Our approach was pretty simple and straight forward. When we were casting into the current and bringing our lures back with it, we fished a homemade Ned rig. When we were casting with the current and bringing our lures back against it, we fished jerkbaits.
I made my Ned rigs with a VMC Finesse Half Moon Jig in either the 1/8 or 3/16-ounce weight. They come in several other weights but the bass that day seemed to like the two sizes I just mentioned. Black or green pumpkin made no difference.
My plastic was a Berkley Powerbait Maxscent The General Worm. It’s basically a 5 inch stickbait. I bit off about an inch of the head to shorten it down. Natural, shad-like colors seemed to work best although black was pretty productive, too.
Fletcher used a similar setup only with different manufacturer’s products.
All we did was let our offerings drop down to the bottom and then we bounced them back to the boat with the current. The trick to getting so many bites was to not work them too fast. Slow and easy was what this morning was all about.
My jerkbait was a Rapala Shadow Rap. This thing was perfect for what we were doing. It’s 4 1/4 inches long and runs in the 2-4 foot range. (If it matters to you, it was a #11.) And, it’s comes in at least 24 different colors. I caught most of my smallmouth on Ghost but almost any natural looking color would have caught just as many.
Fletcher used a similar jerkbait but from a different manufacturer.
We brought our jerkbaits back against the current real slow. The idea was to keep the lure in front of the fish for as long as possible. Sometimes, in places where the current was especially strong, we’d hold our lures in place and let the water create the action. That was a killer. The smallies went crazy when we did that.
I used the same rod and reel for both presentations. My rod was an Abu Garcia “Ike” Series Delay model, medium action. It has a soft enough action to handle smaller baits but it has enough backbone to handle a big fish in the current.
My reel was an Abu Garcia REVO with a low gear ratio. A high-speed reel would have been a problem because it would have encouraged me to retrieve my baits too fast which would have killed my bite.
Wake baits are seriously underfished. I really don’t know why because they are super good in the early spring and the late fall. The forage is up in the water column. That means the bass are up, too. Wake baits are an obvious choice.
My idea of a wake bait is any lure that runs right under the surface on down to about a foot or thereabouts. Hundreds of lures fall into that category, but my favorites are the Rapala DT Fat Crankbait, the Rapala BX Balsa Waking Minnow and the Storm Waking Crank.
All three baits give you a wide choice of sizes, profiles and colors. Lures in the DT Fat Crankbait series look almost like hardboiled eggs. The ones in the BX Balsa Waking minnow series are long and slender. The Storm baits are somewhere in between the two. They’re more like a traditional crankbait.
As far a color is concerned I can’t recommend any specific one. The thing you want to do here is pay close attention to what the forge looks like in your reservoir, lake or river and match it as close as you possibly can — size, color, shape. Wake baits are designed to mimic the real thing. The closer you get to that the more fish you’ll catch.
Finding a place to fish them is about as simple as it gets in this sport. They’ll work anywhere as long as they’re swimming over cover. My favorite place is over grass, but I also like to swim them over laydowns that extend out into the water a ways.
One thing here: Don’t think of wake baits as shallow water tools. If the water’s clear, bass will move up a longways to get to them, sometimes 20 feet or more.
Wake baits are treble hook lures so you’ll want to throw them on a crankbait rod. My favorite is a 7 foot, 3 inch, Abu Garcia “Ike” Series Delay Casting Rod.
I mount an Abu Garcia casting reel, medium speed, to it. Any of the reels in the REVO Series around 6.6:1 will do you a good job. Avoid using high-speed reels. They have a tendency to make you retrieve the bait too fast. All that does is run it over the top of the fish.
My line is either monofilament or braid in something between 14 and 20-pound-test depending upon where I’m fishing and how big the fish are that I’m going to catch. My mono is Berkley Trilene Sensation Professional Grade. My braid is Berkley Trilene Professional Grade Braid.
Make sure you fish wake baits this spring. They’ll catch bass, and because they run right on top, the fight is spectacular.
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If you’re even half-serious about bass fishing you should learn to fish the umbrella rig. It’s somewhat controversial but in the end it’s a real fish catcher, controversy or not.
However, let me give you a warning before we go any further. Some tournaments allow it, some don’t. And, the number of hooks that you’re allowed to have on one rig or rod varies widely from one state to the next. Make sure you know the rules before you start throwing it.
The umbrella rig is at its best in the early spring and in the late fall. That’s when bass are seriously relating to baitfish, and no lure or rig on the planet mimics a ball of baitfish better than an umbrella rig. It’s a crazy looking thing with its mass of wire and turning blades but it absolutely mesmerizes bass when it’s rigged properly.
Proper rigging means starting with the right harness. My choice is a Shane’s Rig. (I’m not sponsored by them. Nevertheless, it’s the best one I’ve ever used.) I like the ones that can be rigged with anywhere between five and 10 lures.
My favorite head is a VMC Darter Head, and I don’t worry much about the color. I’m partial to the 1/8-ounce weight but at times I will go up to 1/4 ounce. I rig everything except the one in the center with a small Berkley HAVOC Beat Shad. I always pick one that looks like the local shad — white, gray, smoke, ghost or whatever.
Berkley HAVOC Beat Shad
On the center head I use a Berkley PowerBait Hollow Body usually in a Hitch color. I use this bigger bait, and in a different color, because I want to create a target for the bass. If they’re moving in on the center lure, they’re more likely to grab an outside lure during an attack, a feeding frenzy or just out of desperation
Note: My tackle does not include a heavy saltwater rod and reel and I’m not using rope for my fishing line. That is totally unnecessary. Don’t overdo your tackle. Use medium-heavy bass tackle and you’ll do just fine with an umbrella rig.
I’ve been out in San Diego, California, doing some saltwater fishing for my new TV show. We’ve been using jigging spoons, but in two ways besides just letting them fall to the bottom and then jerking them up or snapping them at a predetermined depth. So, for this blog the term jigging spoon is a little misleading.
Early in the morning when the baitfish are up on top we’ve been casting them out and holding the rod tip real high as we cranked them back with an occasional twitch of the rod tip. They work really well for that kind of fishing.
Later in the day, when the sun was up higher, the baitfish would drop down and so would the fish that were holding under them. When that happened we’d let our spoons drop down to where the baitfish were — one foot per second — and then bring them back the same way except that we’d hold our rod tips lower to help keep our spoons down.
Finally, in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was high and it was getting hot, we fished them in a more traditional manner, snapping them up off the bottom.
A lot of anglers think only of jigging spoons as jigging lures. But they are much more than that. They’ll do the exact same thing in freshwater for you that they did for us in saltwater. All you have to do is pull them shallow and horizontal early, pull them deeper and horizontal in the late morning and pop them off the bottom in the afternoon.
I’ve done everything I’m describing to you here in Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments. It will work for you just like it has worked for me.
My choice for a jigging spoon is the Molix Mike Iaconelli Lover Spoon. My usual preference is the 3/4-ounce size. It’ll cast a mile. It’s as tough as a 10 penny nail, and it looks like the real thing. But, good as it is right out of the package, I make two modifications to it that make it even better.
First, I replace the back treble with a feathered one. (I don’t mess with the two prong front hook.) I don’t really know why but this makes it more effective. And, I never tie directly to the lure. I always add a split ring or a snap to the line tie. That gives it just a little more action, especially when it’s moving horizontally.
My Lover spoon comes in 5 colors. The best color is the one that most closely resembles the local forge where you’re fishing. This is a reaction lure but it needs to look natural. Color is a big part of looking natural.
Last week at the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods I fished the Neko rig. I didn’t finish all that high but I did catch several bass that I wouldn’t have caught any other way. So, I thought it was worth sharing.
The Neko rig is a super successful technique because it mimics the real thing. When it’s fished right it kind of pecks along the bottom. That’s exactly what real baitfish do when they’re feeding. They put their tails up and then they just peck, peck, peck as they move across the bottom eating whatever they can find. Every now and then you’ll see a puff of mud or sediment kicked up by their actions.
The Neko rig is a simple thing to put together and doesn’t cost much, either. I start with my hook selection. I always use a VMC Ike Approved Neko hook, either with a weedguard or without one depending upon the conditions. They come in a half-dozen sizes. Use the one you want. I go with a #1 or a #2 about 90 percent of the time.
As far as baits are concerned you can use any straight tail worm or any soft stickbait. I’m partial to soft stickbaits.
They perform better when they’re pecking, or at least it looks that way to me. At Lake Hartwell I used a Berkley Powerbait Maxscent The General Worm. It’s a great pick when you want something to look natural and that has lots and lots of scent. I think scent is really important with a Neko rig.
I rig my hook to the plastic with a Wacky Ring from VMC. I like the clear ones because I don’t think the black ones look right with certain colors. I haven’t really tested my thinking on that a lot but it just doesn’t look right sometimes, and when something doesn’t look right I don’t fish with it. It’s a mental thing, but it matters.
I put the hook about three-quarters of the way down the worm near the weight. I always make sure that the point of the hook is up. I want an easy and efficient hookset when a fish takes my bait.
And speaking of weight, I use VMC Half Moon Wacky Weights. They fit right into the fat end of my plastic — that’ll make the rig look and act more natural — and they’re ribbed so that they don’t fall out on every other cast. In shallow water I like the 1/32 ounce model. When the water’s a little deeper I go with a 1/16 ounce weight.
Once you’re rigged up, it’s time to pick a rod and reel. I fish my Neko rigs with a 7 foot, 2 inch, medium action “Ike” Finesse Series Spinning Rod from Abu Garcia. My reel is a 20 or 30 size model from Abu Garcia. I like the REVO Rocket because of its fast retrieve speed. Truthfully, though, any model they make will get the job done. They’ve been making quality reels forever.
You can spool up with either straight fluorocarbon or with braid as your main line and fluorocarbon as your leader. I think the braid to fluorocarbon gives you better performance. I start that combination with 10 or 15-pound-test Berkley Trilene Professional Grade Braid. My. leader is usually 6 or 8-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon Line.
Once you’ve got everything together all you have to do is cast it out, let it fall to the bottom and shake your rod tip for a minute or two. Then, reel it in a ways and do the same thing over again.
Always keep your rig on a semi-tight line and watch carefully as it falls. Aggressive bass will grab it before it hits the bottom.
The Neko rig is easy to build, inexpensive to fish and it catches them. What’s not to like about that?________________________________________
This time we’re going to talk about an old technique that’s not used much anymore outside of Florida. It’s pretty basic, all you do is wind a Texas rigged worm through the water instead of letting it sit, quiver, hop or drag along the bottom.
I used this technique when I won the 2003 Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta. It was one of three that were critical to my success.
The place to start when you want to make a swimming worm is with the weight. I go light. My lightest selection is 1/16-ounce and my heaviest is a 1/4-ounce. I always use VMC Tungsten Worm Weights because I don’t want to cut my line and I want my weight to travel smoothly through the water.
Always peg your sinker. That gives your rig better action and it helps to keep it up off the bottom. A VMC Sinker Stop will do a good job. They go on easy and stay in place.
My worm is armed with a VMC Offset Worm Hook. I pick the individual design, size and strength based on where I’m fishing — the cover and the size of the bass. Generally I go with a 4/0 or a 5/0 size depending upon how big, and how fat, my worm is at the head and egg sack.
I use two basic types of worms, those with a paddle tail and those with a ribbon tail. I don’t really have a favorite design because Berkley has so many good designs that’ll catch bass from Canada to Florida and California to Virginia.
Sometimes I swim a Berkley Powerbait Bearded Grass Pig Swimbait. It’s basically a boot tail swimbait with a skirt. I suppose it’s technically not a worm but if you don’t tell anyone, I won’t.
My tackle is ordinary. I fish my swimming worms on an Abu Garcia “Ike” Series Casting Rod, 7 foot, 4 inch medium-heavy with a fast tip. It’ll handle the rig and any bass that’s around. I mount an Abu Garcia REVO reel with a medium to fast gear ratio. Any model will do you a good job. Actually, any Abu reel will do you a good job.
Most of the time I spool my reels with either 12 or 14-pound-test Berkley Trilene Professional Grade Fluorocarbon. It’s OK to use braid if the conditions require it but I use fluorocarbon line whenever possible. It’s denser so it helps keep the worm down and I think overall it gives the worm better action.
Fishing a swimming worm is about as easy as it gets. Throw it out, let it sink to the bottom and then start reeling. If you hit something, or if a fish boils on it but doesn’t take it, let it drop back to the bottom before you start reeling again. The best way to do that is to hold your rod steady and lean in towards the bait. Another way to say it is to bow to the bait.
That’s all there is to it, guys. This one will catch bass all year long, and it’s about as inexpensive as anything in your tackle box. What’s not to like about that?
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I first started thinking about the idea seven or eight years ago. I was ice fishing with a sponsor. That’s the first time I ever tried it, and I noticed that we were not only catching bass but we were catching them on lures that looked to me like they might work in warm water.
The thing is, though, I really didn’t know much about what we were doing so I was a little hesitant to get out too far in front with the concept. I kept things to myself but every so often I’d give one of them a try somewhere. I was amazed at how efficient and effective they preformed. The more I fished in warm water with them the more I liked them.
The specific bait I’m talking about is Rapala’s Jigging Rap Ice Jig. It’s a minnow looking lure with a single hook on the nose and another one on the tail. Along with that, there’s a treble hook on its belly.
The Jigging Rap doesn’t vibrate and it really doesn’t have much flash to it. What it does have is a line tie in the center of its back and a wide, flat tail that gives it an erratic spiral and swinging action as it falls. It’s a perfect imitation of a dying baitfish, or at least as close to perfect as you can get.
This lure comes in five sizes — I’m partial to the No. 5 and the No. 7 for warm water bass fishing— and in at least 10 colors. Pick whatever color matches the color of the baitfish where you’re fishing. There’s no universal color that’ll work every day, everywhere.
The best way I’ve found to fish it is to drop it straight down on top of their heads and then pump it up a couple of times. That’ll make for a vertical reaction strike.
My best places are deep breaks, shell beds or some other underwater change that attracts the bass. And, it’s especially effective on spots that are well-known. Those bass get beat to death with jigs, worms, spoons and deep diving crankbaits. Show them something different. That’s the only weapon you have to use against conditioned bass.
One final thought: I mentioned the Jigging Rap Ice Jig earlier on because it’s my favorite. But, Rapala has three more ice jigs that are similar to it — the Rapala Flat Jig, the Rapala Jigging Shad Ice Jig and the Rapala Snap Rap.
Each is a productive lure in its own right. Don’t be afraid to try any of them this summer. They’re all a little different but the basic idea behind them is the same. It’s about jigging something up and down that looks like the local baitfish.
Fishing can be a tough sport. You’ll have more success if you think outside the box sometimes.
It’s no secret that as bass fishing at all levels gets more and more popular the bass get harder and harder to catch. In some cases that’s because of cold, clear water. In others it’s because of pressure from boats and the noise they make or it might be because bass become conditioned to popular baits.
Regardless of the reason, however, we need to do something different if we expect to be consistently successful.
Looking for something different has led me to begin working with John Crews and Missile Baits on a new lure — the micro jig. They’re a ways away from production as of right now but we hope to have them ready to go sometime later this year.
We’re thinking they’ll weigh 1/32-ounce on the light end and maybe 3/16 on the heavier side. That’s really small by bass lure standards but we wanted something specifically designed for bigger bass in cold water, clear water or something that would generate strikes under extreme pressure and conditioned situations.
Weight that light creates its own problems, however. You can’t just make a smaller head. A scaled down version of a bigger model is useless. A head that small with a silicone skirt will perform differently than a heavy jig that’s identical in design. Basically what happens is that the skirt takes over the head. We’re not making a hair jig.
John was up at my place not too long ago and we tried several head designs on the lake by my house. With a little more tweaking — shave a little more off here and leave a little more on over there — we think we might have something going. If so, we’ll move on to the hook issue.
We want one big and strong enough to handle a good size bass but, with a jig that small, you have to be careful. The body isn’t heavy enough to handle much weight or size. Like the skirt, it’ll take over the head if you aren’t careful. We’re still working on the hook. That hasn’t been the easy part of this project.
Another thing is that we want a fiber weedguard on our final product. Again, too much weight will ruin the jig and too little will be useless when it comes to avoiding hangups. And then, of course, we have to decide how stiff to make it, how long to make it and how many strands of material it should have. That’s a solvable problem once we have the head design, skirt and hook issues solved.
Once we get the design perfect, and we’ve selected a few introductory colors, we have to fish it hard on a variety of different lakes and rivers to make sure the fish like it. It doesn’t matter much if we’re happy with it. We need the fish to be happy with it.
Micro jigs are on the way. They will be the way of the future when conditions get tough.
You hear a little something from time to time about tackle storage but the reality is that most of us use what we already have in our boats to store our lures and terminal tackle. The fact that it’s 20 years old doesn’t seem to make much difference to us even though everything else we fish with is new and cutting edge.
Using that old stuff is a mistake. Those boxes were mostly made from ordinary plastic. Over time they allowed moisture to seep in and they became brittle with age. They fog, crack and the latches break. There’s no reason to put up with that when there are better ones available.
I use the new Flambeau boxes for my lure and terminal tackle storage. They have a system that works for everything I carry. In my opinion it’s the best on the market, and I’ve looked at all of them. I have no problem recommending it.
Hard bait storage starts with their Tuff Tainer series. These are clear, hard boxes with three latches on them. The lid folds down tight against a rubber seal which makes for a truly waterproof storage container. And, they come in a ton of different sizes — big, little, in between, thin, deep and ordinary.
Along with a tight lid and a ton of different sizes Tuff Tainer boxes are treated with Zerust which keeps rust from forming if, and when, you get a little moisture in them. That won’t happen when the lid is closed but it will happen when you open them in the rain or in an early morning fog.
For my plastic baits I like the Super Half Satchel Soft Bait Organizer. This box has three Zerust treated dividers that make four bulk storage compartments. I use the bulk storage compartments to sort my plastics by shape and design although they’re so ?you can pretty much do anything with them you want.
When it comes to terminal tackle there’s only one way to go — Flambeau’s IQ Series Utility Box. These boxes are made sturdy. They’ll take the weight of dozens and dozens of jigs and weights as well as whatever else you want to put into them.
And, the IQ boxes can be easily customized. They come equipped with interchangeable trays and slide-in boxes so that no matter what you put in them it’ll fit properly. That’s a super feature if, like me, you swap out tackle from one lake or river to the next.
Like all the other boxes I’ve mentioned the plastic in the IQ Series is treated with Zerust and they come in several sizes. Finding exactly what you want is not a problem.
What I’ve covered here is really just the tip of the iceberg. Flambeau makes all kinds of storage containers that’ll work for however you fish. I suggest you check them out at Flambeau.com and see if there isn’t something there for you.
Last time — Part 5 of Fall and Early Winter Baits Choices — we talked about boot tail swimbaits. They’re super important so I devoted a whole blog to them. But then I started thinking that there are other finesse swimbaits that deserve attention. In fact, the whole subject of finesse swimbaits deserves more attention.
We’ll start by taking a quick look at the big picture.
Finesse swimbaits have been around for years. We just didn’t call them swimbaits. We called them grubs. Look at any of the old grubs — most are still made today — and you’ll see exactly what I mean. The finesse swimbaits we think of as new are really improvements to the old grubs.
There has always been a curly tail design, a flat tail design and a boot tail design. The easiest way to separate them in your head is to remember that the colder the water, the less movement and water displacement you want from the tail. Use a curly tail when it’s warm, a boot tail when it’s cool and a straight tail when it’s cold.
One of the best curly tail swimbaits on the market is the Berkley Powerbait Power Grub. They come in sizes from 2 inches to 4 inches and in nine colors. Another super good pick is the Berkley Powerbait Pro Grub. It’s 3 inches long and comes in 16 colors.
When it comes to choosing a boot tail, I like the Berkley Powerbait Ripple Shad. Everything I said last time about it stands. If you’re looking for something that moves a little more water (rippled sides), I’d take a close look at the Berkley Havoc Beat Shad.
Whenever I’m out fishing really cold water I like any of a number of straight tail worms or drop shot style of minnows. There are too many of them to mention but I will say that one of the ones I like the best is a Berkley Gulp 3″ Fry Worm. It’s tiny, non-threatening and will slide through the water perfectly. The colder the water the better it performs.
I didn’t mention my color choices for any of the grubs because it’s a simple decision, but one you must make yourself. Pick the color that most closely resembles the local forage where you’re fishing. That’s all there is to it.
Regardless of what head you choose, however, you’ll need a head for it. There’s no way of telling how many are on the market. My best, all-around head is one made by VMC called the Darter Head. It’s simple, inexpensive and gives the swimbait just a little bit of motion, just enough to make it look real. They’re all black and I never use one that weighs more than 1/4 ounce. Less than that is better.
If you use a different head, make sure it has a 90 degree eye on it. That’s the only way your bait will swim correctly — look natural — and maintain anything close to a horizontal path through the water
You retrieve all the designs about the same. Cast them out, count them down at one foot per second and reel them back real slow. They have a tendency to rise as you bring them back so a pause or two on every cast is in order.
Take some time to inventory your swimbait box. Make sure you have several of whatever you need, including plenty of good heads, and you’ll be sure to have something tied on that’ll catch a bass.