Bass fishing can seem like a confusing sport to those just getting into the game. With so much equipment lining store shelves, it's no wonder some anglers have a hard time deciding what to put in their tackle box. This guide will help you choose the most effective baits for doing battle with Mr. Bucketmouth. Learning what to use and when to use it will simplify the bassin' game tremendously, allowing you more enjoyment -- and success -- at America's greatest, most treasured pastime.
Rod, Reel & Line
Choosing a rod and reel combo is an important step for those looking to join the bassin' fraternity. Much like the game of golf, fishing for largemouth is best undertaken by utilizing a variety of different rods (or clubs) to maximize techniques and baits. Once you become a proficient angler, you will slowly add to your expanding rod and reel collection. Until that time, I will cover a few of the basic set-ups in order to get you started on the right foot.
A six-and-a-half foot medium or medium-heavy action graphite spinning rod, coupled with a spinning reel loaded with eight-pound test monofilament fishing line is a common outfit for largemouth bass. This setup is a great starting place for most anglers as it is capable of handling a wide-variety of lures and techniques; it will be capable of handling most topwater lures and crankbaits (smaller cranks, not the oversized variety), and almost all soft plastics. Due to the fairly light line that is common with spinning outfits, though, fishing heavy cover may be somewhat of a struggle.
For larger, heavier baits and stronger, thicker line, a casting rod and reel is the way to go. A six-and-a-half foot medium-heavy action graphite rod combined with a smooth-handling baitcast reel is a common, versatile combo. Load the reel up with 14-pound test monofilament and you're ready to go. The increased line strength and rod capacity will allow you to fish thicker cover, throw heavier lures and battle fish more effectively. Although some people are afraid to pick up a baitcaster for fear of the dreaded "birds nest," they are actually quite easy to use if you put in just a little time and practice before hitting the water.
One last rod that I would recommend to those that like to fish heavy cover is a flipping stick. A flipping rod is designed for use with jigs and plastics for fish that are buried in thick weeds, under docks, or around dense cover. A casting rod of this type should measure between seven and seven-and-a-half feet long, should have a heavy action and be paired up with a reel strung with 20- to 25-pound test line. This outfit is a mainstay on my boat and the combo that gets the most use from day to day.
Rod selection should be based on lures, techniques and type of cover -- or lack thereof.
Although these three rod and reel recommendations are excellent starting points, after time, you will want to experiment with technique specific rods and further your collection. Much like a golfer has a collection of clubs at his or her disposal, the same holds true for the ardent bass angler. It's quite simple -- different situations, cover or lures call for different rod and reel combos; to be a proficient bass angler, you'll need to cover all the bases.
The best advice I can pass along when it comes to rods and reels is to choose wisely and try to pick out a quality product. When you're battling a lunker bucketmouth on the end of your line, the last thing you want to endure is the heartbreak of equipment failure. (For more information, see our Bass Rod Buying Guide and Casting Reel Buying Guide.)
Stocking the Tackle Box
For those anglers new to the sport of bass fishing, or for those looking to hone their skills, one of the greatest dilemmas you'll face is deciding what to put in the tackle box. Although there are thousands of lures out on the market, choosing a few of the more well-known and reliable baits will help you on your way to catching more and bigger fish.
Spinnerbaits are well-known and often-used for largemouth bass, mainly because they are easy to work and produce consistent action. This horizontal bait is generally fished fast and is a great search tool for locating active and aggressive fish. The simple design allows for easy use; in fact, a basic "chuck-and-wind" approach is often the most productive.
The weedless design of the spinnerbait is advantageous for working vegetation -- the precise location you'll most likely find the largest concentrations of bass. Don't be afraid to work your way through and over pad beds, alongside docks and timber, and over large expansive flats. (If fish are around, they will certainly make their presence known.)
Stable weather, overcast days or prime feeding times are your best bet for throwing this lure, as well as anytime you come across shallow water while out on the lake. Another proven technique is to suddenly stop the bait during retrieve, allowing it to flutter down to the bottom. This works well for following fish, as well as for bass that are holding tight to cover.
Spinnerbaits in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce are the most popular. Choose a few different blade configurations including double willow, tandem and single Colorado styles. Black, white and chartreuse are proven winners when it comes to skirt colors. (For more info on Spinnerbaits, see our Spinnerbait Buyer's Guide.)
Crankbaits are usually used to mimic the primary food source of bass -- other fish. Although there are many different kinds of crankbaits on the market, beginning anglers should concentrate on purchasing a handful of cranks to cover the different layers, or depths, of the water column. Crankbaits can run inches below the surface or all the way down to 20-plus feet deep, depending on the size of the bait's lip.
Choose a shallow, medium and deep diver to cover most the water you will encounter. Also, pick cranks that are short and stubby in appearance -- largemouth prefer these to long, thin baits.
Lipless crankbaits also deserve a spot in the bass angler's box. These lures can be "counted down" (they sink approximately one-foot per second) to the exact depth that you are targeting. The best technique for these chunks of plastic is to burn them in as fast as you can reel. Hang on tight -- largemouth love to hit these lures like a freight train!
Crankbaits are great baits as they can be worked fast, slow or anywhere in between. You can attract aggressive and neutral fish just by altering the speed of your retrieve.
Deciding on what color to use can be a tricky proposition. My advice is to stick with natural colors -- baby bass, silver, white, shad, perch -- when faced with clear water conditions; change to brighter colors -- chartreuse, firetiger, red -- as water visibility decreases. (For more information, see our Crankbait Buying Guide.)
Frogs & Toads
Frogs and toads bring an exciting visual aspect to bass fishing as this "cat-and-mouse" technique can produce exciting surface strikes.
Frogs are hollow-bodied plastic baits. Their design allows them to float on the water's surface or on vegetation, and their upturned hooks render them virtually weedless. These lures excel when worked over pad beds, heavy slop or surface weeds. A series of twitches, pulls and pauses work best, and allowing the fish to completely inhale the bait before setting the hook will increase your hooking percentage greatly. If a fish splashes on your bait but misses, keep working it slowly in the same vicinity. Most times they will come and whack it again.
Toads are similar in stature to frogs; however, toads are made from solid soft plastic (no hollow body). Most have dangling feet that act as buzzers, churning up the water as the toad is worked along. These lures slowly sink when allowed to sit still, so working them casually along the water's surface is the most effective technique.
I prefer toads when fishing water with open areas beside heavy cover, over weed beds or alongside a row of pads or stumps. A flipping stick is a great choice for throwing these two styles of baits. (For more info on fishing frogs and toads, see Toadin' for Bass.)
Tackle shelves are literally heaving with every style, shape and color of soft plastic creature one can imagine. This offers great variety for the experienced angler, but overkill for the novice!
Whether in the form of worm, crawfish, lizard or frog, soft plastics generally perform the same function -- catching buckets of bass. Plastic baits are great for both active and neutral largemouth and can be fished in both open water and thick cover.
Fishing soft plastic baits is quite simple and straightforward. Cast your plastic worm, lizard, craw or creature out and let it fall to the bottom on a slack line. Retrieve the bait with a series of hops, pulls and tugs, maintaining intermittent contact with the bottom. Fish will suck these lures up in a blink of an eye, so be prepared for indications (weightless feeling or slight line movement) that your bait has been picked up. Once this is transmitted down the line, it's time to set the hook fast and hard, all the while keeping steady pressure on the fish.
Plastics are superb tools for fishing deep structure areas and weed lines. Using the appropriate size worm weight for the depth you're fishing will enable you to dredge up some bass while hopping a worm or craw along the lake bottom.
For those starting out, I'd suggest a sample of plastic baits, including six- and eight-inch worms, four-and-a-half to six-inch craws, four-inch creature baits, four and six-inch soft stick baits and a few six-inch lizards.
This selection should cover most your bases, and the ability to add to your collection is almost limitless as your knowledge progresses. Stick with the same color scheme as you did with your crankbaits, although adding blue, crawfish, and June bug hues will also add to the effectiveness of these baits. Make sure you purchase a high quality, razor-sharp hook to go with these baits. A good selection in the 2/0 to 4/0 size should work well for most situations you will encounter. (For more information, see Soft-Plastic Baits for Bass.)
Fishing for largemouth with topwater baits is an exciting and visually thrilling technique. No other tactic in the bassin' world can illicit such heart-stopping moments and long stretches of sheer anticipation.
There are many different styles of topwater baits available to the angler; the one thing they all have in common is the ability to create a commotion on the surface of the water. This commotion is what drives bass to strike.
Most topwater baits have either a prop to produce sound and churn water (buzzbaits, chuggers), a concave mouth to throw water and create a popping sound (poppers), a short and stubby lip on a bait fish body that produces a wake and side-to-side movements (wake baits). Others have no sound or body mechanism whatsoever, relying instead on the angler's actions to impart movement and noise (cigar-style baits). Owning at least one bait in each of the four topwater categories will allow you to appeal to the bass' needs and wants, while also covering all the bases for topwater technique.
Topwater baits appeal to active fish. This can mean actively feeding on prey or actively moving throughout the water column. Very rarely will you hook a negative mood fish on top. Cold fronts, unstable weather, and severe heat coupled with direct sun overhead are all times when you should put away your topwater baits and opt for a plastic bait or jig-n-pig instead.
Topwater plugs excel during low-light conditions. Early morning or evening periods will see an increase in bass activity, meaning the chances for success rise considerably. The same can be said for overcast and rainy weather.
Don't spend too much time debating color schemes when it comes to topwaters; fish are much less interested in the hue of your bait than its action. If the water you are fishing is extremely clear and calm, choose a natural colored presentation, as the fish will have a greater opportunity to inspect your bait under these conditions. For other situations, I usually select a brightly colored lure so that I can see it better in the water. (For more information, see Catching Hawgs on Top.)
A jig-n-pig is composed of a skirted jig coupled with a trailer composed of plastic or pork. Due to the jig's built-in weed guard, this bait is perfectly suited for delving into the heaviest cover you can find.
This finesse-type bait is perfect for cold front conditions when fish are tight to cover and unwilling to put forth much effort into chasing prey. It also excels during hot midday periods when bass hole up in cover for shade.
Flipping or pitching a jig-n-pig into weed pockets, along fallen timber, under boat docks and undercut banks, and parallel to thick weed lines are tried and true targets. Allow this vertical bait to sink on a slack line until it reaches bottom, carefully lifting and hopping the bait in place to arouse attention. Much like soft plastic offerings, bass will mouth or suck in a jig, leaving only a tap on the line or a weightless feeling to betray their presence. Hit them hard with a hookset and keep them coming in the direction of the boat, well away from any cover or structure you are near.
My favorite colors for jig and pigs are black and blue, brown and orange, and black and green, although experimenting with different shades and trailer styles will often be your best bet. (For more information, see Tuning Up Your Flipping Jigs.)
Bass fishing does not have to be a complicated game if you know the basics of lure selection and techniques. Knowing when and what to throw is half the battle in becoming a certified bass professor when out on your favorite lake, and these suggestions should get you well on your way. Here's to a good season!