Tiny Baits, Big Bass

Tiny Baits, Big Bass

In spring, we always hook into a few largemouths while hunting for bull bluegills. They come shallow about the same time, they use the same kinds of habitat, they get active in the same situations, and they apparently forage on similar things. We catch some of our biggest bass of the year every spring on 4-pound lines attached to 1/80- to 1/32-ounce jigs. As you might imagine, it can be real carnival ride pulling them within reach.


The water was still cold—hovering near 50°F in the warmest spots last week—when Mary brought this one in. It inhaled a 1/64-ounce TC Tackle ball-head jig (406/683-5485) baited with a panfish leech. Happens a lot. And not just in spring. We can target and catch bass in the 5- and 6-pound range right through winter—under the ice—with tackle designed for bluegills.

Maybe it's because Leopomis macrochirus—the bluegill—and micropterus salmoides—the bass—are from the same family of fishes—centrarchidae. That family, which also includes the crappie, is composed of 30 species in 10 genera. They're generally called, simply, "the sunfishes," which came into being during the Miocene epoch (5 to 23 million years ago).

Maybe it's because bigger forage items take too long for bass to digest in cold water. The metabolism of the bass clan is decidedly different from that of the salmons and chars, which commonly seek larger prey in water temperatures descending below 40°.


Whatever the reason, we like it. Big bass on light tackle classifies as an extreme sport in my book. Our tackle has evolved to incorporate these bonus bruisers into the game plan—part of the reason we went to 4-pound Berkley FireLine on all our panfish rods. When lunkers bury themselves in the weeds, we can get them out without breaking lines. If you can move the rod tip toward you with that low-stretch braided line, you're moving the fish. Even with ultralight rods, like the 7-foot St. Croix Avids we're so fond of, FireLine rips through weeds and hauls big bass out.

The development of fluorocarbon line also allows us to both target and land the biggest bluegills and bass in the systems we fish. Where bluegills (which have excellent vision extending into the microscopic range) might balk at biting a tiny jig dangling on 6-pound mono, 8-pound flourocarbon doesn't seem to bother them. We've been using Toray Superhard, and even after landing behemoths that take us into the wood, we can't find a single nick on the line.

Other advantages to using FireLine with swivels and fluorocarbon leaders: No line twist and the line never breaks down. You can put a Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble on the line and leave it there forever (even after the surgical tubing hardens inside the float). Mary can leave that slip float on her line until next year, too. We can put our rods away in spring and pull them out next fall—or a year later—and not worry about the line going bad. Not having to replace fishing line every few months (or every few weeks with some of these lines designed with planned obsolescence in mind) is a great boon to fishing kind.


Great when design, purpose, function, and utility all come together to save you time and money. Better when it all combines to bring fish like this into the boat for a quick photo. The way the weather looks (70°F today), that bass could be spawning as I write this.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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