How To Choose Tackle and Lures for Wary Bass

As a cold wet spring slips into what I hope will be a long, hot summer, largemouth bass get more of my attention. With just a few backcountry exceptions, the lakes I fish locally are heavily pressured. The bass have long ago wised up. They are wary, picky, and hard to catch.

That can make tackle and lure choices difficult. Do I go with the flow, using traditional lures and tactics, even though I know that the bass have seen the same things hundreds of times? Or do I try something purposefully different, hoping that novelty will attract more and larger fish?

Those aren't simple questions. Depending on which local water body I'm fishing, I see most people either throwing a white spinnerbait with silver blades or else pitching heavily weighted soft-plastic creature baits around thick mats of weeds. These are for the most part good fishermen doing what's been proven to work over time. And they catch fish--sometimes.

Yet it's a well-proven fact that caught-and-released bass (along with many other gamefish) both learn and remember. In some areas, a big, old largemouth will see a white spinnerbait pass by 200 times or more in the course of a single day. That's no exaggeration. Maybe the fish finally gets so annoyed it just plain tries to kill the lure. I don't know.

What I do know is that something different is almost invariably better. That can mean any number of things, but in my case lately it's come to mean lighter and smaller. I'll fish 6-pound mono instead of the 12- or 14-pound I used to always fish. Four-inch worms instead of the 6- or 7-inch soft-plastics I used to buy all the time. Pair that bait to a size 1/0 worm hook instead of the 3/0s and 5/0s I used to use, and fish it with a one-sixteenth-ounce worm weight--just enough weight to keep me in contact with the worm as it sinks.

Savvy bass anglers will immediately say that I can hook 'em but can't land 'em on such light tackle. Sometimes that's true. If a larger bass makes its usual run into the weeds, then I'm done for. A couple of head shakes inside a wad of milfoil will indeed snap that light line.

The trick is to get the fish headed upward on the hookset and to keep it headed upward. If I bring the fight to the surface, the bass can't turn everything into a giant weed gob. More often than not, this works, even with larger fish of 5 to 7 pounds. Yes, it's a challenge. That's part of the fun. And as I said, it's different....