be amazed at how many bass you extract from hidey-holes you once passed by. Try it and see.
Crappie systems are also excellent for fishing neglected corners around wooden piers and docks. Few anglers can make accurate, tangle-free casts beneath these structures using a level-wind reel. It’s fairly easy, however, to flip small lures into tight places with an ultralight spinning or spincast rig, or to drop them right on the target with a 9- to 14-foot crappie pole. Tiny artificials are about the size of natural bass forage and are more likely to elicit strikes than larger lures that miss the mark.
Beware. After you’ve tried crappie-systems bassing, you may find yourself coming back to it again and again. Catching bass on ultralight tackle compounds the thrills, challenges your angling abilities and is pure, unadulterated fun. It is, in a word, addictive.
If you do get hooked, and you want to tip the odds slightly less in favor of ol’ Bucketmouth, remember these eight tips:
- Use good line. Always the most important link between an angler and his bass, line is even more critical in light-tackle angling. Buy the best you can afford, and when fishing, check it frequently for nicks and abrasions.
- Tie knots carefully. Since knots are the weak link in terminal tackle, the knot in light line is especially critical. Tie knots carefully, wetting the line before pulling them tight. Jerking a dry line tight can generate enough friction to damage light line. Learn to tie knots like the uni-knot that retain close to 100 percent of the line test.
- Avoid cheap reels. Light tackle is not synonymous with cheap tackle. Gears and drags are important items on an ultralight reel. Choose brands you can depend on and buy a reel rated for the lure and line sizes you intend to use.
- Choose the right rod. There’s little advantage owning one of the short rods most often associated with ultralight angling, unless you fish small, thickly canopied waters. For spinfishing, choose a 6-1/2-foot light or ultralight rod with a flexible tip for good casting distance. Jigging poles should be lightweight for easy handling, with flexibility in the tip and good backbone in the butt section.
- When fishing jigs, use the proper retrieve. Slower is usually better with jigs. In fact, most marabou and tube-skirt crappie jigs work best when hardly moved at all. One exception to the “slower-is-better” rule is when casting to surface-feeding schools. When bass are running shad or other baitfish topside, cast a jig into the melee, and reel as fast as possible.
- Wage a patient battle. There’s an added bonus to using crappie tackle for bass: you become a better angler. You graduate from the hurry-up-and-land-’em school quickly, because you just can’t horse a bass in on light line. When you’ve learned this (the tuition is usually several lost fish, paid in advance), you learn to play your fish carefully and wear it down with the rod and the reel drag.
- Always carry a landing net. It’s impractical to land your prize by hoisting with your line. Light lines seldom hold in such situations, so a net is essential. Make sure the fish is played out before slipping a net under it. A green fish can spook at the net and respond with a strong, line-breaking surge.
- Don’t have “great expectations.” If you come into this style of bassing hoping to land the next world line-class record, you’re probably gonna be disappointed. Maybe not, but probably.
Better to do it for a refreshing change of pace, or an extra chance at action when normal routines aren’t producing. With that attitude, you’ll have fun aplenty and won’t go home disappointed.