The late-spring season ushers in the most fun time of year to fish for bass. The whole ecosystem seems to be coming alive as waters warm and growth is renewed in the aquatic realm. The spawn typically has passed and largemouths turn to feeding. Their focus is primarily shallow, as new growth of vegetation begins to offer prime cover, while fallen trees, stumps, and brushpiles also attract bass.
Moreover, preyfish are shallow, with sunfish of all sizes swarming shorelines and shallow flats, while shad school along grasslines, docks, and riprap banks to spawn en masse, and several species of shiners cruise sand-gravel flats for their annual spawn. Feeling the need to feed, bass activity often is high, and with fish concentrated shallow, the playing field is substantially narrowed for anglers, compared to the rest of the year.
Trusting visual cues, we carefully cast light lures to key spots, focusing on small holes, piles of sticks, shallow ditches, and clumps of vegetation that can house surprising numbers of bass. Here we present a selection of tried-and-true presentations that match the attitude and location of bass. These tweaks on trusted favorites can keep you in fast action.
A slow-falling lure that darts from side-to-side is hard to resist to late-spring bass. The baits subtle action looks both palatable and vulnerable. Part of the allure is its simplicity: rig it Texposed on an offset-shank worm hook and cast it out over shallow cover. A twitch here and a twitch there, and suddenly the lure's moving in another direction; set the hook! Fished this way, it tempts bass holding in shallow and mid-depth beds of cabbage, milfoil, curlyleaf pondweed, and other submergent plants that emerge early in the season.
With a belly-weighted hook, either a production model with lead on the shank or a customized hook with golfer's tape or Storm Suspend Dots wrapped onto the shank, lures fish deeper. But in clear open water, bass often rise from the depths to eat a lure of this sort, when they shun more bogus-looking baits. But they're also effective in murky rivers and backwaters as well. Maximize visibility with a pearl, pink, or orange bait and work it among stumps, laydowns, or lily pads. Later in the season they're still effective as bass move deeper, rigged with a ballhead jig or swimbait head. And with their lifelike appearance and subtle movements, small fluke-style lures are deadly on drop-shot rigs.
Several models have a broader flat tail, such as Yum's Houdini Shad and the Magic Shad from Lake Fork Trophy Tackle. This style is a long glider, zooming off in one direction for several feet. Then another twitch makes it zig instead of zag. They cover more lateral territory than a fluke-style lure, but can't match their walk-the-dog style of underwater movement. At times, different lures seem to work better, as evidenced by the catches of anglers in the same boat. But a lot of the success of these lures lies in the hands of the angler, which makes them a lot of fun to fish. Most days, they all work well.
As with most lures, speed and depth-control are key presentation factors. Soft jerkbaits like the Fluke are versatile since they allow us to fish them in a variety of ways and at many depths. Rigged weightless or with a lightly weighted hook, they can be easily skipped far back underneath boat docks or into the shadows below willow trees where big bass often lurk.
They're also effective in murky water, which gives them the nod over hard-body jerkbaits, which need at least moderate visibility (2-plus feet) to succeed. This makes them a top river option in spring, when waters can be dark. But bass there are tuned to feeding on preyfish and they readily detect and attack lures with the subtle but somewhat erratic action of a soft jerkbait.
For this reason, white jerks outsell all other colors combined. Eddie Chambers of Zoom Bait Company says his Pearl White Super Fluke is the largest selling single lure in his vast inventory. White stands out in both murky and clear water. At times, though, in clear water, darker colors work better, such as watermelon or green pumpkin, or else natural hues with a dark-back and light belly, such as the Arkansas Shiner hue popularized by Lunker City for their Fin-S Fish.
In 1964, Bobby Garland of Utah designed a simple lure that changed the way we fish today. He called the 2½-inch, thin-walled tube lure a Gitzit, since he explained, "You cast it out there and the fish gitzit!" Though it was designed for deep, clear canyon reservoirs of that region, it became one of the most popular bass lures of all time.
Today, however, the many other finesse techniques have pushed the modest tube from the headlines. But it remains one of the simplest and most effective presentations from late spring into early summer, with alternative riggings that make it effective all year long.
Back in the early 1980s, Florida Pro Shaw Grigsby worked with tackle guru Tommy Clark to design the HP hook that Grigsby favored for bed-fishing. With a light weight (1/16- or 1/32-ounce) rigged within the tube's body on an HP Clip, the rig was subtle, worked through cover cleanly, and skipped easily on spinning gear, reaching far beneath overhead cover where spooky bass lurked.
Eagle Claw eventually purchased the design and it's available in the Lazer Sharp brand. Beyond bed-fishing, it's one of the best setups for dock-fishing, a pattern that often holds for a month or more after the spawn, until bass shift to offshore habitat or into thick vegetation that develops in summer.
In more open areas, such as inside weededges and sand holes surrounded by vegetation, a tube rigged either with an insert jighead or threaded onto a jighead works great. Its slow fall, the subtle movements of its legs, and lifelike shape entice finicky postspawn bass that hold in such areas. Experiment with tube size, as lures from 2.5 to 4.5 inches can work best at times, depending on the activity level and size of bass in the area. For all-around use, I find a 3.5-incher excels, not too big, not too small, and it matches the size of crayfish bass generally prefer.
The Sensational Swimmin' Worm
The origins of this rig aren't as clear cut as some others, but suffice to say that early worm swimmers used Creme worms, not unlike those first unveiled by Nick Creme in the 1950s. Their straight tail is a key feature, as it allows the worm to pivot and turn when rigged correctly. For a swimmin' worm swims because it's rigged with a slight bow. The basic rig is a 6-inch worm rigged on tandem hooks about two inches apart.
Over the years, there have been various versions, one of which was used by luremaker Danny Joe Humphrey of North Carolina to ascend the BASS Federation ranks and win the 1988 BASS National Federation Championship, which qualified him to fish the 1988 Bassmaster Classic on the James River in Richmond, Virginia. He molded his own swimmin' worms and tossed them into the crowd with abandon as he was towed around the coliseum prior to weighing his catch. He favored bright lures for the clear waters of eastern North Carolina, such as hot pink, white, and sherbet, a mix of pink and yellow.
In-Fisherman Editor in Chief Doug Stange has long been a fan of the swimming worm, using it to fish vegetated flats where groups of bass hold in early summer, feeding on bluegills and craws among cabbage stalks. "This rig works so well so often in the early part of the season that it's always a fine option: effective and fun to fish," he says. "Though it's been around forever, it's just as effective as it ever was, and today it's overlooked by a lot of younger anglers.
"To make one, impale the head of the worm on the hook at the end of the mono line and slide it up the hook shank about 1/2 inch," Stange says. "Then pull the hook all the way through the worm so it hangs free. Then run the point of the lead hook into the head of the worm and up the shank about 1/2 inch. To create a bow in the worm, which makes it swim, bend it slightly in the middle and insert the trailing hook at the appropriate point, generally a bit past the worm's egg sac.
"Rigged straight with no weight, the worm darts from side to side on an erratic retrieve, then falls with a subtle wiggle when paused. With a slight bend, it has a subtle roll when retrieved slowly and steadily. Rigging with a more pronounced loop in the line generates greater twirling action. In either case, a small barrel swivel eliminates line twist and allows you to tie up a number of worm rigs before you go fishing, since they require some preparation. Wind them onto a tubular leader wrap for storage."
The visual aspect is part of the fun of fishing with these classic setups. Shut off the down-imaging, side-imaging, the forward-imaging sonars. With polarized glasses, scan for pockets in vegetation, sand holes, rock outcrops, stumps, and other bassy cover. Stay back and make long casts, then fish the lure patiently, letting its built-in appeal tempt bass to take a bite. These three classic lure categories have caught millions of bass over the years and they're not about to stop now.