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Spotted Bass and Mudbugs

Spotted Bass and Mudbugs
This nice spotted bass fell victim to a live crawfish. (Keith Sutton photo)

Spotted bass love crawfish like kids love candy.

This fall, if you go fishing for spots, or Kentucky bass as they’re often called, wrap your mind around that fact and don’t let go. You can catch spotted bass on any lure or live bait that might entice largemouths. If you want to catch lots of spots, however, fish crawfish or lures resembling crawfish. Your catch rate will soar.

Case in point. My friends Jeff, Chris and I were bass fishing on a big lake with healthy populations of both largemouth and spotted bass. Chris had caught an 8-pound largemouth a day earlier on a deep-diving, shad-colored crankbait. So all three of us started out fishing that same lure.

That paid off – at least to start. Chris hooked a 5-pound largemouth on his third cast. But try as we might, we couldn’t garner another hit on the minnow plugs.

Everyone changed lures. Jeff tied on a Rebel Deep Wee Crawfish. Chris changed to Bomber Fat Free Shad. I rigged a soft-plastic Yum Money Craw on a 1/4-ounce Booyah jig head.

Chris positioned his boat over an underwater hump, and we all made casts. Wham! Jeff hooked up immediately and brought in a 2 1/2-pound spotted bass. Before his fish was in the boat, I was hooked up, too. It was another spotted bass – a twin to Jeff’s.

When Jeff and I hooked up again on our next casts and brought in another pair of nice spots, Chris wasted no time changing lures. The crawfish-pattern Cotton Cordell Wiggle O he tied on proved irresistible to several jumbo Kentuckies.

For a solid hour, we caught one spotted bass and then another. We didn’t keep count, but between us that day, we caught dozens of spots up to 4 pounds.

Later that same week, my wife Theresa and I fished with our friends Lisa and Henry Snuggs on a nearby lake. Prior to the trip, I told our guide Jerry Blake about the great spotted bass fishing I had enjoyed two days earlier. “I’ll bring a bucket of live crawfish and we’ll give ‘em a try,” he said. “If they’re hitting artificials that well, we’ll load the boat with them on real baits.”

That we did. Jerry ran his boat to a deep, rock-strewn hump in mid-lake and all of us baited up with live crawfish. Each tail-hooked bait was weighted with two split shot, and each barely touched bottom before a nice spotted bass struck. At one time, Lisa, Theresa and Henry were all fighting bass simultaneously, and the action proved steady the entire time we were there. Henry landed one real trophy, a spotted bass weighing 4 1/2 pounds.

Fishing Live Crawfish

Lures produce lots of spots, but most savvy anglers agree the best spotted-bass enticement by far is a live crawfish. Any “mudbug” dangled within sight of a hungry spot will be gobbled up in a hurry.

Sometimes the hardest part of fishing live crawfish is obtaining the bait. Craws are available seasonally at many bait dealers, but often you’ll have to catch your own or pay some enterprising 10-year-old kid to perform the chore for you.

A good live-bait rig is the one used by my friend Jerry Blake. He ties a 2/0, blue Tru-Turn Aberdeen panfish hook at line’s end, then crimps two No. 5 split shot on the line above the hook. One split shot is 12 inches above the hook and the other 12 inches above that. Using two weights configured this way lessens the likelihood of getting hung in rocks and other bottom cover.

The best crawfish are 2 to 3 inches long. Anything larger is hard for most spotted bass to swallow. Break off the large pinchers before you cast. Clawless craws go down a bass’s gullet more easily and hang up less often.

When ready to fish, run the hook upward through the last third of the crawfish’s tail, so the bait can be retrieved in a natural, backward manner. Let the crawfish fall to the bottom, allow it to sit a few seconds and then reel the bait up about a foot. Now drop the bait back to the bottom and lift it again. Move the bait slowly, and when you feel a tap or movement of the line, count to 10 and set the hook. A few seconds usually pass before the bass swallows the crawfish. If you set the hook too soon, you’ll probably miss the fish.

Fishing With Lures

My favorite spotted-bass lure is a jig with a soft-plastic or pork-frog trailer. This is one of the best crawfish mimics available, and few spots refuse it if it’s not too big. Stick with a small or medium-sized jig – 1/16- to 1/4-ounce – and use trailers in 2- to 3-inch sizes. Some jig trailers that have proven productive for me include Yum’s 2 3/4-inch Money Craw and 2 1/2-inch CrawBug, Vertical Lures’ Chunk X, Berkley’s 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craw and Uncle Josh’s 3-inch Crawfrog.

Cast the lure and retrieve it in short hops across the bottom, doing your best to imitate the herky-jerky scurrying motion of a crawfish fleeing for cover. This is especially productive when fishing for spotted bass on rock- and gravel-strewn bottoms of mountain streams. Cast your jig past fish hideouts, then release line as the jigs sinks. When the lure hits bottom, your line will slacken. Tighten the line with a turn of the reel handle, then twitch the rod tip to hop the jig forward. As the jig sinks, lower the rod tip slowly, keeping the line taut. Keeping a taut line is important because bass usually inhale the lure as it falls. Continue hopping the jig throughout the retrieve.

Crawfish crankbaits are superb spotted-bass catchers as well, my favorites being those in the venerable Rebel Crawfish series. These, too, work best when fished on or near the bottom and retrieved so the lure closely resembles a crawfish running for its hideout. I find them particularly effective when targeting spots feeding on lake points at night. Crawfish come out at night and push themselves along, stirring up silt. You want the lure to do that, too. Retrieve it so it bumps bottom and creates a commotion bass can zero in on.

Crawfish-pattern lipless crankbaits like Bill Lewis Lures’ Rat-L-Trap also are versatile spotted-bass lures. Jig a sinking model over deep humps or beside steep bluffs, run a Carolina-rigged floater across the bottom with short jerks, or just swim a ‘Trap back with a steady retrieve. Here again, smaller usually works better. Instead of the 1/2-ounce Original Rat-L-Trap, for example, I use a 1/8-ounce Tiny-Trap or 1/4-ounce Mini-Trap.

When choosing from the wide variety of other lures available, bear in mind that spotted bass seldom visit shallow water. There are exceptions, of course, such as summer fish feeding on surface-running shad and spots in small upland rivers. But spotted bass typically occupy a deeper feeding niche than largemouths, staying 10 to 75 feet deep (sometimes deeper) year-round. They often spawn as deep as 25 feet.

Knowing this, you’ll want to employ lures you can work at these depths. Topwater plugs and shallow-running lures rarely are productive. Stick with artificials that get deep fast.

A Few More Tips

  • Basic equipment for many anglers who specialize in spotted bass is a 5 1/2 to 6 1/2-foot, light or ultralight rod matched with a spinning reel spooled with 4- to 6-pound-test line. With this type of fishing outfit, you can cast the light lures and baits spotted bass prefer farther and more accurately than you can with heavier baitcasting equipment.

  • If spotted bass seem persnickety, try adding a spritz of crawfish attractant such as Berkley’s Gulp! Alive! to your lure. That could be the boost you need to catch tight-lipped fish.

  • And finally, keep in mind the fact that spotted bass are school fish. Where you catch one, you can probably catch several to make the most out of a fun fishing day.

Good luck!

Looking for fishing shows on Outdoor Channel during the months of October – December? “The Hunt for Big Fish” and “Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors” both air in the last quarter of the year. Check the schedule for updated air times.

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