Most anglers will agree: bass are the most exciting freshwater sport fish in North America. They put up a great fight in a variety of different environments, and they can be fished in so many different ways. An angler way up in the Rockies might fly fish for smallmouth in a swift, cold mountain stream, while a southern boy casts for largemouth in a stumpy lake full of lily pads.
|Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig||4.7||Texas Craw|
|Rapala Rattlin 05||4.4||Shad|
|Rapala Jointed Shad Rap 04||4.5||Blue Shad|
|Rebel Lures Crickhopper||4.4||Black Cricket|
|Storm WildEye Live Minnow 02||4.5||Minnow|
|Koppers Hollow Belly Frog||4.6||Brown Frog|
|Zoom Bait Salty Super Fluke||4.4||Golden Bream|
|Yamamoto Senko||4.6||Cream White|
|Strike King Red Eye Shad||4.6||Lavender|
|Egret 3.5-Inch Vudu Shrimp||4.2||Natural|
|Akuna Magic Shallow Diving 4.3"||3.9||Minnow|
No other fish has so many options in lures, baits, rods, and reels manufactured specifically for that species.
There is no shortage of bass fishing tips available on how to catch bass. But the first thing to know about bass fishing is that there are several different species of bass, and dozens of regional monikers. While the species are similar in some aspects, they inhabit very different habitats and survive on diets unique to each.
Consider which species you’re after and where you’re fishing when picking out bass bait and lures. Overall, many of the same lures and baits are used for all species, but there are some considerations to keep in mind.
Probably the most well-known bass is the largemouth bass, also known as:
It’s a hefty fish, with average-sized fish weighing three to seven pounds. Trophy largemouth are in the ten-pound range. The largemouth is widely considered the most exciting of the bass species. It is known to be very aggressive, biting enthusiastically at whatever comes its way. Once hooked, largemouths fight relentlessly to throw the hook, even becoming airborne at times.
Largemouth bass often prefer to live in aquatic vegetation. They like to hide in lily pad stalks or other cover to ambush prey. However, largemouth bass can also be found in large rivers that don’t have a ton of natural vegetation. In these habitats, the bass will flock towards any available cover—logs, underwater trees, docks, or other structure.
Smallmouth bass are a cult classic. They are also called brown bass, bronze bass, or bareback bass. Smallmouth bass are found almost exclusively in fast-moving, cold rivers. There are some lakes that house smallmouth, but it must be cold, clear, clean water. Fishermen argue back and forth about which species puts up more of a fight, regardless of which does they are all pretty exciting to catch.
As the name suggests, Smallmouth are smaller fish, weighing between two and four pounds. For comparison, trophies are for bass that are six pounds or more. Smallmouth bass are unique in that they are sometimes the target of fly fishermen. Other bass species are too large or in areas where fly fishing in impractical.
Given that, there is a category of lures that are useful for smallmouth but no other bass: flies. The best bass flies are made of brightly colored materials like:
Flies, as the name implies, are made to mimic small aquatic insects, although some flies look like shrimp or crayfish. Flies are often homemade or made by small regional vendors. Popular patterns include Byron’s Knucklehead and Kent’s Stealth Bombers. Commercial flies include Chubby Gummy Minnows and Umpqua’s Bass Poppers.
Striped bass are the third common bass species in North America. They inhabit areas where no other bass are found: open water.
They are known as stripers, rock bass, and hybrid bass. Stripers are found in large reservoirs without much cover or vegetation.
They follow large schools of shad or other small minnows across open water. Therefore, baits that look like shad or minnows are used for these fish. Techniques like trolling—dragging a lure behind a moving boat—are very popular for striped bass.
You will learn more on how to catch striped bass by doing more that reading, but in case you want a bit of text on these bad boys, here is a link to my favorite “Ultimate Guide” (can we stop using those words in book titles please!), its worth checking out.
The best bass lures mimic natural prey found in the habitat. So when you are heading out bass fishing, consider where the bass might be living in that body of water. What kind of animals will they eat there? Baits and lures should be picked out accordingly.
Crankbaits are the most popular bass lures, like the Strike King Square Bill Shad. Crankbaits dive (about 10-12 ft.) and rattle and move as you reel it back in. All the motion and noise is great for luring big largemouth out of their hiding spots. The best crankbaits for bass fishing will be shaped and painted with bright colors to look like a small fish or other aquatic creature.
Crankbaits usually have a bill on the front. This bill is what causes the bait to dive as you reel it in; the longer the bill, the deeper it will dive. Most crankbaits have two treble hooks attached underneath. These baits are probably the best at enticing reluctant bass, but they are notorious for getting hung in the underwater vegetation bass love so much.
Topwater lures are pretty similar to crankbaits. Topwater lures are especially exciting for bass fishing because they bring the fish to the surface, making the fight to reel it in all that much more difficult. Topwater lures either float, or are made to be reeled in fast enough to where they stay on the surface.
The idea is that bass will come flying out from under cover to the surface and take the bait. A couple popular topwaters is the Koppers Hollow Belly Frog (more on frog baits later) and Creek Chub Striper Strikes. The best topwater bass lures will have bright colors and a lot of movement.
Jigs are sometimes used for bass fishing, although they are more common for crappie. A jig is a lure that has a weighted hook and is covered with feathers or other soft fibers, much like a fly. The hook is usually hidden in the bundle of fibers, called a “tail”, so it is not necessary to put another lure or bait on the hook.
To use a jig, you first find an underwater tree or underwater vegetation where you think fish are hiding. Determine the depth of the water using a fish finder or fishing line and a weight. Drop the jig several feet into the water, almost to the bottom, and bounce it up and down slowly. The bouncing movement is called “jigging”.
The best jigs for bass fishing will be medium-to-large sized jigs with bright colors and sharp hooks. Strike King has a very popular line of bass jigs, and Bass Pro has a house brand whose bass jigs consistently pull large fish. A popular method for using jigs involves using Berkely Powerbait nibbles on the end of the hook. A “nibble” is a very small piece of stinkbait that is designed not to dissolve quickly in water. The smell helps attract fish.
Soft baits work well for largemouth bass too. Baits like Yamamoto Senko Baits are soft plastics that mimic small aquatic creatures, most commonly worms. These baits behave differently depending on what kind of weight you use. They can be trolled across the top of the water, or you can put a lead weight on their nose to bounce them off the bottom.
These come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. The Zoom Salt Super Bait, for instance, is a soft plastic shaped like a long minnow. There are frogs available, as well as crayfish, lizards, shrimp, and even snakes.
Soft baits work particularly well in vegetated areas for a couple reasons. First of all, in vegetated areas like lily pad fields, bass feed on many different small animal species. Frogs, small lizards, water snakes, shrimp, and crayfish, and of course worms all live in lily pad fields. Using a soft bait that mimics one of these animals is sure to be effective because bass are accustomed to seeing those animals there.
Another reason soft baits work well in these habitats is because they are less likely to get hung up. Fishing with a crankbait in lily pads is guaranteed disaster—the bait (somemtimes $7 or $10 or more) will get hung very quickly.
With soft baits, you can choose whatever hook you want, reducing the number of times you get hung up. A great option for fishing in vegetation is a “weedless” or “snagless” hook, like the Neversnag hooks or the Charlie Brewer’s line of hooks. These hooks have a small wire that acts as gate between the tip and shaft of the hook. The gate easily opens under the force of the fish’s strike but doesn’t allow weeds or grass to get trapped in the hook.
Natural baits are very effective for bass fishing. Generally speaking, small natural baits like crickets or red wiggler worms are not often used for bass fishing. They are considered to be too small for large fish like largemouth or stripers. However, you might have luck using crickets or other insects while smallmouth fishing in a small river where such insects are common.
Minnows are a very popular choice for bass fishing. This makes perfect sense because a large proportion of bass’ natural diet is other fish. They are predator fish and, while they do eat worms and crustaceans and insects from time to time, small fish are the staple of their diet. For bass fishing, minnows are usually hooked along the back. This placement makes the minnow wiggle back and forth as the angler reels in, mimicking minnows’ natural movement.
Nightcrawlers and other large worms are most popular for catfish and bream fishing, but they work for bass too. In fact, the only reason plastic worms work is because bass like to eat real worms! Worms might be hooked a couple different ways. One option is to hook it near the end, then bounce it up and down near the bottom like a jig. This works well on hot days when the fish are really hiding. Another option is to hook the worm along its “back”, a third of the way down the body. Then, you can use it like a topwater bait, reeling it in slowly as if it were swimming. The movement will attract fish that are suspended in the water column or swimming near the surface.
While some anglers fish mainly for food, many are out there for the sport. There is nothing like tugging back and forth on your trusty rod with a fish for what may seem like an eternity. For these adrenaline seekers, bass fishing is more than a hobby. It can quickly become a source of income and pride, making the search for the best bass fishing lures more of an experience than a destination.
Besides our basic kayak fishing tips, please watch the video below for more on how to choose the right bait for bass fishing: