Pick out any lure in your tacklebox and it will probably catch a bass in the springtime.
When a bass makes its annual migration to the shallows to procreate, the energy it expends on this trek makes the fish hungry enough to eat any thing crossing its path. While bass are susceptible to a wide range of lures now, the savvy angler relies on only a handful of baits to catch greater numbers of bass and lunkers. Here’s a look at the top five lures professional bass anglers favor for catching springtime bass.
As the water temperature climbs into the 50-degree range, Alabama pro Tim Horton selects a 4 1/2-inch suspending stickbait to catch bass moving up from their winter sanctuaries to bluff points or other steep rocky points. He favors using stickbaits in a clown color and a blue flash hue any time he’s fishing clear water (visibility of at least 3 feet).
“Stickbaits are not good for dirtier water; that’s when you need to fish spinnerbaits,” advises Horton. The former B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year believes clear water is necessary for this technique since the fish are suspended from 10 to 20 feet deep and have to look up to hone in on the lure running in the 3- to 6-foot range.
“When the fish are really sluggish I fish the stickbait more and I’ll use a retrieve of a twitch, twitch, pause,” Horton discloses. “The pause can vary any where from 2 to 3 seconds up to 8 to 10 seconds depending on how early in the year it is and how sluggish the fish are.” As the water warms up later in the spring, Horton switches to ta longer stickbait and employs an erratic twitching retrieve with only occasional one-second pauses.
Horton throws suspending stickbaits most of the time, but he opts for floating versions in late spring, especially during the postspawn. He also uses a floating stickbait for twitching around vegetation where the Alabama angler wants his lure to stay just above the weeds.
A 6 1/2-foot medium-action rod and 6.3:1 gear rati) bait-cast reel works best for Horton’s stickbait tricks. He usually uses 8- to 10-pound test line for twitching stickbaits in open water but switches to12- to 15-pound test for working the lures over thick grass.
This action bait produces bass for Horton during the pre- and post-spawn in stained to murky water situations.
When the water temperature nudges the 55-degree mark, Horton starts running a crankbait along secondary points in coves where the staging fish will be 8 to 12 feet deep. He favors a medium-diving crankbait in citrus shad or crawfish hues because the added weight of this lure allows him to make long distance casts, a necessity for ensuring his crankbait will reach its maximum depth
Bumping the bottom with his crankbait is the key to Horton’s retrieve in the springtime. “The first four or five turns of my reel are real fast to get the bait started and then I use kind of a medium stop-and-go retrieve,” he describes. Since he wants the lure to bump into anything on the bottom, Horton selects a crankbait capable of diving deeper than the water he’s fishing. So if he’s working a point 8 to 10 feet deep, he cranks a lure that can dive 10 to 12 feet.
Postspawn is Horton’s favorite time to throw crankbaits. He keys on hard bottoms close to sandy spawning areas where he finds the fish bunched up on structure such as secondary points.
Horton’s cranking tackle includes a 7-foot medium action cranking rod with a bait-cast reel (4.3:1 gear ratio) filled with 10- to 12-pound test line.
This lure is considered by most pros as the dirty-water substitute for the stickbait. “A spinnerbait is just so effective and you can cover so much water, especially to find fish,” says four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam. “It might not be the best tool for catching fish all the time but it is usually my tool for locating the correct area to fish.”
The Michigan pro rates a spinnerbait as his top search tool for finding bass along migration routes in the spring. During the prespawn, he usually runs the lure less than 10 feet deep where a creek channel swings into a spawning flats or along the outside edges of the flats.
As the water continues to warm, the fish move up onto the flat and seek shelter in shallow cover. The versatility of a spinnerbait shines now since VanDam can work it effectively around all types of cover including stumps, laydowns, flooded bushes and vegetation.
A Strike King spinnerbait with various blade combinations produces bass for VanDam throughout the spring. “The blade combination is real critical then and that’s determined by water clarity more than anything else,” he suggests. “I use a lot more willow blades in the spring. It seems like the fish–even in pretty stained water–are a little more skittish about the vibration of the blades during that time of year, especially in the prespawn.” He favors a double willowleaf combo when fishing clear water to produce more flash and picks a Colorado/willowleaf combination for stained water when he wants a slower presentation.
His blade and skirt colors are determined by water clarity. He favors a combination of silver and gold for most situations, but opts for straight nickel blades in ultra-clear water and tandem gold for stained to murky conditions. For the dirtiest water, VanDam tries white or chartreuse painted blades. His skirt color choices are the following: shad or translucent hues for water visibility greater than 2 feet; pearl white for visibility around 2 feet; chartreuse-and-white for less than 2 feet of visibility; and perch colors (combination of chartreuse, orange and green) for stained to murky water.
The size of the available forage and the fish he’s pursuing dictates which spinnerbait VanDam selects. Most of the time he uses a 3/8-ounce model or larger since the baitfish are bigger in the spring. If he is on a fishery loaded with smaller bass, he tries a 1/4-ounce blade bait, but when he fishes lakes noted for big bass such as Texas’ Sam Rayburn, VanDam ties on a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait.
A slow- to medium-speed retrieve works best for most of VanDam’s springtime spinnerbait tactics. He likes to slow roll a big spinnerbait early in the spring and then he speeds up his retrieve as the water warms later in the season.
VanDam uses a 6-foot medium-action Quantum PT rod for delivering his spinnerbait in tight quarters but for most applications he works the lure on a 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy action rod. He retrieves the lure with a Quantum (6.2:1 gear ratio) bait-cast reel spooled with 17- to 20-pound test line.
“The jig is the ultimate big fish lure,” claims Missouri pro Denny Brauer. “If you look at tournament history over the years it pretty well proves that fact.”
The bass fishing superstar believes the larger profile of a jig appeals to the hearty appetite of big bass during the spring. The shallows are also teeming with crawfish, a favorite forage of heavyweight bass. “The jig does the best job of emulating a crawfish as any lure out there,” observes Brauer. “You can also work it at a speed that is relatively compatible to the metabolism of the fish in that water temperature. It will also fish around and inside a lot of the heavy cover that these fish relate to when they first move up into shallow water.”
If the water is clear and bass are deeper than 5 feet, Brauer selects a Strike King Denny Brauer Pro Model ½-ounce jig. When the fish move into the shallows, he depends on a 3/8-ounce model because it has a slower fall rate.
His lure color choices are based mainly on water clarity. “The general rule of thumb is if the water visibility is less than 2 feet I am going to go with a Texas craw color (black with some chartreuse) but if I’ve got visibility from 2 to 6 feet black-and-blue is then an excellent choice,” Brauer recommends. “And if I’ve got real clear water I’ll go with chameleon craw (brown).” He opts for a black jig with some red rubber strands in its skirt when he’s fishing lakes with vegetation.
The jig expert picks a pork or plastic trailer in the same color as his jig. In the early spring, he tips his jig with a smaller pork chunk. When the water warms, Brauer changes to a plastic trailer (Strike King Craw).
Flipping and pitching to shallow targets (stumps, rocks, bushes, laydowns or weeds) is Brauer’s favorite springtime jig tactic. Most of his strikes occur on the jig’s initial fall so Brauer usually keeps his retrieve simple; he drops it into cover and if a fish fails to bite on the fall, he tries another spot.
A jig is Brauer’s top choice during the pre-spawn, but he believes other lures such as tube baits work better when bass go on the nest. He also uses a jig during the post-spawn on dirty-water lakes that have big bass reputations.
Since he’s after big fish in heavy cover, Brauer relies on 7 1/2-foot flipping/pitching rod and a 6.3:1 bait-cast reel filled with 25-pound line for his jig presentations.
This lure is an effective bait for catching bass from top to bottom. “The best thing about a lizard is it’s such a versatile bait,” says FLW Tour angler Jay Yelas.
The Texas pro takes advantage of this lure’s versatility in the spring by using it for three presentations. One of his favorite ways to work a lizard is on a Carolina rig during the pre-spawn. The rest of his Carolina rig consists of a 3/8- to 1-ounce weight, a main line of 20-pound test and a leader of 12- to 14-pound line. He relies on the lighter weight when fishing shallow and opts for the 1-ounce version if he’s fishing in the wind or deeper than 10 feet.
Yelas retrieves the Carolina-rigged lizard by keeping his rod tip parallel to the water and slowly dragging the lure along the bottom.
A Texas-rigged plastic lizard is effective for flipping around rocky banks and shallow cover such as bushes, logs or boat docks. Yelas selects lizards in black, black-and-blue, black neon or pumpkin-and-chartreuse shades for flipping. In murky water, Yelas sometimes prefers an 8-inch lizard that he impales on a 5/0 hook.
Hopping and lifting the lure through the cover is Yelas’ favorite retrieve for a Texas-rigged lizard. He matches it with a 3/16-ounce bullet weight for most situations, although he’ll upgrade to a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce weight for banging through thick cover.
A third method Yelas employs in the springtime is twitching a floating lizard in protected coves during the spawn. Yelas chooses floating lizards in funky colors such as bubblegum and white or a more natural hue like watermelon.
The floating lizard produces bass for Yelas whether he’s twitching it across the surface as a topwater bait or by letting it slowly sink to the bottom and then twitching it back up again.
Yelas uses the following tackle for his plastic lizard tricks: 6 1/2-foot heavy action worm and jigging rod and 6.3:1 bait-cast reel for Carolina rigging; 7 1/2-foot flipping rod and bait-cast reel filled with 25-pound line for flipping; and 6 1/2-foot heavy action rod and bait-cast reel spooled with 17-pound line for the floating lizard.