February 2006 Archives

Topwater Plugs and Lures

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The Dry Fly Equivalent


General information: Credited with the first commercially produced topwater plug, James Heddon, founder of the Heddon Tackle Company, began a fishing revolution with his wood-carved frog plug. Heart stopping surface attacks are the hallmark of topwater plugs and lures ever since Heddon introduced his solid, wood-bodied lures. The topwater category is broad and covers traditional plugs, buzz baits, prop baits, surface running crankbaits, chuggers, poppers and hollow bodied frogs. During the spawn bass will hit a topwater lure to protect their spawning bed. Cast beyond the bed and slowly reel it into the zone and stop. Roland Martin recommends waiting for ten or more seconds and then slightly twitching the lure. Repeat this procedure and then pull the lure under the water to the center of the bed and then allow the lure to float to the top. Repeat the procedure. The male bass is likely to strike at any time during the sequence. Cast a plug to any feeding bass early in the morning or at dusk. Fish a plug during the heat of the day into downed trees.


Moving Up from the Bottom


General information: The Crankbait is a diving lure designed to represent forage fish. The diving depth is determined by the size and angle of the lip. Crankbaits can run in one foot of water to 20-feet of water in many conditions, which makes it as versatile as fishing with a worm. Crankbait manufactures note the diving range on the package of their containers. Characterized by a darting and wobbling motion, most crankbaits float to the surface at rest. In addition to their life-like animations, a secondary advantage of the crankbait is that they are extremely snag resistant, as the lip and bulbous body serve as a deflecting shield for the attached treble hooks. Hard body Jerkbaits are generally more streamline to represent shad baits. They have the same characteristic diving bill and perform very similar to the crankbaits. The primary difference between a crankbait and a jerkbait is found in the two names. Crankbaits are designed to be cranked at a consistent retrieval speed; whereas as Jerkbaits are generally fished on the surface or in shallow water conditions with the retrieval incorporating quick jerks to the lure. (Yes, there are soft plastic jerkbaits as well.) Before you randomly select crankbaits or hard-bodied jerkbaits for largemouth bass, research the type and size of the predominant baitfish in your local waters. Long casts provide a longer retrieve for the targeted depth of the lure. Rattlebaits, as the name suggests, are hollow bodied diving lures with shot added to the body cavity. They do not float, and they are lipless. Aside from their appealing gyrations, Rattletraps add sound to their fish catching appeal, and their slanted nose protects them from snags and debris. Because of their weight, they may also be used to jig the bottom.

Line size: 15 to 17 pound monofilament line is most common.
Colors: The colors and patterns are endless. Research your waters for the most predominant forage fish to help in pattern selection.

Presentation: Make long casts in order to achieve the diving depth the lure is designed to reach.
Tip: In addition to keeping hooks sharp after run-ins with snags, a crankbait can be tuned to run left or right, which is an advantage when fishing the shady side of a dock or pilings.

Spinnerbaits / Buzzbaits
General information: Popularized in the 1960’s, Spinnerbaits have been referenced in catalogs and literature since the late 1800’s. As the name implies, the jig-type bait is attached to a v-shaped wire. At the base of one side of the “V” is the jig body with hook and an attached skirt usually made of rubber or plastic. The other side of the “V” is reserved for the spinner blades (one or two). The spinnerbait is most effective in the warmer months when bass are active, and it is an excellent searcher pattern in shallow water. The most popular spinnerbait is the ¼ oz. in black or white with a number 4 or 5 French or Colorado blade. Tournament angler and television host John Fox states in his video, How, When & Where to Catch Bass that thirty tournament professionals were asked the following question: If you had to select one lure to fish an unfamiliar lake, what lure would you select. Twenty-nine responded that they would choose the spinnerbait. Read Dave's review of John Fox's excellent national bestselling video on bass fishing.

Blades and blade finishes: (4)(5)(6) larger, rounder blades such as the Colorado blade keep the lure lifting upwards; use #2 and #3 blades to pull the lure deeper. The smaller willow leaf blades work best in grass or weeds with minimal vibration. (4) The Indiana blade is the intermediate choice. Blade finishes should be selected based on the clarity of the water. Silver or nickel reflects the most light, but one must be careful not to spook fish with too much flash. Hammered copper or brass is the most common choice for warm, slightly turbid water conditions. Select a dark or black blade for muddy or murky water where sound and silhouette is most important.

Skirts: chartreuse, white, black are the favorites.

Trailer hook (stinger): The trailer hook should be the same size as the spinner hook and placed so it is positioned upwards with a rubber keeper.

Added Dressings: Some anglers add a pork frog or pork eel.
Presentation: One advantage of a spinnerbait is that it can be retrieved slowly or quickly through a variety of conditions. It is an excellent lure for reflex strikes. Cast to the shady sides of cover, and don’t overlook bouncing the spinnerbait off a rock or branch and allowing the bait to flutter underwater before starting the retrieve. Smaller spinnerbaits are best used in cooler water in the spring or fall. Scale down in size and speed retrieval for cold water.

For a thorough presentation on fishing spinnerbaits, read Largemouth Bass an In-Fisherman Handbook of Strategies. (ISBN: 0-929384-11-3) or John Weiss’ book, The Bass Angler’s Almanac (ISBN: 1-58574-314-7. Read Dave’s review on his pick for best bass fishing books.

Buzzbaits: Similar to a spinnerbait, Buzzbaits have attitude. They’re great for shallow water fishing over flats with weeds barely reaching the surface. They are noisy, surface lures, and they are very effective when fished over active fish in off-colored water with temperatures of 60-degrees and up.

Jigging for Bass

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General information: The jig, regardless of its size, color or configuration, has one thing in common, and that is the hook has a molded lead head. The size of the hook and the size of the lead head determine whether a grub or a crawdad imitation will be attached. Jigs are best used in cold water in and around heavy cover. Some jigs come with wire weedguards so they are excellent choices for pitching or flipping throughout the seasons. Typically, a jig is fished vertically by lifting it off the bottom and then allowing it to fall back to the bottom. The jig can also be cast to a target and slowly worked up and down as it progresses back to the boat. Jigs may also be embellished with pork trailers.


Jig Hook Size: (6) 3/0, 4/0, 5/0 (photo)

Jig Skirts / Cover: deer hair; marabou (photos)

Common Jig Head Styles: (photos)
The round head is best suited for vertical jigging, but it does tend to ensnare grass and frequently gets caught in cover. The banana head affords more protection from hang-ups and works well in rock cover. The stand-up jig is designed to sink on the flat weight, while the hook rides upright. The stand-up jig is an excellent choice for attaching other baits. The flat-bottom helps keep the jig from slipping deep into weed cover. The football-head jig works well for weed retrievals, and it too is a good choice for attaching pork rind and other baits.

Ideal Water Temperature for Fishing a Jig: 50-60


Presentation: Traditional jigging simply lifts the jig of the bottom in a vertical rod lift, allowing the bait to pulsate down to the bottom. This method is also used to target suspended bass along steep cliffs or drop-offs. Another technique, which is similar to fishing the worm, is to slowly crawl the jig up and over structure, lifting and twitching the jig in a pattern of your choosing. Always be mindful of what you are doing when you get a strike. Make a notation on your fishing log. (Print a log here.)

Hook Set: Quick

Jigs: Grubs, Gitzits & Jigging Spoons
Grubs: (photo) Although grubs, attached to a jig, are excellent choices for cold, deep water fishing in heavy cover or structure, they work most efficiently during the summer and fall. Strikes often come during the grub’s fall, which are oftentimes difficult to detect. Raise the grub off the bottom one to two feet with a quick jerk upwards and allow the grub to twist and turn on its way back to the bottom. Successive repetitions, to renew the jigging process, often sets the hook on a bass that unbeknownst to you had softly sucked in the grub! Light lines on spinning rods work best.

Gitzits (Tube Baits): (photo) Gitzits or tube baits are my favorite plastic bait along with Senko worms. Every beginning bass angler should have many of these baits in multiple sizes and colors. Originally developed by Bobby Garland and his brother Garry over thirty years ago, the Gitzit is a tube bait attached to a lead-head jig. I have had great success fishing smaller tube baits for smallmouth bass on slow moving California rivers, such as the Stanislaus River. Although spinning reels with 8-10 weight lines are most recommended, my favorite method for fishing these baits is with a fly rod “casting” downstream from a kick boat. (Click here to learn more about Fly Roddin’ for bass.)

Use the same jigging techniques as mentioned above as well as the slow crawl--pause technique. Flipping is a popular presentation using a drop-shot or rigging the tube Carolina style. Although most experts dissuade rigging the tube Texas style, I have found that when fishing for smallmouth in current with, my best results were with a Texas rigging. The number of missed strikes pales in comparison to hang-ups in current.
Recommended Links for tube bait fishing:

Bassresource.com provides an excellent review of tube fishing from a pro.

Recommended Videos: If you have never fished with tube baits, buy the video Gitsits with the Garland Brothers, a Bazz Clazz video. Read my review on the Gitzit tape. If I had a 5-Star rating system, this one would deserve 5 Stars!

Jigging Spoons: Jigging spoons, usually in silver and gold, are favorites for suspended bass on steep drop-offs. Be sure to use a weedless model in heavy structure. Weedless jigging spoons are also popular when fishing gunk. Cast the lure on top of the weeds or moss, pause, and then slowly crawl the spoon to a small opening and allow the spoon to sink to the bottom before you begin jigging. Be attentive as a bass may take the spoon on the fall to the bottom.

Recommended Links for Jigging Spoons:

Jig and Pig: For as long as anglers have been using lead-head jigs, they have been garnishing these fish catchers with pork rind to simulate crawfish. This combination is best utilized in colder water for larger fish. One such popular product is Uncle Josh’s pork frog and little crawdad. Keep in mind that during the spring female bass, especially smallmouth bass, gorge themselves on crawdads. So a Jig and Pig in crawdad colors or crawdad lures work especially well during this pre-spawn period when the females bulk up in preparation fo the spawn.

Jig and Pig Fishing Articles

One of the best on-line articles on jigs is written by Russ Bassdozer; this jig fishing article also includes links to other great articles on jigging.

Bassresource.com provides a short but sweet review of jig fishing.

Soft Plastic Worms and Baits

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A Beginner's Guide to Bass Fishing


Soft plastic baits imitate a variety of bass food from worms, salamanders, crayfish and lizards. Soft plastic jerkbaits imitate small forage fish. Let’s begin with the ubiquitous worm that comes in so many variations, sizes and colors that it can be overwhelming for beginners adding to their soft plastic collection. Beginning bass anglers should fish a worm 50% of the time until they master the technique of fishing on the bottom. Fishing close to shore in turbid water with a flipping presentation is probably the best confidence booster a novice can experience. Start out by attaching the worm with a Texas Rig (see glossary for illustration), which slightly embeds the hook point into the worm on a weedless hook. Experiment fishing the worm in all conditions for every pattern conceivable. The best water temperatures are above 55 with the ideal temperatures between 60-65 degrees, especially during the spawn. Watch Your LIne One of the most frustrating nuances that I have yet to learn is to anticipate line movement. If you feel a tick on the line, it is usually the bass exhaling and pushing out the worm when it realizes it is not food. Setting the hook at this point is like closing the barn door after the horse is out. Bass engulf their food when it is on the bottom by opening their mouths and sucking in water along with your bait. When they move off the line will move ever so subtly. This is when you need to set the hook! If you are fishing weedless with an embedded hook, lower the rod tip, take up the slack and heave-ho! If you are fishing wacky style with the hook exposed, a gentle lift is usually all that is required. (See Shastina Lake entry.)

Worm Size: Select a worm 4 to 6 inches long for all-around fishing and 8-10-inches for those elusive, trophy bass. Using heavy line size has two advantages. The first is obvious in that you can fish the worm in heavy cover. The second advantage of a large line size is that it helps slow the descent of the falling worm, which frequently triggers the most strikes.
Common Hook Size: 3/0 and 4/0 hooks

Worm Colors: (photo) A myriad of color combinations await the consumer, but a simple rule of thumb for the beginner is to start with dark colors for murky water and natural or flesh color for clearer waters. One thing is certain, it is hell to be catching bass on a particular pattern only to find that the action stops when the conditions change. Bring an assortment of color to experiment throughout the day. Black and black/blue followed by dark browns with green are the most popular, but everybody has a favorite color combination for a particular condition or pattern. The Senko brand is a favorite, especially during the spawn. Use a weedless hook rigged Texas Style. For information on rigging the Senko worm, go to inside.net

John Fox suggests that if you are fishing during a cold front, keep your boat positioned close to shore and cast out to the deeper water, and then slowly move your worm from deep water to shallow water, as bass move into the deeper water, especially the females. When the front passes, and you have a blue-bird day, work your plastics in the deep section of coves or creek beds. (Be sure to read my review of John Fox's bass fishing video. It is the best instructional video that I have found.)
Hook Set: Watch for subtle line movement or a slight rod twitch, lower the rod tip and reel in any slack, and then hook-set hard – repeat again in 2 to 3 seconds.

Presentation: Crawl the worm slowly. Pause for agonizing long periods! If you flip the worm up on the bank or on a half-submerged log or rock, SLOWLY move the worm into the water. Anticipate strikes when the worm drops over rocks or other obstacles such as a ledge. Bass usually strike on the first or secondary fall. Work the worm slowly to the boat. In deeper water, jig the worm vertically one to two feet with a twitching motion, and then allow the worm to spiral to the bottom again. Always watch the line for movement, as the takes are often very subtle. A variation of the Texas Rigged Worm is to use a soft plastic worm or bait with a cone-shaped, slip sinker, which is perhaps the most popular rigging. A Texas Rigged Worm can be crawled or snaked through heavy cover. Most anglers use a tooth pick to jam in the slip sinker for heavy cover. (photo) Carolina Rig: The Carolina Rig targets bass feeding above the bottom by floating a worm at a pre-determined depth. An egged-shaped slip sinker (1/2 oz. to 1 oz.) is attached above a swivel. The worm is attached on a short leader. Generally the hook is left exposed, as the worm floats above the bottom with an inserted Styrofoam piece embedded in the plastic worm or bait. (You may buy floating worms.) (photo)

Split Shotting a plastic worm simply adds a split shot 16 to 20-inches above the worm on light line. Utilized in shallow water, the retrieving technique of reel-pause-twitch moves the worm along the bottom as a searching pattern for heavily pressured fish. In off-colored water, position your boat within ten or twenty feet of the shoreline and flip your worm to likely cover. Strikes often come on the fall. Silent entries into the water are best, as a splashy plop may spook a bass holding in shallow water. After a pause (experiment with short to agonizingly long pauses) lift the worm again with a little twitch, and pause briefly before you flip to a new spot.
Targeting Spawning Bass: Bass protect their spawning beds by carrying the worm away from the bed, or they attempt to kill it. Since spawning bass are not as hungry as in other seasonal periods, they often pick up the worm in the middle to move it. Attach the worm Wacky Style, which penetrates the hook through the middle of the worm with the point exposed. Cast over the bed and slowly work the worm to the center or edge and then let it rest. Every soft, plastic worm collection should have some salamanders as well. Use all of the techniques mentioned above, but don’t be surprised if the take is violent. Bass hate salamanders and snakes and they attack to kill, especially on or near their spawning beds. While you practice your worm techniques on the bottom, be sure to spend a great deal of your time fishing with a jig as well. Many tournament professionals fish extensively with jigs, especially the Jig and Pig (pork rind).

Mastering the Basics of Bass Fishing

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Folks, you have to put in your time on the water to improve your catch rate. Typically, however, most of us lead harried lives and our fishing time falls short of what we would like. After 50 years of fishing with a fly rod for trout, I picked up a bait casting reel and renewed my pursuit of black bass after a long hiatus. Did I fish smart? Hell, no! I repeated the same follies and mistakes over and over again. I went with a guide, I read books, I researched on line, but by the time I got on the water, the information had become a jumbled mix of contradictions. Bass fishing basics quickly became bass fishing overload. As a former fly fishing guide and long-tenured high school English teacher, I knew I would have to methodically learn bass fishing techniques and then systematically experiment with this knowledge on the water. It meant research, and it meant setting specific learning goals for every fishing outing. Yes, I took notes for a number of years. What I offer you is summary information from a plethora of books and magazine articles, video tapes and on-line reading. Rather than turn this into a dreaded research project, I avoided citing information that I had not gleamed from at least one or two other sources. Any information that I found to be unique, I have cited the source within the writing.

What follows is summary information analyzing bass fishing from the spring to winter and from the bottom to the top. Copy, cut-out and paste these summary informations on your tackle box, or do like I have done and keep a three-ring binder with plastic page protectors. Be sure to read the category on recommended books and videos.
Enjoy! - Dave Archer