Jonathan is an avid tournament bass fisherman. He currently fishes on the Penn State Bass Fishing team. He has placed in the top 15 in multiple FLW BFL tournaments as a co-angler. He competed on the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team, where he placed 11th in the world and was a part of two world championship team gold medals. Jonathan serves as an ANGLR expert to help the ANGLR community constantly improve.
When most people think of bass fishing, the first lure that pops into their mind would be a jig. This is by no accident, a jig is one of the most effective and versatile lures on the market today. If you don’t believe me, ask Elite Series Pros Greg Hackney, Andy Montgomery, Ott Defoe, or Gerald Swindle. These individuals made their bass fishing careers based on the effectiveness of a jig.
If you were to ask any angler what their favorite way to catch fish is, almost all of them would probably say some sort of topwater lure.
This is by no accident, topwater strikes can be some of the most exhilarating bites you’ll ever get.
There is just something about watching a fish blow up out of the water on a bait that gets people excited. In general, topwater baits seem to get bigger bites and can be a great way to catch your biggest fish of the year. Depending on the fishery, the conditions for ideal topwater are going to be different. So, be sure to always have a follow up bait tied on as well!
In most fisheries, you are looking for overcast skies with a little bit of wind to break up the surface tension a little bit. This is common knowledge for most, but why? For a fish to come up to the surface, it has to be ideal conditions or the ideal meal for one reason… safety. A fish coming up to the surface is a fish that is putting himself at risk of being eaten. There is a reason you don’t see fish just cruising around the surface all the time, it’s because they don’t feel safe up there.
Everything can see them and their silhouette. This is why the fish generally like the surface to be broken up a little and the skies to be overcast. Also, barometric pressure has a lot to do with your topwater bites. Now, not all topwater baits are the same and they are all certainly not made for the same purposes. In this section we’ll go over the different types of topwater baits and what they are best suited for.
As a general rule of thumb, most topwater baits are representing baitfish in our minds. However, we have no idea what the fish actually think the baits represent some days. A walking bait though is one of the most popular topwater baits, and for good reason. This is a bait that can be used in many different scenarios and it flat out catches fish.
How to Work A Walking Bait
It can be used on schooling fish or just as a search tool when you’re not sure what else to throw. The commotion that it causes simply drives bass crazy. Keeping that in mind, it is like any other bait. You need to feel out the fish to determine the action you need to give that bait. To work this bait, you simply use a soft downward motion of your rod in a rhythm. This will create that back and forth “walking” action of the bait.
You can speed that rhythm up or slow it down depending on what the fish are looking for. Some days you want to speed that bait up to where it’s skipping over the water. That action works well if you have schooling fish and the bait are fleeing all over the place. Where as if you’re searching for bass, slow the action down, especially when you’re around some kind of cover.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is to avoid “robot mode”. Meaning you don’t want to do the same action the whole way back to the boat, you want to keep that bait moving erratically to trigger those reaction bites. This is something you want to do with any bait that you are reeling in.
Types Of Walking Baits
There are multiple models and styles of this bait, just like any other type of lure out there. The choices that are the most common is rattles or no rattles and popping or non-popping. These different baits depend on the different conditions. If you are trying to call the bass up from deeper water, or if the water is stained slightly, then rattles and a popping style is a better option.
If anyone watched the 2018 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, a popping style walking bait with rattles was the most used bait to call spotted bass up from the depths. The color choices are still the same for topwater as they are for any other bait. When the water is darker, or it is darker outside, you’ll want a more solid color like black or white. As the water becomes clearer lean more towards your translucent baits.
Gear For Walking Baits
What kind of gear do you use for this style of fishing? A general rule of thumb, is a softer rod when throwing any kind of bait with trebles on it. This allows for some cushion on those hooks because it isn’t one solid hook point that you are applying pressure on. The pressure is distributed among multiple hook points which with a stiffer rod can pull the hooks out.
The next important aspect of fishing a walking bait is monofilament and a braid leader, both of these types of lines float which allows you to slow the bait down if needed. Some prefer a straight mono setup, which allows the fish to really get the bait. Braid to a monofilament leader is also a great option though, you just need to choose which way you prefer to fish it. A faster gear ratio reel will allows you to keep up with the bait as you are walking it across the water.
As more and more new buzz style baits come out, we are constantly overlooking some of the traditional topwater baits. One of the most overlooked baits in topwater fishing today, is a popper. You can use the same style rods for this as a walking bait. If you don’t have a specific rod for these baits, then a crankbait rod works well as a secondary option. You can keep the same overall setup for these baits as you do walking baits. Now where do these baits excel?
Poppers excel in situations where you want to call the fish out of some type of cover.
This is because you can work a popper and keep it tight next to cover while still working the bait. This includes areas like grass beds, weed edges, or docks. These are places where a popper can be deadly. Especially if it is a heavily fished area like the Potomac river, often people fish fast moving baits.
So, when a popper comes into the picture it is an action that the fish are not accustomed to. Now, you will see some with a feather on the back treble and some without it. This feather imitates the fin of a baitfish and it adds a little extra movement, outside of your working of the bait. These are a good option when fishing in extremely clear water as well. You can even fish a popper fast, if you have the right type of popper. Different companies have come out with poppers that you can walk extremely well, which allows you to keep that bait in virtually the same spot while still working the bait.
Possibly no other topwater bait has accounted for more giant bass than this favorite among most bass fisherman, the buzzbait. There are many different types and styles of buzzbaits. There is single blade, double blade, silent, clackers, squealers, plastic blades, and metal blades. You can also use a buzzbait with or without the skirt. Each one of these styles has its own different niche in topwater fishing. They differ from where they work and where they don’t work.
First, let’s discuss gear. For buzzbait fishing, you now have one single hook that you are applying pressure too. This means you can now use a heavier rod with stiffer line. A solid medium heavy rod with a soft tip will do the trick. This soft tip allows for more accurate placement and still allows the fish to get the bait. You can also fish this bait with fluorocarbon if you’d like because you are constantly moving it, so there is no chance that it will sink. A fast gear ratio reel will help you keep up with the bait and engage the bait as soon as it touches the water.
Styles of Buzzbaits
As far as the different styles of the baits, there are a couple things to think about when deciding which style to use. As a general rule of thumb, the more chop on the water, or the windier it is, the louder you want the bait to be. This also applies when the water is dirty or you are fishing around cover. The louder buzzbaits work well at calling fish out of the cover and allow the fish to find the bait in the dirty water conditions. When the water is clearer and you are running water that is relatively void of cover, then you can stick to the more silent options. This works to not overdo it when trying to call fish up. The next thing to consider is the style trailer that you throw on these baits. You need to think about two things when deciding a trailer. 1. Are you skipping it? 2. How fast do you want that bait to go?
For skirted buzzbaits, running a thinner trailer that fits well on the hook and puts off a little extra movement will help to entice the bass. You also have the option to burn it (Reel it in at a high rate of speed). In that case, using a fluke style trailer will provide little restriction as the bait comes across the waters surface. If you want to crawl a buzzbait, there are two things you can do.
Bend the end of the blade out slightly and put a big flat trailer on the hook, with no skirt. This will allow that bait to crawl along while still staying up the surface. The flat trailer, without a skirt, will also make the bait easier to skip up under docks, limbs, or bushes. This bait works extremely well to cover water and to fish quickly around cover.
A new bait that has been taking the topwater industry by storm is the new Whopper Plopper. The bait has been catching giant bass as well as numbers of fish when all other baits seem to fall short. There are now many different models from different companies, but the original River2Sea version has developed different sizes to perfectly fit different scenarios. So where does this bait excel and what should I throw it on? This bait works extremely well to cover water while providing fish with a large meal opportunity. You can fish this bait around all types of cover as well as over open water.
However, the exposed treble hooks prevent it from fishing well in thick grass or around thick cover.
So, sparse cover and shallower grass beds are the perfect places to throw this bait. These baits are basically a beefy buzzbait with treble hooks. The cadence of retrieval is the same, you want a steady retrieve while throwing little sporadic movements in there to trigger strikes.
Gear for Whopper Ploppers
The gear to throw it on also gets beefy, especially if you are throwing the 130 and 190 sizes. The main thing to consider, is the weight of these baits. If you are throwing the 190 or 130, you are going to want to use a stiffer and longer rod, this will make fishing this bait all day much easier on you physically.
When you get into the 110 or 90 sizes, you can afford to fish it on a 7’ rod without throwing your shoulder out. As far as the reel and line, a fast gear ratio reel is recommended. For line, a 50 pound braid for the bigger sizes or heavy fluorocarbon for the smaller sizes will do you justice. Overall, these are great search tools and can be used to call up some giant fish.
There is only a few baits that can be put in the same category as buzzbaits in catching giant fish, and a hollow body frog is one of them. Also, the soft plastic frogs excel in the same conditions that a hollow body frog excels in. There are many different types of frogs out on the market today, but there are a few categories to think of when considering what types of frogs to get.
First, you need to have a heavy action rod to fish a hollow body frog. This allows you to pull fish out of heavy cover and grass mats while maintaining the right pressure to actually hook the fish that eats that frog. Now, if you do not have access to a heavy action rod there is still a way for you to take advantage of a big bass’s love of frogs. The answer is soft plastic frogs.
Soft Plastic Frogs
These soft plastic frogs can make it easier to hook those thick cover bass, you can Texas rig these soft plastic frogs which will allow you to still get good hookup rates. The only thing that will still be a struggle is trying to get those fish out of thick cover. So, you have to think about getting the fish out before you make your cast.
Hollow Body Frogs
Now, if you do have access to a heavy action rod then there a few types of frogs to think about when rolling up to the lake. You need to look at what you're fishing, mats, pads, wood, bushes or other cover. If you are fishing around pads, bushes, or anything you are trying to call fish out of, then you might want to go with a popping frog. This frog will act as a popper, but will be weed-less allowing you to put it into the cover and not be afraid of getting hung up.
If you are fishing matts or grass beds, then you will want to go with a standard frog, but you will need to consider the thickness of the mat you are fishing. The thicker the mat, the heavier you are going to want your frog to be. How do you make a frog heavier? In order to make the frog heavier you are going to want to put bb’s or small split shots into the hole where the hook comes out of on the frog. This will allow the frog to sit into the mat and make it easier for the fish to pick up on it. You can also add rattles to the frog to make it louder.
How To Fish A Frog
To fish a frog effectively, you need to create that same walking action that you impart onto walking style baits. However, the motion is not the same. To walk a frog, it takes a slower cadence. It will take practice to get it, but once you get started, it’s easy to keep it going. Now there is the myth that when a fish eats your frog then you need to wait before setting the hook. This is false.
By the time you realize a fish has eaten your frog and your brain tells you to set the hook, and then you actually set the hook, the fish has it. If a fish wants that frog, then it will get it. Now, as a disclaimer, if you want to wait a second before firing your hookset, it is not going to hurt you. Sometimes smaller fish eat frogs a little funny initially and then re-adjust it in their mouth. So, waiting that extra second might help with smaller fish, but so does downsizing your frog. To get better hookups, you need to match your frog size to the size of the fish you know are in that body of water. As an example, try to fish smaller frogs in ponds than in lakes, for the most part.
Gear For Fishing A Frog
Now back to the gear. You need a heavy action rod to be able to put the hook into the fish’s mouth and muscle them out of thick cover. You are also going to want a 50-65 pound braided line. This braid floats and has zero stretch to it, making for an optimal hookset. Pair this with a high-speed reel, like an 8:1:1 or higher. This lets you get that fish in as fast as possible or if you only want to fish a small portion of the cast, then you’ll be able to reel it in quick to make another cast in a shorter amount of time.
The Texas Rig is the best bait for anyone just starting out. It is also a great bait when conditions are really difficult to figure out. Simple to set up and can be used on light line or heavy line, and on virtually any rod and reel combination. Hook choices can vary depending on the soft plastic bait of choice.
Offset and wide gap hooks are common on creature style baits, while some prefer straight shank hooks with worms. Bullet or cone style weights are the best selection for Texas Rigs due to the areas and structure where the lure is normally presented. The size of weight and hook, along with line diameter will depend on the size of the bait you are using. The goal is to have the bait fall and move as naturally as possible.
Aside from a jig, one of the most common techniques that is used among bass fisherman is the Texas rig. This is one of the most efficient techniques which allows anglers to use their favorite style weight, hook, and bait. It is defined by a tungsten or lead bullet weight with the anglers favorite style hook, generally an offset worm hook or a straight shank flipping hook.
This technique can be used to drag a small craw style bait for finicky smallmouth, or flipping thick mats for giant largemouth.
Overall, it can be fished in the same way a jig is fished. The only thing that is different is what is tied on the end of the line. You can use the same rod, reel, and line for this technique as you do a jig.
To tie this rig, you first have to decide if you want to use a peg, a small rubber bobber stop or toothpick that keeps the weight from free sliding, or if you want the weight to be free sliding then go without a peg. As a general rule of thumb, use a peg when you’re fishing around anything that you want the bait to go in and out freely. This is most often in grass or around thick laydowns. Any other situation, you can get away without a pegged weight, as it allows the fish to pick up the bait alone without the weight. This equates to a higher hook up ratio.
So, you either add a peg or no peg, and then you slide the weight on the line with the pointed end going on first. Next comes the hook. To tie the hook on, there are many possible knots that can be used, however, there is one that works extremely well for this style of fishing. That knot it the snell knot.
The snell knot pushes the hook out from the pressure of the weight on the eye of the hook. This gives you a better chance of putting that hook into the roof of a bass’s mouth. After this you need to thread your favorite style soft plastic on and you’re ready to fish! There is no limit to what you can use on a Texas rig.
There are many days on the lake where it seems like you can’t buy a bite, we’ve all been there. Some days the fish just are not cooperating and you need to have different ways of dealing with those conditions. The most commonly turned to technique is finesse fishing, but what exactly is it? It is light line and light weights. It is a drop shot, a ned rig, a Carolina rig, a neko rig, tiny swimbaits, wacky rigging Senkos, it is all of these things. Finesse fishing is defined as taking regular techniques and downsizing them and using baits that have relatively no action.
The Neko rig is one of the new hot baits that is being utilized by both professional and average weekend anglers. This is by no accident as this bait can be a lifesaver when the fish are being finicky. The way a Neko rig is set up is through a nail weight in the nose of the bait. This will make it stand up straight off the bottom. The next piece is an O-ring around ⅓ of the way down the bait, this will allow you to use your favorite dropshot hook. The hook will be put through the O-ring with the hook point up towards the tail of the bait, this will allow for the hook to go into the roof of the fishes mouth.
There are Neko rig specific hooks out on the market and they work just as well as your favorite drop shot hook, it’s the same finesse concept. The way this bait is fished is almost exclusively on a spinning rod with lighter line, 6 to 10 test, and the bait is hopped or drug along the bottom just as you would fish a shaky head. This bait excels around areas where a shaky head would get caught in the bottom because of its heavy head and the Neko rig will slide right though because the hook is not attached to the weighted head.
In the case of a drop shot, it holds small baits in the strike zone for a long period of time. These baits are used because they have very subtle action that draws attention from fish that have seen a lot of pressure or are very lethargic. This is why rigs like the ned rig have drawn a lot of action lately.
The ned rig has very little action and it imitates nearly everything that a bass eats on a daily basis. Combine that with a light weight and it makes it deadly for tough days on the water. The small profile attracts attention from all sizes of bass, both big and small, but on tough days just getting a bite can be a huge confidence booster. So next time the bite is tough, try downsizing what you are doing and use something that has a different action from what you have been throwing, the results will be impressive.
The wacky rig is one of the most commonly used rig ever created. It involves your favorite stick worm, most often a senko, and your favorite brand of wacky rig hook. This technique can be used with literally any hook that you find to your liking, but smaller hooks tend to get hung up less. There are also weedless wacky rig hooks that are available to fish around cover.
The next part of this setup is an O-ring, which is optional but preferred. The O-ring will make your bait last much longer and will make the hook hold in the bait much better. The hook is placed through the middle of the bait at a perpendicular angle, this will make the hook completely exposed but don’t worry, the fish don’t care. The way you fish a wacky rig is by simply letting it fall on slack line, or hopping it similar to a ned rig. The subtle fall of this rig is just a trigger to fish, and bait can also be skipped extremely well which makes it excellent around cover and docks.
One of the most under used techniques in the sport of bass fishing, the Carolina Rig. This was an extremely popular technique about 30 years ago, but as we developed baits that more efficiently covered that deeper zone of the water column, the Carolina rig has been forgotten. A Carolina rig allows you to feel everything that is on the bottom of a body of water. This allows you to learn a new body of water without the best electronics or without graphing the entire body of water.
Carolina Rig Setup
The basic setup for this rig is a lead or tungsten bullet weight or a Carolina rig weight followed by a glass or plastic bead and then a swivel. The swivel is followed by a leader line which is tied to an offset worm hook. This technique is defined by a long, 7’ 6” – 8’ 0”, rod with a parabolic bend, a fast gear ratio reel with heavy line and a heavy weight. The long rod is used to allow for casting the length of the leader with the heavy weight. The heavy weight is used to fish a finesse technique at a faster pace in deep water.
The weight gets the bait to the bottom and keeps it there as you drag it along. This general technique is just a guideline, like any of the other techniques mentioned, you can fish it however you want and play with the setup. You can even create finesse Carolina rigs to use your jig fishing setup and a lighter weight to fish around grass or shallow water structure.
The bead in this setup is used to protect the knot on your swivel, as well as add a little sound to the rig. Many people get confused when discussing the leader length, asking, “How long do you make the leader?” This depends on the time of year and the activity level of the fish. As a general rule of thumb you should use a shorter leader, 12 to 16 inches, when the fish are less active and a longer leader, 2 to 3 feet, when the water is warmer and the fish are more active.
The leader length with affect your ability to detect a bite. If the fish are not extremely active and you are using a 3 foot leader, then the fish will more than likely feel the weight and spit the bait before you know it even ate it. This technique can also be fished in grass using a 4 to 5 foot leader which allows the bait to glide over the top of the grass to elicit a strike.
Mix dragging the bait and hopping it, and if you don’t get bit, implement a slow sweeping motion. This is why an offset worm hook is used. It is designed for a sideways hooks set. The offset hook will pin to the corner of the fishes mouth. This technique excels in offshore fishing to cover the deep ledges and different cover along the bottom. It also excels in pressured fisheries to show the fish a different look.
One of the most frightening rigs in the world of bass fishing to most anglers, is the Alabama rig. This rig seems to scare the devil out of people who are just getting into bass fishing or just don’t do enough research to know the true potential of this rig. This rig can be absolutely lights out when fish are schooling on bait and can cover water extremely efficiently.The ability to count this rig down makes it extremely useful to cover shallow and deep water with the same rig. There are some modifications to discuss which will allow this rig to be fished all across the country. There are also two things that account for people shying away from using this rig.
Alabama Rig Equipment
The equipment that is thought to be needed to throw these rigs is much larger than you truly need. Spoiler alert, you don’t need an 8 foot extremely heavy action rod to throw an A-rig, unless you are throwing all ½ ounce jig heads on it.
An A-rig doesn’t have to have extremely heavy jig heads on it, you can use finesse A-rigs. Yes, I said finesse A-rig.
They make smaller rigs that are lighter so you can use 1/8 ounce heads on it to make this overall rig light enough to use on your favorite medium heavy rod. These lighter rigs can be thrown on 15 to 20 pound fluorocarbon with small swimbaits. Now, you can use rigs that have heavier heads on them, but you’ll need that longer rod with heavier fluorocarbon to make up for it.
Alabama Rig Dummy Baits
The next problem people face is the hook restrictions for some states, as not all states allow you to use all five hooks on A-rigs. There are ways to combat this though. In order to make the rigs legal, you are going to have to have dummy baits on the rig. These are baits that have no hook in them, don’t worry though there are ways to make it so the fish only go for the baits with hooks in them.
To do this you easily, you need a rig with two arms on top and two on the bottom. If they are too spread apart, it will make it hard to still have the rig balanced. Once it’s balanced, remove the standard hardware that comes on the rig out of the package on the top two arms snaps and swivels. This will allow you to put screw locks onto the top two arms which you can then attach your smallest swimbaits that will be on the entire rig. These light baits will help the rig lean forward to make the top two dummies almost impossible for a fish to eat.
Then, remove the snaps from the rest of the rig and add heavy wire split rings. This will make it near impossible for a fish to bend these out. When dealing with multiple fish at once, there will be a lot of stress on the rig, so top notch hardware is important. On the bottom two arms, add slightly bigger swimbaits on the preferred size swimbait hook. This will make these baits stand out from the other two. On the middle arm, add the biggest swimbait on the rig and use a slightly different colored bait to make it stand out the most. Put this on the biggest hook on the rig. This bait is the target for the rig, which is why you should use the biggest hook. This is the general setup for the rig in states that have a limit for three hooks.
If your state only allows one hook then you will do the same thing but make the bottom two dummies as well, with the same technique. Then add about a foot of heavy fluorocarbon onto the middle arm and make it look different than the rest. Fish go for the weakest one and separating this last bait from the rest will make it stand out and make this the target.
If you want to throw it without dummy baits, that is also an option!
To fish this rig, think of it like a single swimbait and throw it in the same areas you normally would throw a single swimbait. The only difference is that you can pulse an A-rig every so often to make the baits flare out and trigger a strike from a possible following fish. Other than that, don’t be afraid to tackle this beast, it will get you some of the biggest bites of the year.
Another old school bait that is not taken advantage of anymore, is the spinnerbait. This is one of the best ways to cover water – dirty or clear. It works for clear water smallmouth and dirty water largemouth. There are all different kinds of spinnerbaits that are better for the different conditions, and they all require a little different action.
The first thing to look at, is the type of blades on the spinnerbait. The larger round blades put off more vibration as they push more water. This works well in more stained water, because you can’t really burn these baits, they are made to work slower. As you get to the thinner willow leaf blades, you can more efficiently burn it at fast speeds which are ideal for clear water smallmouth, or largemouth. You don’t want the fish to get a good look at the bait, so you burn the bait over their head.
The next component, is the wire on the spinnerbait. The thickness of the wire will change the vibration that the bait gives off. In general, you want the thinnest wire possible while not giving up too much strength. This will ensure there is a lot of vibration given off to help fish find the bait. Then, the color of the skirt follows similar rules as were talked about earlier. The darker colors and extremely bright colors work well in stained water, where your translucent colors stand out in clearer water.
To fish this bait, you want to think of it just like a crankbait. You don’t want to have as much bottom contact, but a little bit helps when fishing deep. When you’re targeting schooling fish or you are fishing in clear water, then just burning the bait will usually do. You still want to throw in a little pause or erratic movement from time to time to catch any fish that are shadowing the bait.
The setup to throw these on is actually pretty simple. Almost any medium heavy rod with a soft tip will do, no need to go crazy. A faster reel will allow you to burn baits though. The line choice is all personal preference and based on the depth and clarity of the water.
The only modification to really make make is if you’re fishing clearer water, add a trailer hook. This will help get any fish that just swipe at the bait. The trailer options follow the same idea as with swim jigs, in that a trailer with more action will keep the bait higher in the water column. Where a trailer that has little to no action will allow the bait to run deeper. Many people also throw spinnerbaits without a trailer.
One of the most commonly used baits in anyone’s arsenal today, the chatterbait. This is by no accident, they flat out catch fish and are very simple to use. This has quickly become a go-to bait for most people around grass, but its limits do not stop there. These baits can be used exactly like a crankbait. From the gear to where you fish them. These work especially well on highly pressured fisheries. In those situations, swap out your crankbaits for these bad boys and go to work covering water.
The biggest mistake people run into is using too stiff of a rod. You will catch smaller fish no problem, because they do not utilize the ability to use their mouths to pull baits in. When it comes to bigger fish, you will lose some of your biggest bites. The next crucial part, and the only thing that differs from your setup for cranking, is the reel. Use a high-speed reel so you’re able to burn these baits and catch up to fish after they eat it.
The next aspect of a chatterbait that is commonly overlooked, is the trailers that people use. Bigger, flatter trailers will slow the fall of the bait, while thinner trailers let it sink more. That being said, hard action trailers for bluegill imitations, and a swimbait or fluke style bait for shad imitations. A chatterbait is a great way to cover water from the spring all the way through to the fall, so don’t be afraid to throw these baits in the same places you typically throw a crankbait and be prepared to set the hook!
Crankbaits work the best when bounced or glanced off something, imitating a feeding or fleeing crawfish or baitfish. Crankbaits are made of plastic and balsa wood. The speed of retrieve, rod length and line diameter will also play a major role in how each category performs. They can be simplified into 4 basic categories.
Deep Diving are usually classified for depths of greater than 10 feet. They can easily be identified by their large bill. When retrieved they will usually have a wide wobble. A good set-up for throwing Deep Divers is a 7’6” to an 8’ medium action rod, 10 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 5:3 or 6:1 reel. This is good for long casts since you are trying to reach deep structures.
Medium Diving are used in a range of 5 to 10 feet. They will have a smaller bill. You can also subdivide these into round and flat sided crankbaits. Round baits have a wide wobble and flat sides have a tighter wobble when retrieved. A 7’ to 7’6” medium rod, 8 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 6:3 reel are really effective for these baits, since cast do not have to be as long to achieve the depths desired.
Shallow Diving are used in a range of 1 to 5 feet. They have a smaller bill, normally inverted to push water. These include squarebills and small sub-surface crankbaits. A 7’ to 7’6” medium rod, 8 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 6:3 reel are really effective for these baits, since cast do not have to be as long to achieve the depths desired.
Finally, the lipless crankbait. It’s a catch all for cranking and can be used similarly to other cranks, or in entirely different scenarios!
One of the most widely known and favored techniques by all anglers for covering water and catching a lot of fish is cranking. There is no wrong time to throw a crankbait and they work all across the country. The effectiveness of these baits is known all around the world and this is by no mistake. The crankbait does an excellent job of representing almost every type of forage that a bass feeds on, and it does a fantastic job of getting non-feeding fish to bite. However, a crankbait is no different than any other bait in that there are ways to better your chances of catching fish.
Gear for Cranking
Getting a fish to eat a crankbait is no easy task and takes some skill to trick a bass into eating it. That not the hardest part though, in order to get those fish to the boat, or your hand, there are a couple things that you need to take into consideration. The first thing is the rod you use. When a bass eats a crankbait, they use the suction power by opening their mouth to pull the crankbait into their mouth.
If you are using too stiff of a rod, it will pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth before it allows that fish to fully get the bait. So, you want a medium action rod with a slow tip that allows that rod to load up on the fish properly. They make some great glass and composite rods that work like a charm, but the graphite rods on the market work just fine too. The line is personal preference, most prefer fluorocarbon because it sinks and allows that bait to get to its deepest point. There are many anglers who still utilize the stretch capabilities of monofilament in order to use a stiffer rod though.
The reel that you put that line on is also personal preference. If you are using an extremely deep crankbait like a 10XD or DT20, then you will want a slower gear ratio like a 5:1:1 to be able to handle that torque. A 6:3:1 is a pretty standard cranking reel for most crankbait applications. The biggest factor when cranking is your hooks, this is the primary link between you and your catch. Most companies put low quality hooks on there to be able to market the bait for a cheaper price. The first thing you should do is change out the hooks to either Owner round bends, or Mustad KVD trebles. Will you still catch fish with stock hooks? Yes, yes you will. But be warned, you will lose more fish than the guy with upgraded hooks.
Shallow diving crankbaits are often known as square bills. They are called this because of the square bill that they have that enables them to dive to a certain depth. This square bill allows these baits to deflect off of cover, laydowns, rocks, and poles extremely well.
This does a couple of things for the angler and the fish. It makes the anglers job easier to cover water efficiently while being able to not get hung up on pieces of cover. When these baits deflect off of the cover they also trigger strikes from fish as it makes those erratic movements around the cover. This can be a deadly technique throughout the entire year and anglers like Kevin VanDam take full advantage of that.
The beauty of square bills is that you can fish them with heavy line because they run so shallow. This heavy line lets you get away with putting these baits into tight spaces with no real concern of nicking the line or breaking off. These baits are the ideal bait for covering water when you first pull up to a new fishery. This is because you can fish them around anything and still trigger strikes. You can fish them over grass beds, around docks, through shallow rock, through timber, etc. The biggest thing, like any other bait, is to vary your retrieve. When cranking it in don’t be afraid to stop it, speed it up quick, etc. Anything that you think might trigger a fish to strike if it was following that bait.
The most forgotten and overlooked area of the water column in bass fishing today, is that middle 6-10 feet. People either think the fish are up super shallow, or off super deep. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. After those fish start to get pounded on up shallow during the spawn, they will start to slide off the bank just a little bit to where people can’t see them. These fish feel more comfortable in this zone and because it’s so often overlooked, yet, it can be a perfect zone to target.
To use medium divers, you can use the same gear as a squarebill, but downsize the line to allow the bait to reach its optimal depth. By using thinner diameter line, 10 to 14 pound, it enables the bait to have less resistance and get to its maximum depth. This is key to keeping that bait bumping off the bottom in order to elicit a strike. Target areas just off the break lines and out on deeper flats more efficiently with a medium diver! Next time you get out on the water and you can’t seem to buy a bite shallow, try backing off slightly and running that little bit deeper depth and you might be surprised what you find.
One of the fastest evolving markets in the realm of crankbait fishing, is the deep diving crankbait. Up until recent years, it was nearly impossible to get baits to run that 15 to 25-foot zone. Luckily for us though, the different companies have started to explore ways which allow us to get these baits down that deep. This means we can cover more water in the summer when those fish pull off into those offshore deep-water spots. So, even if you don’t have the best electronics, you can still get in the game.
Just looking at the size of the bills on these baits, you know they mean business.
This means we have to upgrade the gear that we are throwing these baits on in order to get the most out of that bait and to ensure you don’t throw your shoulder out after just a few casts. To throw these bigger baits, you want the same action rod. A softer rod that allows the fish to get the bait, but you want it in an upgraded version. Most companies have cranking rods that run all the way up to nearly 8 foot in length today and this is exactly what they are designed for.
You’ve probably seen these rods in local tackle store or online and laughed at them. These bigger rods allow you to handle the shear size of these baits and be able to cast them a country mile. The farther you can cast a crankbait, the deeper that bait is going to dive. Normally, this isn’t as big of an issue if you’re running that 6 to 12-foot zone, because even if it isn’t getting there you can upgrade the size of your crankbait. That is hard to do when you are throwing the biggest crankbait made today, so long casts are key. You are going to want to use the same size line as previously discussed with the medium diving baits, for the same reasons. If you aren’t hitting the bottom periodically on your casts, then you are missing out and you won’t get nearly as many bites as if you were. Now, that slow gear ratio reel, 5:3:1, comes into play to be able to torque a bait that is going to be pushing as much water as these baits do.
Another overlooked crankbait is the lipless bait. Most people stray away from these baits because they hear the terrible stories of people losing a ton of fish on them. This will happen, if you don’t use the right equipment. The general style of a lipless makes it great to fish around grass, because the hooks are constantly behind the head of the bait which makes it relatively weedless without any modifications.
You’ll still want to change the hooks out to a better style that will get you more fish in the boat. The next big problem people have, is using the wrong rod. You can get away with throwing other crankbaits on too stiff of a rod and you will still land a good portion of the fish that bite, especially if they are really eating the bait. This is not the case with a lipless. You want an extremely soft action rod that will really let those fish get the bait. It will also absorb the shock of those fish jumping or shaking. That soft rod will keep constant pressure on the hook points to help them stay pinned. Lipless crankbaits are a fantastic search tool all throughout the year and can help you cover water quickly and catch a ton of fish.
A lipless bait truly shines in the spring when fish are first moving up, the rattles in these baits do something that drives bass nuts. They also shine around shallow grass, as they get caught you can rip the bait free with a quick snap of the rod tip. This quick popping motion does the same thing that a square bill on rocks does to trigger a bite. One way to fish these baits that people often overlook is casting them and ripping them up off the bottom. This method excels when the water is colder and the fish are more lethargic, or in the summer when the fish are positioned out deep.
Another bait that excels in colder water is the flat sided crankbait. The soft subtle rocking action mimics the same motion that baitfish and crayfish have in cold water. These baits are a lot lighter than any of the other crankbaits and most often require spinning gear or light baitcasting gear to be able to cast them. Downsizing line is critical to allow the bait to be able to reach the optimal depth, while allowing the bait to have its full action. These baits excel along riprap and areas of spring and fall transition point to catch the fish as they are moving. This bait thrown in a craw color can also do extremely well on rocky banks to give the fish a subtler action.
One of the most widely known baits for triggering lethargic fish into eating is the jerkbait. This bait is widely known as the primary cold-water bait when winter rears her ugly head and the water temps drop off. This is true in that even in cold water it is a great search tool, but the idea that it only works in the winter couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Jerkbaits are a tool all year round for triggering fish into eating.
To get the most out of your bait there are a couple things that you need to consider.
The first thing is the gear that you use. Considering the trebles on these baits, you still need a rod that has a soft action to cushion those hook points and keep them pinned. So, a rod that has a crisp tip, to still get the action out of the bait, followed by a parabolic bend is critical to land the fish that eat the bait. Also, the trebles are exactly like the trebles that come on a crankbait. Companies put cheap hooks on these baits to make the overall baits cheaper in stores. So, swap those hooks when you take it from the package. The reel in this case is not all that important as it is just there to pick up line in between your movements with the rod.
The color choices that you use for these baits is the same as what we had talked about previously, the only thing that has changed is a clear water technique. Fish need to be able to see this bait in order to eat it. On the topic of technique, there is no wrong way to fish a jerkbait, but there are ways that are distinctly better than others. The most important thing to do when fishing a jerkbait, is to jerk it with slack in the line.
You want that bait to have the darting action and if you have you line tight, then it will take away some of the action. This is critical in the winter when you don’t want that bait to move a lot in terms of distance. The other thing to consider is the cadence, and the pauses you have in between moving the bait. In colder water you are going to want longer pauses, while in warmer water you can move the bait much faster. The cadence should never be the same back to back, it’s important to mix it up and give the bait a different action.
One of the newest finesse baits on the market today is the spybait. When fish get finicky and just won’t commit to other baits, this bait will get bites and big ones at that. That being said, it fishes exactly like a swimbait, in the way that you throw it, where you throw it, and what you throw it on. This is a bait that you truly just throw it out and wind it in.
It has a slow rock back and forth that will drive fish insane, coupled with the spinning of the blades to create vibration to draw fish in. You want to make sure you throw it on light line, 6 to 10 pound test, and a slow action rod is critical to landing fish. These small treble hooks make it easy for fish to pop them loose, so you need that pressure on them constantly. When a fish eats it, your hookset should be similar to a dropshot bites in that you simply reel and lean into the fish. I even use the same rod I dropshot with to throw these baits on.
The ideal conditions would be a little bit of chop on the water with some cloud cover, but don’t shy from throwing it in other less than ideal conditions. These baits draw in big fish from deeper water, which leads to my next point. This is a clear water technique; the fish need to be able to see it. This bait excels in allowing fish to track it for long periods of time before they commit to it.
A bait that possibly looks the most realistic out of all of the baits we as anglers’ fish, is the swimbait.
This category of baits has a life-like thumping action that is well known for drawing a big bite. They are relatively easy to fish. Most baits it’s hard to get bit by just casting it out and winding it in, but that’s exactly how you get bit with this bait. The swimbait gives fish the ability to track it as it swims and then when it does a little something different, they eat it. So, if you do deflect it off of cover or off of rocks, it will add that extra strike inducing element.
The overall category that is referred to as swimbaits is massive, it covers everything from 14-inch Huddleston’s to 2.8-inch finesse Keitechs. The one thing that is the same for all though, is how you work the bait.
All different swimbaits will have different action but you will have the same retrieves for basically all of them. The thing that will change is the gear that you throw these baits on.
Obviously, you will not want to throw a 2.8-inch bait on the same gear you throw a 14-inch bait on. The overall setup you are looking for is a soft tip, while still having that parabolic bend. This setup will let the fish get the bait. The line and reel just depend on how deep you are fishing as well as the size of the bait that you are throwing. Overall, there are a few ways to work these baits that will help you cover more water and catch more fish.
Anyone that has ever thrown a swimbait will tell you that you will catch fish just slow winding it in over and over. But, when you do that, you are only covering one water column over and over. That means you might miss suspended fish if you are only reeling it along the bottom. To combat this, what you can do is make your cast and hold you rod tip high. This lets that bait pendulum down to the target zone, while the bait is swimming the whole way down. The hits will be subtle but if there are feeding fish up in the water column, this will get bit.
The other way that this bait gets overlooked is fishing it in the winter. When the water gets cold those fish still eat, so you just have to take the action and tone it down. This means crawling the bait along the bottom nice and slow. You just want the tail to barely kick back and forth to trigger those lethargic fish. A little trick for older swimbaits where the heads have been beat up, is to use them as trailers on jigs, spinnerbaits, and chatterbaits.
This is probably the widest and most commonly used category of bass fishing baits created. This category can be used to catch fish all over the world during anytime of the year and can be used any number of ways. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the number of ways that these baits can be fished. In this section, we will talk about some of the different styles of baits and a little on how to fish them. That being said there is almost no wrong way to fish any type of soft plastic bait. These baits are meant to be versatile and able to do almost anything you can think to use them for.
The most used category of soft plastic baits without a doubt is a soft plastic worm. There is no standard worm when people think of worm style baits to bass fish with. But, there isn’t a bait out there that could count for more fish catches in ponds across the world than a stick worm or senko. Even though there is no clear reason why fish eat these worms, they just do. If you have no idea what to throw when you first approach a body of water, you can’t go wrong with a soft plastic worm.
There are many ways to fish these worms, they can be texas rigged, put on a shaky head, neko rigged, thrown on a drop shot, or wacky rigged.
All of these worms will work in any one of these situations… there really is no wrong way to rig a worm.
The biggest thing you have to look at in order to figure out how to rig it is what are you fishing and where you think the fish are. For example, if you are up shallow, then you can wacky rig a stick worm or texas rig a stick worm with no weight and cast it in shallow. If the fish are out deep then you can texas rig a worm on a heavy weight, or use a shaky head or drop shot to get those worms out into deeper water quickly. If you are fishing in or around cover, then a texas rigged worm or a drop shotted worm can be deadly. The point is, fish will eat a soft plastic worm anytime of the year and everywhere, you simply have to figure out the way that works best for you.
Some of the most productive post-spawn baits out there are these goofy looking soft plastic creature baits. That’s why they are called creature baits, because no one really knows what they are or look like. One thing is for sure though, they represent a large meal that a lethargic bass cannot pass up. These baits put off so much vibration and movement that drive fish insane.
The amount of movement can work to irritate bass, much like a younger brother constantly poking you. That being said, the most commonly used techniques that involve creature baits are the carolina rig, texas rig, and a shaky head. These baits can be fished all throughout the different areas of the lake. The most productive places to use these baits include flipping grass and brush or wood, and out off ledges along the bottom. These baits can also be trimmed down and used as trailers on jigs with some outstanding results.
One of the most commonly used baits for flipping and punching is a beaver style bait. This bait has probably made more money flipping than any other bait on the market. These baits are also commonly used as jig trailers, for good reason too. This style bait does a phenomenal job at imitating the meals that big bass love best, bluegills and crayfish. The streamline nature of these baits make them excellent at flipping grass mats, or really any type of vegetation. The bait also does such a good job at imitating crayfish, so it is a favored bait for flipping around rock banks. These baits have a very subtle fall with a little extra movement that just seems to drive fish crazy.
Also known as a soft plastic jerkbait, the fluke is a deadly tool for triggering inactive fish into striking. These baits are extremely effective both around grass and in open water. They have a slow shimmy style fall that works just as a stick bait when a fish is following it. Their weedless nature is perfect for fishing shallow grass, around wood, or for schooling fish in open water.
These baits also do an excellent job imitating shad and thus become perfect trailers for underspins, spinnerbaits, and chatterbaits. These baits can be thrown on both a heavier action spinning rod, or your favorite medium heavy baitcaster. The line size that you run with these all depends on where and how you are fishing them.
If you are using it to flip weightless into thick cover, then you might want 18 to 20 pound line. Whereas if you are burning them in open water, 12 or 14 pound line might be a little more advantageous. The reel that is used can be your personal preference, but a faster gear ratio seems to have an edge when trying to work these baits fast in open water. There are also a couple different ways to rig this bait that can make hookup rates skyrocket if you are struggling to hook fish.
The first way is adding a stinger hook, similar to how you would do to a spinnerbait. This extra treble hook will be sure to hook any fish that slaps at the side of the bait instead of fully eating it. In the image, you can see they had slid a bobber stop down the line, this keeps the treble hook from sliding down the hook.
The other way to rig these baits, is nose rigging it with the use of a screw lock. This screw lock is screwed into the nose of the bait and then the hook is threaded through the middle of that screw lock. This screw lock helps hold the bait on the hook. This is done because in most instances, fish eat a wounded baitfish head first. A standard texas rig will not allow the hook to spin around in time in order to hook the fish, but with this nose rig, it is able to spin on dime to hook the fish in the roof of the mouth.
Tubes and Craw Style Baits
Now we’re getting into a smallmouth fisherman’s favorite finesse baits, for both rivers and in lakes, the craw imitations. These baits imitate a crayfish as it scutes across the bottom to get away from predators. First, we will discuss tubes and then work our way into talking about typical craw style baits.
Tubes are a versatile bait, both for flipping for massive largemouth and dragging across the bottom for finicky smallmouth. They come in all different sizes and styles. For the most part, when fishing a tube you can either drag it or hop it, sometimes both can be advantageous. This is what most fisherman do for the smaller sized tubes. Again, it just depends on what the fish are doing and what kind of mood they are in.
If you are are fishing these baits in rivers, fish them in a manner that is slightly different than in ponds or lakes. The first thing that you need to do in rivers is fish a lighter tube jig, around an ⅛ ounce. The current will make short work of heavier jigs and the rocks will enjoy your contribution. Next, you let the current carry the bait to imitate a crawfish or sculpin or darter drifting with the current. Use a softer action rod because you’re not working the bait as much, usually a medium action to medium heavy rod.
In lakes, use a longer rod that has a soft tip but heavy backbone, you can even use a baitcaster in many cases. This is because you can fish much heavier tubes, up to ¾ ounce, but usually around ⅜ – ½ ounce . These heavier tubes have a faster rate of fall that triggers bass into reactively eating the bait.
Tubes are at their best when they are fished around rock and sand transitions or grass to sand transitions. The can be fished in grass, but it is much harder, so rock is where they truly shine. Tubes can be a deadly tool all around the country for both largemouth and smallmouth. So the next time your out on your local fishery, don’t be afraid to throw them around.
Craw style baits are one of the most versatile baits on the market, in terms of flipping and using them as trailers. These baits are primary rigged on a texas rig with a bullet weight to pitch them into cover or around rock. These baits are used for everything from punching thick mats to flipping for little river smallmouth.
You can fish them on shaky heads, carolina rigs, or texas rigs. They are also the most commonly used jig trailers for every situation imaginable. They provide both a soft subtle action for in the winter months, as well as a violent kicking action to imitate bluegills in the summer. You just need to adjust the action and size of the bait to what you are looking for in that time of year.