1 CRANK SHALLOW BRUSH
Most people don’t reach for a crankbait when they’re fishing shallow shoreline brush, but tournament angler Cody Bird became a believer after cranking in 18 pounds of bass in an hour from cover he’d worked with a spinnerbait without a strike. The key is lip design: It must be short, angling sharply downward, and square.These features will push the lure’s nose down and tail up, making it almost completely weedless. Manufacturers are catching on to this technique and designing more of the appropriate lures, like the Lucky Craft CB and Zoom Z1.Bird recommends 20-pound-test and a heavy rod. When the bait runs into a branch, just keep cranking and it will usually come through safely.
2 TAIL-WEIGHT A DINGER
Penetrating thick cover, such as flooded bushes, is a pain with a Texas-rigged soft-plastic bait that has a bullet weight on the line because the lure’s free-swinging tail can whip around and latch onto limbs and branches. Pro Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals,Alabama, flips a 5-inch Yum Dinger into the nastiest cover without a hitch.Rigging it Texas-style with a 4/0 hook and no weight, he then clips off thehook from a ¼- to ½-ounce ball-head jig that has a keeper collar. He insertsthe jig’s collar into the Dinger’s tail. This rig slides straight into denselairs tailfirst when Horton flips it, and it pulls out of cover moreeasily.
3 SHAKE YOUR PLASTIC
This technique isso pervasive among pro anglers that it’s astounding every basser in Americahasn’t heard of it. “You need to know this presentation,” says Texaspro Kelly Jordon. “Shaking is used to provoke a strike from a bass that’snot interested in feeding. The idea is to make your lure–either a tube, jig,worm, or creature–pulsate and quiver, without moving it out of the strikezone.” Pitch or flip your bait into flooded bushes, downed logs, or junkgrass. Once it hits the bottom, lift your rod until you feel the bait, thengently shake the rod tip. Pause, then shake it some more. The key is to keepthe bait’s head in constant contact with the bottom so that only the body andtail vibrate. “Bass can’t stand this,” Jordon says, “and will tryto kill the bait even if they’re not hungry.”
4 DROP-SHOT THE WEEDS
Drop-shotting isan established clear-water finesse tactic, but many pros are modifying it intoa heavy-line power presentation. They tie a 1-ounce sinker to the end of20-pound-test mono spooled on a heavy 7-foot 6-inch flipping stick. The heavysinker breaks through the thick mats of vegetation but still keeps your choiceof soft plastic, rigged 6 to 12 inches above the weight, off the bottom. Shakethe rod to give the lure some action.
5 WEIGHT A FROG
Today’s hotplastic frogs (like the Zoom Horny Toad or Berkley Power Frog) are designed tobe fished on the surface through thick vegetation. Veteran California pro GaryDobyns, however, has developed a technique that makes these lures even moreeffective: He adds a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce slip sinker on the line ahead of thefrog and fishes it 6 to 12 inches under the surface. Retrieved steadilyunderwater, the frog’s swimming legs create much more action. Dobyns says hegets far more strikes. He uses 30-pound braided line and rigs the frog with around-bend 5/0 Gamakatsu hook; the style of hook is important, as it serves asa keel to prevent the frog from spinning. Dobyns uses it around underwaterstumps, logs, deep rocks, and breaks.
6 GO LONG WITH A CRANKBAIT
According to FLWtournament veteran David Fritts, casting a crankbait just 10 feet farther oneach toss allows him to cover more than a mile of extra water during a day ofcompetition. How does he get more distance? He ditches the conventionalcrankbait rod for an extra-long 7-foot 11-inch model with a faster action tohandle big baits. Reaching those few extra feet gets the lure to the bottomquicker and probes spots most anglers never do.
7 FINESSE A JIG
In clear water, astandard jig-and-pig is as subtle as a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt. Smart proanglers like North Carolinian Marty Stone are instead downsizing their jigs forspooky bass. A perfect example of this new breed of finesse jigs is DaleSellers’ Lil’ Cootie Bug. Rigged with a small pork or plastic chunk, it’s aringer for a live crayfish. Stone has won thousands of dollars using thesediminutive jigs and says, “They’re especially deadly during spring inclear, rocky lakes, when bass are feeding on crayfish emerging from theirwinter hibernation. Flip them around boat docks and let them sinkslowly.”
8 ADD WORM WIGGLE
The ingeniousWiggleFin ActionDisc, already a sensation among trout and salmon flyfishermen,is just beginning to make waves in bass lakes. “It’s awesome,”proclaims a top West Coast pro who is currently using it successfully (andanonymously) on the tournament trail. Created by Idaho angler Dean Teegarden,the ActionDisc enhances the movement of soft-plastic lures. Slide it on yourline in front of the lure and use your normal retrieve; the martiniglass-shaped disc traps water, imparting sensational shimmy to the bait. It canbe used with any soft-plastic lure, but the effect is most pronounced withribbon-tail worms and lizards. It works great with Texas, Carolina, anddrop-shot rigs.
9 FLOAT A FLY
This revolutionarylight-line system catches surprisingly big bass in water as cold as 37 degrees.”Bass suspending in hyper-chilled water are extremely lethargic and oftenwon’t strike a moving lure,” says Tennessee guide Jim Duckworth. “Thismethod works by dangling a small hair jig resembling a tiny minnow in front oftheir noses for a long time.” Position the jig 8 to 12 feet under a bobber,and present it on a whippy 8-foot spinning outfit spooled with 4-pound line.Cast to a steep rock bank and allow the fly to sink. In choppy water, hold therod still–waves will give the fly action. If it’s calm, jiggle the rod tipslightly, pause, and repeat.
10 TAKE A JERKBAIT DEEP
Jerkbaits aregenerally fished in 5 feet of water or less, but pro Frank Scalish ofCleveland, Ohio, catches bass down to 15 feet by jerking a big-lipped Bomber24A minnow, which is normally trolled for walleyes. Scalish adds weight to itsbelly to make it suspend and dive deeper. To do this, pound two 1/16-ounce leadbullet sinkers flat and epoxy them to the lure on both sides of the leadingtreble hook. To test for the proper balance, put the lure in a bucket of water.File the lead weights until it suspends. Scalish casts his modified 24A on8-pound-test monofilament to clear-water bass holding as deep as 25 feet. Thebait gets down 11 to 12 feet on a long cast and brings up bass that don’trespond to regular jerkbaits.
11 RIP A SPINNERBAIT
Lake Fork, Texas,guide Brooks Rogers has pulled 10-pound bass out of 30 feet of water duringsummer’s dog days with this aggressive spinnerbait tactic. The best combinationis a ¾-ounce lure with a single No. 4 willowleaf blade fished on 20-pound-testline. Let the spinnerbait sink all the way to the bottom on a long cast, then,with your rod tip pointing toward the lure, crank the reel as fast as possiblefor six or seven turns. Stop and let the lure fall back to the bottom, thencrank again. The fast reeling rips the spinnerbait off the bottom at an angle,and then it falls lazily back when you stop. Strikes usually come when the lurechanges speed and direction.
12 FISH BADWATER
Who would fish shorelines that have no visible cover, or wide open water 30 to 40 feet deep?Gary Yamamoto, the well-known lure maker and veteran tournament pro, that’swho. He loves bad-looking water adjacent to obvious cover and structure because heavy pounding pushes fish into empty spots; after the pressure slackens, thebass move back to prime territory. His favorite “bad-water” lure is a1-ounce football-head jig rigged with one of his multistrand plastic HulaGrubs. The heavy jig falls fast so it draws reaction strikes, and the grubentices as it hops along the bottom. It works shallow and deep.
13 FISH A BEAVER
The Sweet Beaver,a quirky soft-plastic creation from Reaction Innovations, is the hottest softplastic on the pro circuit. Is it a tube bait? A grub? A creature? A craw?”It’s totally unique,” says California pro Ish Monroe. “I love theSweet Beaver in murky conditions because it moves so much water, making it easyfor bass to find.” To flip the Beaver into brush or grass, he Texas-rigs itwith a ounce tungsten sinker and a 3/0 offset worm hook. The compact crittersinks into the strike zone quickly, its multiple tail appendages flapping andpulsating like the pincers of an angry crawdad. Monroe then lifts and drops itrepeatedly.
14 GO SHALLOW FOR DEEP SMALLMOUTHS
When smallmouthsin deep highland reservoirs leave the banks and follow schools of threadfinshad or alewives offshore, Dale Hollow Lake guide Fred McClintock uses anunorthodox spinnerbait retrieve. With a medium-action 7-foot baitcasting rodand 14-pound line, he casts a ½-ounce tandem willowleaf spinnerbait to basssuspended near rock piles. He retrieves the lure quickly so it runs justbeneath the surface. “The trick is to use a spinnerbait with brightchartreuse blades and skirt,” McClintock says. “Big smallies will swimup from 30 feet of water to plaster it. I’ve seen an entire school ofsmallmouths following a chartreuse spinnerbait fished this way.”
15 HIT A BRIDGE
Recent tournamentwins by anglers concentrating solely on bridges have made many fishermen take afresh look at these common structures. They give bass shade, cover, current,and food. Toledo Bend guide Tommy Martin’s favorite bridge tactic on hot summerdays is working a buzzbait within inches of the shaded edges of the concretepilings. In the eddy downstream of the pilings, he uses a plastic worm or evena drop-shot rig; pilings closest to the deep-water channel normally producebest. On the upstream side of a bridge where brush often lodges against thepilings, crankbaits are the best choice.
16 MAKE A WAKE
Tennessee guideRalph Dallas has caught 60-pound stripers by “waking” a Cordell Red Finminnow plug across the surface, but he’s also landed a surprising number oflunker bass with this topwater tactic. “Bass will get right in with a packof stripers to bird-dog a baitfish school and drive it to the surface,”says Dallas. Using a 7½-foot baitcaster and 20-pound mono, he casts the Red Finacross a tributary point, gravel bar, or hump. With the rod tip at 10 o’clock,he reels just fast enough to make the tail slosh back and forth, throwing awake across the surface. Keep your drag loose–your next strike could be a7-pound largemouth or a 40-pound striper.
17 BUZZ A GRUB
Everybody fishesplastic grubs, but only a handful of pros have recognized how effective theseshort plastic worms can be when they’re fished in the style of topwaterbuzzbaits. Choose a grub with a strong swimming tail so that a fast retrievereally stirs up the water. Rig it weedless on a jighead as light as 1/8 ounce.You can fish it anywhere, especially through shallow weedbeds. Anotheradvantage is that when you stop reeling, the lure will sink, and you cancontinue to work it like a mid-depth crankbait or even on the bottom like a jigor plastic worm, all on the same cast.
18 MAKE OVER YOUR CAROLINA RIGS
If you think a6-inch plastic lizard is the only lure that’ll catch bass on a Carolina rig,here’s a news flash: Experts offer a varied menu on the business end of thissystem to tempt jaded bass on highly pressured lakes. The entree you choose toserve should be appropriate to the season as well as the clarity andtemperature of the lake. In murky 55-degree water, Texas guide Dan Thurmondslowly drags a plump plastic craw across staging areas. During the postspawn,Virginia pro Woo Daves likes to fish a Carolina-rigged stubby plastic frenchfry across tributary points. In plankton-rich 80-degree water, Tennessee proCharlie Ingram fishes the rig with a plastic worm up to 12 inches long onoffshore humps and channels. To compete on deep, clear reservoirs, Ingram willsubstitute the worm for a silvery floating-diving minnow. It gets down wherethe fish are and captures the flash and flutter of an injured shad.
19 SWIM BAITS TO FIND BASS
In California,huge swimbaits catch double-digit bass. Some well-known tournament pros are using these specialized baits all across the country to find average-size largemouths. Here’s how it works: Start with a 5- to 8-inch bait with a jointed body or a special tail that produces a distinct wobbling, swimming action.Retrieve it slowly but steadily just under the surface in a way that covers alot of water. Bass frequently give away their presence in an area by curiously following these lures without striking, and that’s what the pros are lookingfor. Once they see a fish, they change to a smaller, more effective lure like ajig or worm.
20 JIG A WORM
In the past, the”desperation bait” of most tournament pros was a lipless crankbait.Now, many have changed to a plastic worm on a jighead–but not just any worm orany jighead. The worm, which measures 4 to 6 inches, must be very skinny. Theround-ball jighead usually weighs 1/8 or ¼ ounce and has a size 1/0 hook. Thiscombination is fished on 8-pound-test line, shallow or deep, depending on thecover. Let it sink, but keep it off the bottom. Once the lure is in the zone,give it a shake and the skinny worm will respond with a shimmy. Effectivedepths range from 10 to 30 feet, and favorite places include deep points, steepbluffs, and boathouses.
21 WORK A WORM INREVERSE
Instead of astandard Texas-rig worm presentation, Florida pro Terry Scroggins takes a4½-inch french fry (stick worm) and inserts a 1/32-ounce nail weight, the kindnormally used with soft jerkbaits, in its tail. He then rigs the worm on anoffset hook, casts around likely cover, lets it settle to the bottom, andretrieves with light twitches of the rod tip. “When you pop the worm offthe bottom and drop it, the nail in the tail actually makes the bait move awayfrom you as it glides back down, much the way a live crayfish backs up whenit’s frightened,” he says. “I can tell from the way they slam it thatbass haven’t seen this presentation in a soft bait before.”
22 CRANK A JIG
Californiatournament pro Greg Gutierrez thinks bass see too many crankbaits. To fish busywater, he cranks a jig instead. It’s been a tournament-winning technique forhim around the country. He rigs either a ½- or a 1-ounce jig with a twin-tailplastic grub trailer, matching the color of a lake’s dominant forage. For lowstretch and near invisibility underwater, he uses 15-pound-test fluorocarbon.Gutierrez lets the jig sink after a long cast, then simply reels it backsteadily like a crankbait. The lure crawls along the bottom and draws feedingas well as reflexive strikes, especially around rocks and gravel.
23 SKIP A FROG
Last yeartournament pro Dean Rojas not only designed a new plastic frog but also createda new way to fish it. Most people swim frogs over matted vegetation, but Rojasskips his hollow-bodied version, called the Bronzeye, under overhanging coverlike boathouses and limbs. It’s possible because it weighs a hefty 5/8 ounce.To skip your standard light, hollow-bodied frog, buy a package of jewelry bellsor beads at a craft store and insert one or two into the lure body. You’ll addboth weight and sound. Lead sinkers are too heavy and will destroy the frog’sbalance.
24 TAUNT LETHARGIC BASS
One of basschampion Kevin VanDam’s favorite tricks when conditions are tough, such asduring the heat of summer, is power fishing a big lure when everyone else istrying to finesse stubborn bass with small baits. VanDam believes you can stillmake bass strike reflexively even when they’re lethargic and not hungry. Hefishes a shallow-diving Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue jerkbait, making long castsand then jerking the lure back as hard as possible to create the most erraticaction. Using a spinning rod with 8-pound-test fluorocarbon, he targets visiblecover because he feels that inactive bass are holding close to weeds, rocks,timber, or pilings, rather than in open water.
25 DOG-WALK A BIG DINGER
Something about the side-to-side action of a dog-walking stickbait mesmerizes bass intostriking. The problem with these treble-hooked lures is that you can’t workthem over surface vegetation. Cleveland, Ohio, pro Frank Scalish has devised away to walk the dog in grass and other snaggy covers: He rigs a 7-inch YumDinger Texas-style with a 5/0 hook and no weight. This fat hunk of plastic hasjust the right balance for a dog-walking retrieve. “It’s got a wild,super-sexy action that appeals to large bass,” Scalish says. He retrievesthe big Dinger over matted grass and walks it through potholes and off theedges of the vegetation. Scalish also casts this snag-free bait into smallopenings in flooded bushes and other brushy cover without a care.
26 GO SHALLOW WITH A LANIER RIG
Take the provenCarolina rig, eliminate the sinker, and you’ve got a “Lanier rig”(named after the Georgia reservoir). It’s a killer shallow-water technique, andpros are using it when they need a slow-falling lure, such as after a coldfront. Favorite locations include scattered weedbeds, brush tops, boat docks,and other cover down to about 4 feet deep. The swivel connecting the main lineto the leader serves as the rig’s weight; since the Lanier rig is fished withlighter lines and spinning tackle, it also keeps the lure and line fromtwisting.
27 PUT A SWIMBAIT IN BED
When spawning basswon’t respond to normal bass baits like lizards, pro Mark Kile of Payson,Arizona, aggravates them with a big 9- or 12-inch Osprey Talon swimbait. Thisoversize soft-plastic minnow was designed to catch California’s giantFlorida-strain bass. Kile pulls the tail-wagging Talon into the middle of thebed with a stout flipping stick, then shakes the lure on the bottom bytwitching his line. The hefty bait threatens and excites a previously torpidbass, which will usually swim quickly around the lure and may nip at its tail.When Kile thinks the bass is significantly roused, he reels in the swimbait andquickly casts an unweighted, Texas-rigged 5-inch Wave Worm Bamboo Stick to thebed. The bass inhales the sinking bait before it reaches the bottom.
28 SWIM THROUGH GRASS
Swimming a jigover and through shallow vegetation is becoming a very popular practice,particularly since the recent introduction of specialized jigs by Pradco(Booyah Swim’n Jig) and Rad Lures (Chatterbait). Tournament pro Alton Joneslikes to rig the former with a twin-tail plastic trailer and fish it with afast stop-and-go retrieve around thick shoreline weeds. The jig’s flat headallows it to skim over cover. He rigs the plastic trailer Texas-style to makethe lure weedless and prevent snagging. The quick, herky-jerky action keeps thelure on the surface.