The Top 10 BASS Lures

Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue.

Field & Stream Online Editors

That Victorian-era bridal rhyme reveals a great deal about great bass baits. The venerable Jitterbug topwater plug is something old, for example, but still effective enough to make our list.

There's also much that's new. Not broad new lure categories, however, but rather new wrinkles on old favorites, like plastic worms or popping plugs.

Something borrowed? Actually, it's more like stealing. The fishing-lure business is notorious for one manufacturer's ripping off another's concepts. This produces a great number of similar lures, which is why much of our list comprises lure categories rather than single brands.

Something blue? Here's a hint: It involves the ever popular jig-and-pig.

The following 10 baits might not be the only bass lures you'll use this spring, but they are the most important ones.**

1. Spinnerbait
This is easily the most important largemouth bass lure from Maine to Mexico. A white skirt with a pair of silver, willowleaf-style blades (like the Strike King version shown here) is basic and should usually be your first choice. A gold blade¿¿¿chartreuse skirt combo is a close second and most useful in muddy or off-color water.

Spinnerbaits allow lots of water to be covered fairly quickly, unlike, say, a plastic worm, which is usually retrieved slowly. A fast retrieve, for example, keeps the spinnerbait at the surface, even to the extent of "humping," or creating a wake, as it moves. Conversely, slow retrieves can be used to plumb the depths in search of coldwater bass. In either case, the lure's single hook rides point-upward and is generally weedless.

2. Plastic Worm
While many early versions actually resembled worms, today's models are worms in name only. In appearance, they are more like the yucky stars of a B-grade horror flick. The point, however, is that they now wiggle as never before, and -- as a result -- bass love 'em.

Zipper Worms (shown here) are a good example. They originated recently in California, an outgrowth of the hand-poured Robo Worms developed by Harvey and Greg Stump. Zipper Worms are the injection-molded, mass-market versions. The broad vanes on the body add apparent bulk without actually adding mass to the lure, which allows for maximum wiggle. A short, curled tail adds a swimming motion, while the body vanes also generate low-frequency vibrations -- to which bass are sensitive -- and still more wiggle as they slither against weed stems or bottom gravel.

Plain-vanilla plastic worms still work, of course, but the problem is that the bass in your favorite lake have probably seen the same worm design hundreds of times. The proliferation of new designs simply means you've got a chance to wake up fish with a new look.

** 3. Soft-Plastic Jerkbait**
From new idea to bass-fishing standard in 10 years seems like a lot to ask, but that's what happened with these lures. Herb Reed of Connecticut-based Lunker City developed the Slug-Go, which first won a regional bass tournament in 1990. Now virtually every major soft-plastic lure brand offers one or more soft-plastic jerkbait clones. Twitch-and-pause. Twitch-and-pause. Jerking the lure abruptly and then stopping causes a wild darting motion followed by a dying flutter. And often a broad swirl from a taking fish as well.

Last year, Cabela's raised the soft-jerkbait stakes with their Livin' Eye Minnow design (shown here) that added shiny foil inserts to translucent soft-plastic bodies, plus realistic 3-D eyes in front. As far as I know, the foil-insert scheme was pioneered earlier by the Bass Assassin brand, but the lifelike molded eyes have become the hot new trend. Several makers offer slim lead inserts that can be poked into a Texas-rigged soft jerkbait to add weight without overly impeding the lure's action.

4. Zara Spook
After nearly 75 years of topwat success, it's still perhaps the best surface lure ever made.

Fished with a walk-the-dog retrieve style, the Spook moves across the surface with a wildly erratic side-to-side darting motion that largemouths just can't resist. There have been a variety of new entries in this walking-plug category lately from makers such as Excalibur and Yo-Zuri that offer more variety in size, shape, and color. But the basic Spook shape and action still usually works as well or better than its competitors, which is why it's singled out here.

Beyond its action advantage, the Spook also casts extremely well, so you can cover lots of water fairly quickly, searching for aggressive bass.

5. Jig-and-Pig
With a pig, it's not pretty that counts. It's the barbecued result. So it is with this ugliest of bass standards: a floppy, gloppy mess that catches fish like crazy. The combination of a rubber-skirted jig and a pork frog gained prominence when bass pro Bo Dowden used it to win a B.A.S.S. Masters Classic tournament in 1981. I happened to be an observer in his boat at the time and can report he was using a black, 3¿¿8-ounce Arkie jig backed by a black pork frog to pull largemouths off rocky reefs edged by weeds in about 12 feet of water.

The added pork chunk -- now often soft plastic rather than pure pork -- adds wiggle, bulk, and causes the combo to sink more slowly than a bare jig. Black and blue are basic colors, usually in combination. The example shown here is a new Stanley Platinum Jig (note the high-fashion eyes) backed by a Gene Larew (soft-plastic) Ribbed Chunk.

Most such jigs have nylon bristles molded into the head as a weedguard. But these can work too well, making the lure also fishless. If you're failing to hook fish, trim the weedguard down to fewer fibers or -- in open-water fishing -- remove it entirely.

6. Popping Plug
Surface poppers are an age-old bass-fishing concept, but their design and action have changed radically in recent years. Older versions had a deeply cupped face that produced a loud bloop when twitched. Classic and still effective, the Hula Popper is a good example.

Newer styles have faces that are less deeply cupped, which means they tend to skitter and throw spray like a baitfish or frog trying to escape a hungry bass. This also means that they can be fished with faster retrieves, covering more water in less time.

The example that is shown here -- a Megabass Pop-X from California -- is noteworthy for several reasons. The lure combines a sophisticated molded shape with an advanced color scheme and prominent eyes. Its nearly flat face throws lots of spray, while internal passages also allow spray to exit through the gills. And it costs about $35 -- nearly eight times the cost of "normal" poppers.

7. Jitterbug
Jitterbugging was a national dance craze in the 1930s, which is when Ohio lure maker Fred Arbogast carved his first Jitterbug surface plug from a block of cedar. The basic design has remained unchanged ever since; Jitterbug plugs are still immensely popular, and they still take lots of bass.

Of all bass lures, these are perhaps the easiest for novices to use successfully. Just cast one out and retrieve slowly and steadily as the plug wobbles and gurgles along the surface.

The Jitterbug works best on a calm or slightly rippled surface. Stronger winds and a heavy chop kill the lure's action and make it less visible to bass. Larger versions -- even the biggest muskie-size -- are excellent night-fishing plugs.

Try fishing a midget 1¿¿8-ounce Jitterbug in your favorite bass pond. You'll have to use fine-diameter 6- or even 4-pound-test mono to get casting distance, but bass will often whack the tiny plug while ignoring larger versions.

8. Floating-Minnow Plug
The basic design has been around for a long time; the floating Rapala was marketed in the early 1960s. Now other companies have raised the ante with some hot new wrinkles.

This style of plug is usually fished in twitches, which cause the plug to dive, wiggle, and then float gently back to the surface. This erratic dying-minnow act drives bass nuts.

Some makers are building plugs that are similar in function but offer sophisticated color schemes (as in various models from Yo-Zuri) or with plug bodies molded in actual baitfish shapes instead of simple, tapered cylinders. The new plug shown here -- a Minnow 45 from a Georgia company called SPRO -- is a good example of combined complex shape and color. The new Hi-Back Shiner from Bass Pro Shops emulates the shape and color of pond shiners.
9. Crankbait
The old saw about "what goes around, comes around" has never been more true than with bass lures. A few shallow-running, high-speed crankbaits have been around for years, but this spring they're suddenly red-hot and trendy. The foremost example of this style is the Mann's 1-Minus shown here.

Late spring and early summer on most bass waters is when the tops of newly emergent weeds are close to the surface. Cranking plugs like a 1-Minus, which only runs a foot deep at most, at high speed over the weed tops is often a sure route to a hard strike. If emergent weeds intersect with other cover, like a stump or rockpile, so much the better.

There are two other fundamental crankbait styles, each with different applications. So-called lipless crankbaits such as the Rat-L-Trap are cast-and-crank vibrating lures that work well as bass spread over deeper flats after spawning. Deep-running, spoonbill-style crankbaits, meanwhile, come into their own later in the summer for probing the deep, outside edges of weedbeds, creek channels, or the deepest underwater extensions of shoreline points.
10. The Tube
No, not your TV set. As lures, these are soft-plastic hollow tubes with solid heads and multiple cut tails. Common sizes for bass range from about 3 inches up to about 5 inches long. Versions like the popular Gitzit (shown here) have been around for quite a while, periodically fading into or out of bass-fishing fashion. Noted bass pro Denny Brauer won a major 1998 tournament by flipping tube lures around and into bass cover, giving tubes a recent boost.

The key to tubes is versatility. They can be rigged with an internal jighead (as shown), a style that exposes the hook bend and point. This works well for deep-water and light-line finesse fishing.

Alternately, tubes can be Texas-rigged with a standard plastic-worm hook and with weight added to the line in front of the lure as needed. This is a weedless rig, which makes it ideal for short-range pitching or flipping into heavy cover. time; the floating Rapala was marketed in the early 1960s. Now other companies have raised the ante with some hot new wrinkles.

This style of plug is usually fished in twitches, which cause the plug to dive, wiggle, and then float gently back to the surface. This erratic dying-minnow act drives bass nuts.

Some makers are building plugs that are similar in function but offer sophisticated color schemes (as in various models from Yo-Zuri) or with plug bodies molded in actual baitfish shapes instead of simple, tapered cylinders. The new plug shown here -- a Minnow 45 from a Georgia company called SPRO -- is a good example of combined complex shape and color. The new Hi-Back Shiner from Bass Pro Shops emulates the shape and color of pond shiners.
9. Crankbait
The old saw about "what goes around, comes around" has never been more true than with bass lures. A few shallow-running, high-speed crankbaits have been around for years, but this spring they're suddenly red-hot and trendy. The foremost example of this style is the Mann's 1-Minus shown here.

Late spring and early summer on most bass waters is when the tops of newly emergent weeds are close to the surface. Cranking plugs like a 1-Minus, which only runs a foot deep at most, at high speed over the weed tops is often a sure route to a hard strike. If emergent weeds intersect with other cover, like a stump or rockpile, so much the better.

There are two other fundamental crankbait styles, each with different applications. So-called lipless crankbaits such as the Rat-L-Trap are cast-and-crank vibrating lures that work well as bass spread over deeper flats after spawning. Deep-running, spoonbill-style crankbaits, meanwhile, come into their own later in the summer for probing the deep, outside edges of weedbeds, creek channels, or the deepest underwater extensions of shoreline points.
10. The Tube
No, not your TV set. As lures, these are soft-plastic hollow tubes with solid heads and multiple cut tails. Common sizes for bass range from about 3 inches up to about 5 inches long. Versions like the popular Gitzit (shown here) have been around for quite a while, periodically fading into or out of bass-fishing fashion. Noted bass pro Denny Brauer won a major 1998 tournament by flipping tube lures around and into bass cover, giving tubes a recent boost.

The key to tubes is versatility. They can be rigged with an internal jighead (as shown), a style that exposes the hook bend and point. This works well for deep-water and light-line finesse fishing.

Alternately, tubes can be Texas-rigged with a standard plastic-worm hook and with weight added to the line in front of the lure as needed. This is a weedless rig, which makes it ideal for short-range pitching or flipping into heavy cover.