February 24, 2014
The tantalizing action generated by the flappers and curly appendages of the Zoom Brush Hog and Gambler Bacon Rind started a new generation of soft plastic lures called "hawg-style" baits. When Reaction Innovations introduced the Sweet Beaver, creature fever reached a torrid level, prompting other manufacturers to introduce "beaver-style" baits. Both types make fine options for flipping and pitching into cover, and can be cast in other situations, or Carolina-rigged.
Both styles of creature bait are available in a wide array of sizes, shapes, and colors. That's fine, but it brings the dilemma of choosing whether a hawg or beaver is best suited for a particular situation. Tournament pros constantly have to select baits carefully or face defeat. Several have developed some basic principles on when and where to apply each style of creature bait.
One of the key times of the year to use a hawg is the Postspawn Period, according to B.A.S.S. superstar Kevin VanDam. "I consider the hawg, such as Strike King's Rage Hawg, a go-to bait when bass are up off the bottom, looking for bigger forage," VanDam says. "Fish frequently suspend in bushes, grass, and other cover at this time, since bluegills are starting their spawn and larger profile baits appeal to them."
The Michigan pro favors the lively tail action of the Strike King Game Hawg and Rage Hawg for swimming through bushes, brush tops, under boat docks, and in holes in grassbeds. In clear to slightly stained water, he opts for the Game Hawg, switching to the bulkier Rage Hawg when fishing stained water.
He Texas-rigs hawg baits with light weights (3/16- or 1/4-ounce for the Game Hawg, 5/16-ounce for the Rage Hawg) to slow their fall. "I swim these baits using the rod," he says. Cast past the target and reel up, then pull the lure to the spot and let it fall. With a light sinker it has a nice gliding action with all those appendages moving."
Edwin Evers of Oklahoma chooses a Texas-rigged Zoom Brush Hog when bass are feeding on big bluegill around willow trees and brushpiles. He chooses Zoom's Baby Brush Hog for a jig trailer or when Carolina rigging.
The Brush Hog's larger profile and swimming action prompts Missouri pro Brian Snowden to use this creature bait in hot weather when bass have moved out to the 20-foot range. "I fish a Brush Hog around boat docks and pole timber during summer," Snowden says. He also favors the movement and vibration of the Brush Hog for tempting bass in shallow cover, when spring rains bring off-color water.
Keeping the hawg bait off bottom with a steady swimming retrieve works best for Snowden. "I swim it up to brush or a laydown and swim it through the limbs. Then at the end of the laydown I let it fall to the bottom," he says. "Then I hop it a few times and swim it back."
FLW veteran Stacey King often uses a hawg bait as a jig trailer when fishing deep water. "When fishing deep structure for big bass during summer, that big Brush Hog on the back of a big jig is a killer," King says. The Missouri pro selects a 1/2- to 1-ounce jig depending on depth.
The size of bass in a fishery influences lure choice for Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning. "Hawg-style baits are for power fishing," Browning says. "Where I'm fishing for 4-pounders or larger, I go with a hawg-style bait. Its bigger, bulkier profile seems to attract lunkers."
Browning Texas-rigs hawg baits with a 5/0 Mustad straight-shank flipping hook and weights from 1/4- to 1/2-ounce, depending on the type of cover he's targeting and the mood of the fish. He uses a heavier weight for pitching into thick cover where a quick fall often draws strikes from aggressive fish. Whether he's pitching into heavy cover or casting to brushpiles, he hops the bait throughout his presentation. "With all those appendages, yo-yoing and shaking it produces a lot of action," he says.
Strike King's Rodent is VanDam's number one flipping bait because its compact body and lack of appendages make it easier to slip into tight places. "Day in and day out, I start with it when pitching and flipping into shallow cover," he says. "You can make a Rodent imitate different types of forage, from small bream to crayfish. It's flat and compact so it easily skips around boat docks, into fallen trees, or underneath willow trees." He also uses the Rodent for punching through hyacinth or milfoil mats, pegging it to a heavy sinker.
"With a 3/8-ounce or heavier sinker, it falls straight through the cover and bass smack it as it breaks through," he says. "With a lighter weight it glides, thanks to its flat body. So it's a versatile selection." Evers also selects a beaver-style bait (Zoom Z Hog or Z Hog Junior) for flipping into tight cover and trying to trigger a strike on the initial fall. "It's one bait I have tied on year-round," he adds.
Snowden also favors the Z Hog for pitching into matted vegetation, as well as for casting to prespawn bass in shallow standing timber. He retrieves the lure with short hops and tries to keep it close to the bottom. "When the lure gets close to the brush, I pull it up tight to the base of the wood and shake it a couple of times," he says. "Then I pull it out through the limbs and let it fall to the bottom again."
When fishing cold water, King likes the subtle action and crayfish appearance of a beaver bait. A Bass Pro Shops River Bug is his pick for catching multiple bass species on the highland reservoirs of the Ozarks. "Beaver-style baits are better for smallmouth and spotted bass than hawg-style bass baits, which excel for largemouths," he says.
For vertical jigging in brushpiles or grass beds, King attaches the River Bug to a Jika rig, consisting of a 1/2-ounce bell sinker and a couple of split rings connecting the weight to a 4/0 Gamakatsu offset-shank extra-wide-gap hook. This setup is of Japanese origin. He hops the rig along bottom to mimic a crayfish.
Browning likes the smaller profile and subtle action of a beaver bait for finesse flipping, required when the bite is tough. Since Browning is keying on specific objects with this bait, he lets the lure fall to the bottom next to the cover, pumps it once and then reels it in to pitch to another target.
While they're not in 100-percent agreement, these experts typically choose the flatter, more compact beaver baits when fishing vertically in thick cover. Strikes often are immediate, so appendages are not essential. And its shape allows it to penetrate easily. Hawgs excel in more open spots, where the angler can impart action, putting the bait's appendages to work luring a strike.
Gear Up For Hawgs and Beavers
Heavy tackle is required for most hawg and beaver presentations. Here's a look at the tackle each pro selects for his creature baits.
Kevin VanDam: 7-foot 2-inch or 7-foot 4-inch pitching rod and 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon line for both baits.
Brian Snowden: 7-foot 11-inch St. Croix Legend Flipping Rod and 14- to 20-pound fluorocarbon.
Stacey King: 7-foot heavy-power Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite rod and 14- to 25-pound fluorocarbon.
Stephen Browning: 7-foot 11-inch flipping rod and 16-pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon for casting hawg baits; 20-pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon for flipping hawgs and beavers.
Edwin Evers (pictured right): 7-foot heavy-power rod and 17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon.
*John Neporadny Jr., Lake Ozark, Missouri, is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications.
Looking at my own bass-fishing results, it just so happens I disagree with only one of those options: Alabama rigs
. Won't throw them. Cumbersome, awkward, heavy, and just not that much fun. If I did throw one, it would be Rich Zaleski's.
Rapala DT 16 and Norman's DD22. These are light cranks, easy to throw, great aerodynamics (long casting), and they have great action down there where water pressures are significantly greater. Deep crankin' is the thing to do during prespawn and again during late fall on reservoirs. In natural lakes
, I can generally reach the fish with the DT10 or a Bomber 6A. rapala.com
, Norman's DD22
SPRO Dean Rojas Bronzeye Frog. I pitch these babies
on 40-pound PowerPro Super 8 Slick, which casts relatively light baits much further than standard braids. SPRO frogs are so realistic and cool looking, I think they psych you into thinking they can't miss before you ever throw one. As far as I can tell, that's the major advantage. The trailing rubber ³legs² are durable and look great in the water, but it's probably that Gamakatsu EWG Frog Hook that does the trick, helping you pull in a higher percentage of the bass that blow up on the bait. Bronzeye Frog
TriggerX Flippin' Tube on a Stanley Wedge Head Jig The Wedge Head is like a miniature anchor. It slips and slides through everything. In Minnesota, I use the 1/2-ounce version
most of the time in heavy weed cover. The Flippin' Tube slides through cover without hanging up in it, too. And it has that TriggerX scent that seems to work so well. TriggerX Flippin' Tube
, Stanley Wedge Head
There are dozens of effective swimbaits out there. So many apply to specific situations, too, and most of them are pretty darn good baits.
Jackall Cross Tail Shad, Owner Mosquito Hook, XCalibur Tungsten Drop-Shot Weights. I catch more bass every year, it seems like, with the Cross Tail Shad. Unfortunately, I can't tell you why it works so well. So many drop-shot plastics
seem to be at least equal in shape, profile, texture, and action. Something about it bass can't pass up€¹and that goes for smallmouths and largemouths, both. Tungsten telegraphs bottom changes much better than lead, and the Mosquito hook is my go-to, all around, do-everything hook for steelhead, walleyes, bass, and trout. Jackall Cross Tail
, Owner Mosquito Hook
, XCalibur Tungsten Weights