Basic lures for largemouth bass fishing

Largemouth bass fishing is a favorite pastime for many people in the summer. The tackle industry has eagerly responded to this pent-up demand by developing a bewildering variety of lures to catch these fish. Anyone who has ever visited a ProBass or Cabela’s store knows what I’m talking about. If we multiply the several dozen bass lure types by their hundreds of variations, one ends up with many thousands of different kinds of lures!! That is enough to give anyone an instant head ache. I also suspect that more than a few of these lures are designed to hook fishermen more than the fish they seek to catch…

Yet, out of all this clutter emerge five proven lures which have worked time and time again for me. Keep in mind that most largemouth bass fishing occurs in relatively shallow water (say, less than 10 ft) rich with structure, such as aquatic vegetation, submerged wood, boulders, sunken reefs, and/or docks. Most of the lures discussed below are designed to operate in such an environment. What follows is a summary overview of these basic lures and how best to use them. I’ve arranged the presentation in the order in which I spend my time fishing with these lures. Keep in mind that this information is based largely on personal experiences. I do most of my bass fishing on relatively small ponds and lakes which experience low fishing pressure. So I can get away with using bolder lures that might scare away wearier bass in more heavily-fished areas. Regardless, don’t be shy and try different variations on a lure until you find the one that works for you. Keep in mind that more often than not, whether a particular lure “works” often depends on the confidence the fisherman has in that lure. And that confidence can only be gained by going out on the water, wetting the line, and letting the fish tell you what works best!

SOFT STICKBAITS

In my book, the 5” soft stickbait is THE most versatile largemouth bass lure on the market, bar none! This lure can be fished in several ways (e.g., Texas rig, Carolina rig, drop shot, etc.) but I prefer using it weightless. I spend around 70% of my bass fishing time with this lure; that’s how much I trust it. It is relatively cheap, enormously versatile and a proven bass slayer. The basic premise of a soft stickbait when fished weightless is that it looks, feels and moves like a big fat grub. The secret ingredient to its success is engineered right into its body. Take a soft stickbait, place it on top of the water, let it sink, and observe what happens: you’ll swear that the thing is alive as it gently wriggles back and forth while descending through the water column. It’s uncanny how it does that trick. And herein lies the secret on how to fish this lure: toss it out, LET IT SINK, retrieve some line, LET IT SINK, retrieve some more line, LET IT SINK, etc. It is during the sinking part that the weightless stickbait is at its most lethal. Another unique feature is that it can be skipped over the water in order to get into impossible-to-reach places along the shoreline, such as underneath overhanging tree branches. The flipside is that the stickbait must be fished relatively slow in order to reach its full potential, which does not make it a good search lure. Stickbaits come in dozens of different colors. Over the years, I noticed that purple with reflecting flecks, and bright pink (talk about opposites!) have done me good, and these are the colors I tend to stick with.

 

 

A 5" soft stickbait with an embedded offset hook. Make sure that the worm sits straight on the hook.

A 5″ soft stickbait with an embedded off-set hook. Make sure that the worm sits straight on the hook.

The hook can either be embedded inside the lure using an off-set worm hook (“weightless Texas rig”) or can be exposed (“wacky worm”). Each presentation has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the weightless Texas rig. I do most of my largemouth bass fishing using this technique because the buried hook makes the lure essentially weedless. As a result, it can be tossed in every nook and cranny with a reasonable expectation that it will not snag. That is a great advantage because largemouth bass hide in places where open-hook lures would be useless. The disadvantage, however, is that the hook is …buried. Therefore, when a largemouth bass grabs the stickbait and you set the hook, that hook must first be pulled through and out of the plastic worm before it can start penetrating the fish’s bony mouth. That works reasonably well if the bite occurs nearby but becomes problematic if the lures is far away or entangled with weeds. The elasticity of normal fishing line makes it so that it is a real challenge to consistently drive the hook into the fish’s mouth when a bite occurs far away. So, hooking success drops with distance. One way to help alleviate this problem is to ensure that the hook point is not embedded in the middle of the worm body but instead is located right underneath the surface. Hence, the hook won’t have to travel far before doing its job on the fish. I note here that I like pairing a size 0/4 offset worm hook with a 5” soft stickbait to fish the weightless Texas rig. To get the most out of this rig, make sure that the soft stickbait is as straight as possible on the off-set hook. Avoid curves in the plastic worm as it will cause the lure to sink too fast without the benefits of the slow wiggles.

 

 

The wacky worm swims sideways and has a small open hook.

The wacky worm swims sideways and has a small open hook.

The wacky worm is rigged completely different. The idea is to pull a soft stickbait through a small rubber “O” ring (bought at your local hardware store) until the ring sits midway on the worm. The ring has to be petite enough so that the lure fits snuggly inside and cannot slide out. Then take a #8 round hook and slip it right underneath the “O” ring. There’s no need to place the hook in the plastic worm itself. Unlike the Texas-rigged soft stickbait, in which the hook is buried and in-line with the lure, the wacky-worm has an exposed hook which is perpendicular to the lure and facing forward when retrieved. The biggest disadvantage with this lure is that it easily snags vegetation or wood on account of its open exposed hook. Hence, the wacky worm can only be used in water which is relatively free of plants or other obstructions. On the other hand, this rig has two major advantages: (a) the chances of hooking a bass are 2-3 times better than a weightless Texas-rigged worm because the hook in a wacky worm is already exposed and is therefore immediately available to do its job, and (b) the weightless stickbait swims sideways (“wacky”) when you bring in line; this causes exaggerated flexing of the worm each time line is bought in, thereby creating a different and zany presentation as the lure is pulled through the water.

 

 

Unlike any of the other lures discussed in this blog, the largemouth bass bite on a weightless soft stickbait is always quiet, subtle, and subdued. Bass don’t need to be aggressive to suck in a grub, nor do they feel threatened by it… Instead, the fish simple slowly swims up to the lure, gulps it in, and moves on. At the other end, the fisherman suddenly feels a “weight” on the line. So, how does one know if that weight is a fish instead of the lure getting stuck? Gently bring in the slack and observe the line for a few seconds: The lure is stuck if the line stays motionless in one place. On the other hand, a fish is swimming around with your stickbait in its mouth if the line is slowly moving sideways. That is the most exciting part of using this lure: knowing that you have a fish at the other end without the fish knowing that you know! Immediately set the hook because a bass will quickly swallow the worm, causing the hook to become deeply embedded in its throat. Don’t attempt to retrieve the hook if that is the case because doing so may cause enough tissue damage to kill the fish. Instead, remove the worm, clip off the fishing line, and release the fish. Chances are good that the bass won’t be worse off for it and that the hook will fall off in time. I highly recommend to always bring a hook-removal plier when fishing with stickbaits, particularly when using offset hooks. The large bend in this type of hook makes it a real challenge to extricate the hook out of the bass’ mouth without the help of plyers.

As a final note, take care not to toss used or broken soft stickbaits into the water. Not only does it create unsightly litter, but it is also a well-known fact that fish will consume stickbaits sitting on the bottom, thereby filling their stomachs with indigestible plastics. This situation cannot possible be healthy for them and should therefore be avoided by us, the ultimate custodians of the places we love to fish.

BUZZBAITS:

Buzzbaits are outstanding surface lures. They consist of a double-bent wire frame on top of which is a small rotating noise-making propeller, which preferably clangs into a small piece of metal to create extra vibration, noise, bubbles, and surface commotion. The underside of the lure has a torpedo-shaped body with a rubber skirt. The business end consists of a large upward-facing hook. The basic premise of this lure is that it represents a small predator fish (the skirted torpedo) chasing a little baitfish on the surface (the propeller). Largemouth bass hate to see that happen. After all, they are the top dogs in their domain and those impertinent smaller fry should all be hiding in fear from them!! So, when bass see that kind of surface commotion in their vicinity, they strike out in a fury to eliminate these brazen offenders, and grab a quick snack along the way. It is for that reason that buzzbaits invariably elicit explosive reaction strikes. I just LOVE fishing with this lure for several reasons: (a) it is an “in-your-face” loud and obnoxious device that irritates and attracts bass from far and wide, (b) it is a great search lure which can cover a lot of water quickly, (c) the upward-facing hook allows the buzzbait to be worked over and through relatively-dense floating aquatic vegetation without getting stuck, and (d) the bass strike is always vicious, as behooves a lure that screams “I DARE YOU TO EAT ME”!

 

 

Two buzzbaits with contrasting color schemes. Note the little "clickers" next to the propellers.

Two buzzbaits with contrasting color schemes. Note the little “clickers” next to the propellers.

I buy my buzzbaits in three general color schemes: dark (black or dark blue), white, and yellow/orange/red. And I don’t cheap out on them either. A good-quality buzzbait costs anywhere from $6-$12 per lure. The low-cost versions available at discount stores don’t create the right surface commotion and have cheaply-made skirts that quickly fall apart, stiffen, or disintegrate. I always enhance this lure by adding a plastic trailer to the primary hook to provide additional, but more subtle, action right underneath the water surface. I make sure that the plastic trailer has a long tail and is of a contrasting color to the skirt. So, the light-colored buzzbaits get a dark-colored plastic trailer, whereas the dark buzzbaits are paired up with a light-colored plastic trailer. Buzzbaits are also notorious for short strikes caused when a bass blows to the surface but misses the fast-moving lure. One way to minimize this problem is to attach a second hook to the first one (see the spinnerbait section below for more details). Another thing to keep in mind is that the buzzbait is a hefty lure. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a Big Bass Bait since it tends to attract fewer but larger-than-average fish.

 

 

 

 

The key to properly using this lure is to prevent it from sinking by keeping the tip of your rod up and by starting the retrieve as soon as the lure hits the water. Otherwise, the buzzbait may be submerged for up to 10-15 ft before it resurfaces and begins making its characteristic noise. That represents lost opportunity and increases the chances of tangling in plants. It helps to use a larger reel with a wider spool when fishing this lure so that you don’t have to crank so fast during the retrieve. A longer rod also helps to keep the lure on the surface. The speed of the retrieve should be just fast enough to prevent the lure from sinking, but no faster than that. One common mistake is to bring in the buzzbait so fast that the bass don’t have a chance to strike it. So, slow down as much as possible while still keeping the lure right on the surface by raising the rod tip. Vary your speed during a retrieve to make the lure look like a struggling, wounded creature fleeing for its life from a close-by small predator. That action will also alter the noise and vibration levels and causes the skirt to flare in and out, which adds more auditory and visual effects to this already busy lure. Finally, slowly swing the tip of your rod right and left during a retrieve to prevent the buzzbait from swimming in a straight line, which doesn’t look natural. This lure works best in relatively shallow water (< 5 ft deep) with sparse to moderate vegetation.

 

SPINNERBAITS

The spinnerbait is a cousin of the buzzbait. But unlike the latter, it is designed to be fished below the surface and at a much-slower pace. The lure consists of a triangular-shaped wire frame on the top of which are one or more straight blades. The underside of the lure has a torpedo-shaped body with a rubber skirt. The business end consists of a large upward-facing hook. The blades come in three basic shapes: long and narrow (i.e., willow-leaf blades), short and round (i.e., Colorado blades), and an in-between shape (Indiana blade). The spinnerbait is all about its blades. The most popular lures have two blades: a larger one on top and a shorter one below. Both blades can be of the same kind – say, willow-leave blades – or a mix – say, one large willow leaf blade paired with a smaller Colorado blade. Some lures come with curved blades which spin more slowly, whereas others have flatter blades which spin faster. All of that affects the speed at which the spinnerbait can be comfortably retrieved through the water column. Regardless of their shapes, more blades equal lower speed. As with the buzzbait, the basic premise of a spinnerbait is that it represents a small predator fish (the skirted torpedo) chasing one or more baitfish (the blades). But besides the obvious visual appeal, the slower-turning blades also create an irresistible set of low- frequency vibrations which are carried far and wide through the water column to the lateral line (the vibration-detection organ) of the waiting bass. And the bass don’t like it when smaller predators chase meals in their vicinity!

 

 

A spinner bait with a large willow-leaf blade and a smaller Colorado blade

A spinner bait with a large willow-leaf blade and a smaller Colorado blade

Spinnerbaits come in an infinite combination of colors, sizes, blade shapes… and prices. The local deep-discount store will sell them for a buck-a-piece. But you’ll get what you pay for: a cheaply-made lure with a rubber skirt of poor quality which will quickly disintegrate. A brand-name lure will cost you between $7 and $12. Keep in mind that most bass fishermen fish from a boat which typically allows for a stuck lure to be saved. Hence, even though the upfront investment per lure is high, those lures will serve you well for years to come. Always have several different kinds of spinnerbaits on hand to address the varying conditions one typically encounters on the water. Personally, I think that color is the most-important discriminant: my favorite spinnerbait colors for largemouth bass fishing are dark blue, red/orange and yellow/white. As with the buzzbait, I’ll pair those up with a plastic trailer of contrasting color to make the lure more visually attractive. I also stick with spinnebaits that have one large blade on top of a second smaller blade. That double combination allows the lure to be retrieved at a slow yet comfortable pace. Spinnerbaits are notorious for short strikes. If you run into that problem, make sure to attach a second hook to the in-line hook. Those additional hooks can be bought at most specialized tackle stores. They have a large eye through which the in-line hook will comfortably fit through. The second hook is then prevented from falling off by passing the point of the in-line hook through a small piece of rubber tube. Even though this alteration may increase your hooking rate, keep in mind that the second hook is now available to get stuck on vegetation.

 

 

This spinnerbait has two small Colorado blades and a second hook attached to the in-line hook to deal with short strikes.

This spinnerbait has two small Colorado blades and a second hook attached to the in-line hook to deal with short strikes.

The spinnerbait is a relatively weedless lure with its large single upward-facing hook placed in-line with the metal frame. This lure works best in water 1-5 ft deep with moderate levels of aquatic vegetation, particularly broad-leafed lily pads. The lure is typically retrieved at a low speed in the water column, but can also be fished “buzzbait-style” by speeding the retrieve, raising the rod tip, and bringing the lure right up to the surface. This tactic works well to get the lure through heavy floating vegetation. Even though the spinnerbait will catch plenty of largemouth bass when simply retrieved through the water column, you’ll increase your strikes by “working” it. Make the skirt pulsate by constantly altering the speed of retrieve. Raise and lower the tip of you fishing rod so that the lure moves up and down in the water column. Again, the goal is to make the lure look as alive and active as possible. The profile of the spinnerbait is also relatively large, particularly if it has willow-leaf blades. Hence, it will tend to self-select larger bass. As with the buzzbait, the bite tends to be sudden and brutal.

 

 

 

 

FLOATING RAPALLAS

This 5" floating Rapalla has been made more weedless by removing the central treble and cutting off the frontward-facing hook of the front and back trebles.

This 5″ floating Rapalla has been made more weedless by removing the central treble and cutting off the frontward-facing hook of the front and back trebles.

Bass fishing with a floating rapalla is a lot of fun! It is the only lure discussed in this blog which is not weedless. That limits its use, but only to some degree. I like casting the 5” unjointed kind because of its unique and tight wiggle action. The problem is when this lure comes out of the box, it has three exposed trebles, with a total of nine hooks, which love to snag anything and everything. Here’s the trick to making this marvelous lure more weedless: remove the central treble hook altogether, and snap off the forward-facing hook from both the front and back treble. This simple modification decreases the number of hooks from nine to four and reduces snagging by 80%! That, and the fact that the lure floats, makes it so that it can be used in most situations where only weedless lures would otherwise work. The secret to fishing the floating Rapalla is to make it look like a wounded/dying bait fish. The innate instinct of bass simply forces them to pounce on something so vulnerable, defenseless and exposed. Hence, do not retrieve this lure quickly in one shot. Instead, cast it and let it sit for a few seconds; it’s amazing how many largemouth bass strikes occur when a Rapalla is not moving!. Slowly retrieve 4-5 ft of fishing line and stop for a few seconds to allow the lure to resurface. Then, quickly rip the line to cause the lure to eratically dive down before letting it resurface. You get the idea. This lure has to be “worked” to do its magic. The stop and go retrieve, plus the erratic diving and resurfacing, will capture the largemouth bass’s attention and broadcast that this is an easy meal worth going after. The floating Rapalla works well in lightly- to moderately-vegetated areas and over sunken wood. This lure provides the exact opposite action of an in-your-face buzzbait, which is why it is good to use it when the temperament of the bass requires a more subtle presentation.

 

 

WEEDLESS FROGS

The weedless frog is fun to use but difficult to hook bass with.

The weedless frog is fun to use but difficult to hook bass with.

Frogs are the go-to lure when the floating aquatic plants are so dense that nothing else can get through without getting stuck on some thing or another. Plastic frogs, like all other bass lures, come in a bewildering variety of shapes, makes, and colors. The type I like best (see picture) consists of a hollow-bodied frog with two upward-facing large hooks snug against the body to limit snagging, and “legs” consisting of two bundles of rubber strands. This type of lure is essentially weedless and will easily skip right over the vegetation without getting stuck. The soft body collapses when a bass bites in it, thereby exposing the two hooks. The hits are invariably explosive and exciting to watch. But there is a dirty little secret associated with frog fishing along densely- vegetated shorelines: the hooking rate is dismal, with less than one out of six hits resulting in a hook-up.

 

 

 

 

The secret to fishing with the weedless frog is to follow-up a missed bite by tossing a plastic worm in the strike zone.

The secret to fishing with the weedless frog is to follow-up a missed bite by tossing a plastic worm in the strike zone.

Part of the problem is that the frog is typically at its best in dense beds of lily pads where the bass have difficulty properly targeting the lure. It is good practice when bringing in the frog over floating vegetation to let it linger in openings large and small to give a bass that may be following the lure the opportunity to properly aim and strike at it. But the real trick to increasing your catch rate is to take along a second rod armed with a weightless Texas-rigged 5” soft stickbait or a weedless “Kelly’s Scented Bass Crawler”. When a bass pounces on your frog, and most likely misses it, remember where the hit occurred, retrieve the frog as fast as possible and cast the worm right inside the strike zone. If you can accomplish that in less than 10 second (and getting into the strike zone as fast as possible is the key to this tactic!), then you have one chance in two of catching that fish. The reason is that the bass will linger in that spot looking for any signs of the frog it just hit! So, I’ll use the frog as a search lure to pinpoint the bass lurking underneath the dense lily pads, but with no real expectations of hooking them with it, and use the rubber worm as the actual “hooking lure”. Even though frog fishing can be a blast, I personally use it only in situations where the other lures described above won’t work on account of the dense vegetation.

 

 

 

Was the information in this blog useful? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. Also, feel free to discuss your fishing experiences at this location.

 

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2 thoughts on “Basic lures for largemouth bass fishing

  1. Great post! I agree with stick baits as the top choice. My favorite colors are black and red laminate (Red Shad) and green pumpkin with red flake. The latter is deadly in clear water.

    Here’s a tip: Once your bait gets torn up near the hook attachment point, turn it around and fish it the other way. When both ends are messed up, fish it wacky style. I’m a cheap SOB and can make one lure last a whole day.

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