Sight Fishing for Cruising Bass

You can catch visible bass if you show them the right lures.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Before the spawn, bass cruise to feed and look for bedding sites. After spawning, many bass remain in the shallows for a week or more. Some of these fish swim beneath schools of tiny bass fry to protect them from predators; other bass concentrate on feeding.

In the summer and fall, cruising activity always centers on feeding. Whenever baitfish move into the shallows, like coves off the main lake or the backs of feeder creeks, bass will be on the move to hunt this forage.

Many anglers overlook cruising bass because they fail to see the fish or regard them as uncatchable due to numerous failed attempts or abysmal luck. Truth is, cruising bass respond very well to lures, provided you use the right ones and present them properly.

Lure Selection
Rely on lures that cover the water from the surface down to 2 or 3 feet deep. Also opt for subtle lures. Excellent choices for topwater baits are (1) a 3/16- or 1/4-ounce popper and a small balsa minnow bait. These lures land lightly, and the floating minnow doubles as a jerkbait. Start the minnow with a gentle twitch-pause action on top. If that doesn't get results, work it back beneath the surface with a jerk-pause cadence.

Other excellent lures for cruising bass include (2) soft-plastic jerkbaits, floating worms, and tubes rigged with a 1/32-ounce jig hook. If you can't find a 1/32-ounce tube jig, whittle the head of a 1/16-ouncer down to size. Since you'll normally be casting to moving bass in open water, you don't have to worry about snagging the exposed hook.

Another worthy choice is (3) one of the several crankbaits available that run less than 1 foot deep. Hold your rod tip high during the retrieve to make these lures "wake" the surface. Bass sometimes go for this ploy when they refuse to come up for topwater lures.

Take the Lead
Whatever type of lure you employ, bear in mind that you must lead a moving bass the way a waterfowl hunter swings ahead of a mallard before pulling the trigger. If the lure lands behind the bass, the fish isn't likely to pay any heed. Plop the lure on the bass' head, and it may dart away. Ideally, you should drop the lure 3 feet or so in front of the fish, even farther ahead in extremely clear water. This gives the bass an opportunity to see the lure and be drawn to it.

Also, impart a soft landing. With baitcasting tackle, employ a low sidearm cast that keeps the lure close to the water. Spinning tackle casts light tubes, floating worms, and small balsa minnows with more precision than baitcasting. These light lures tend to land softly even with an overhead cast. With a tube or a floating worm, now is the time to skip the bait in front of the bass. A skipped bait mimics a fleeing baitfish and can prompt a cruising bass to strike.