Everyone is looking for an edge as tournament season gets started. Some folks might be looking for a new bait or style. The ones listed below are five of my favorite baits for early spring. Hopefully you can use the info to catch a few more and maybe cash some bigger checks!
Since 2006 when this style of bait was used to win some big bass tournaments the market has been flooded with so many choices and brands that it often over complicates this simple bait. When you are looking for colors, keep to the big four: Black/Blue, White, White/Chartreuse, Green Pumpkin. My preferred is the Z-Man Original Chatterbait Elite in 3/8 oz.
Add a Yamamoto Swim Senko as a trailer in the matching color. Start with the five inch and move to the four inch version if you are getting some short strikes.
Anglers who are not familiar with a bladed jig might be tempted to throw it where you would a billed crankbait. The typical trees and rocks casting is good but where this bait shines is in grass. If you find some of that bright green, submerged grass (which means the water has good oxygen content), throw in to it and work it through. Big fish love healthy grass. The bladed jig gives you the reaction strikes on the fall like a normal jig and also the vibration and action of a crankbait on retrieve. It’s a double threat for sure.
Shakey Head and Ribbon Tail Worm
Oh the shakey head. When you just have to put five in the boat, this is a go to for so many anglers now. Rock piles, sand, grass, and so much other structure is ripe for the picking. An underutilized place to throw a shakey is at lilly pads . Pairing it with a ribbon tail worm can really dial it in quick. My preferred worm for this technique is an Xcite Baits Raptor Tail Worm paired with the Buckeye Lures Spot Removers Pro Model Shakey Head in 1/4 oz.
Unlike frog fishing where you throw way back in the slop with 80 pound braid, this bait is more finesse. If you get wind, which most of us do, concentrate on isolated clumps of pads not attached to the main bed. Fan cast around the edges of the clump with a seven inch ribbon tailed worm. For fan casting, a green pumpkin ribbon tail works best. If the wind dies, switch it up to a black and blue ribbon tail and pitch the shakey right into the middle of the pad clump. The lack of wind will raise the caution flags for the bass and they will retreat to the stems under the pads for cover. The black and blue will offer a good contrast in the deeper cover.
An early Spring fishing trip in 2009 got me addicted to jerkbaits. I stayed in one place and caught 100 fish in about three hours. Since then I can’t put it down. I’ll throw a jerkbait ten times more than I’ll throw a crankbait if I am fishing in less than ten foot of water. If I am covering a lot of water and searching for fish I like to use a bait with a lot of side to side action but fast at the same time. The bait I reach for in that situation is a Rapala Shadow Rap. When fish are active, fan casting this bait and retrieving it with a medium roll and double twitch every five turns puts a lot of fish in the boat for me.
If the fish aren’t as active and are suspending above trees or near a channel I’ll switch over to a Spro McStick 110. This bait has a skinnier profile than the Shadow Rap and is a more finesse style jerkbait. A twitch twitch pause works well with this bait. I’ll typically count to 10 after the second twitch to allow the bait to move through the water column.
Be careful if you change out your hooks on jerkbaits. They are weighted with the included hooks and different sizes can cause it to sink faster or slower. A good way to verify is using a pool or bathtub to test out the fall rates before hitting the water.
Soft Plastic Swimbaits
In early Spring the bite can be slow at times and when you are looking for the giants, a swimbait can often get it done. While the smaller fish are going to be keying on big bait schools of two to three inch shad, the big fish are going to be where the gizzard shad are lurking. Finding rocky points that are near flats often will put you in the neighborhood. If you are marking fish and they just don’t seem very aggressive, tie on a five inch paddle tailed swimbait. I really have come to like the Keitech Swing Impact FAT on a 3/32 oz Owner Weighted Twistlock hook. I can slow roll this bait over, around and through just about anything.
Many times you’ll feel a tick on the end of the line. Keep reeling at the same speed. It takes practice. Many times a big fish will be behind the bait and following it. If you stop it they’ll lose interest. That method is counter intuitive to everything I’ve ever learned about top water, crankbaits and even jerkbaits but for swimbaits and big fish, continuing the reeling cadence is more productive.
Swivel Jig Heads and a Creature
A few years ago I wanted to learn how to fish a jig but I didn’t have any confidence in it. A friend recommended I try a swiveling jig head and a creature bait to get my confidence up. I did and it worked. I do like a jig but sometimes you just need a creature bait to do some work. I primarily use the Gene Larew Biffle Hardhead with a Hag’s Undertaker Jr. I like the Black Widow color for simplicity and versatility. The head pivots and moves with the terrain under the water while the Undertaker Jr floats into an upright fighting stance. It’s deadly on smallies, largemouth and dang near anything that will swipe at a crawfish.
I love this setup on heavy timber and rock piles. You can bang it around and it is fairly weedless. Work it slower in colder water temps. In water less than 60 degrees I’ll do two small twitches and count to 20. It’s super slow fishing but while you are counting that baits is rising and moving underwater. If there is a fish there, he usually hits it at about 15 seconds or as soon as I do the next twitch.