Kenneth Kieser: Light tackle spring tactics can land big bass
My grandson, Grady, is 7 years old and is just starting to fish like his older brothers. Recently he came to visit Grandpa and Grandma with his tackle box and fishing rod. He wanted to go fishing, music to our ears.
Sadly, the early-spring trip was hindered by typical weather patterns of rain and dropping temperatures. The crappie or bluegill were not biting. However, the bass were still feeding and surprisingly active.
The morning started like many as Grady’s rod and reel malfunctioned. Grandma found him a different rig and I tied on a white 1/32-ounce plastic crappie jig. The spinning rod was somewhat larger than Grady generally used, but he did a fine job of learning the differences and making it work.
The first bass he caught was small, as was the second. The third bent his good-sized spinning rod in half and the fight was on when the bass took off like a runaway torpedo. This bass was instantly stripping drag, clearly a stronger fish.
Grady seemed to panic at first and started reeling too fast with his rod pointed straight at the bass. We calmed him down and soon he was letting the bass pull against the rod’s higher angle bend and reel’s drag system. The 3-pound bass soon gave up to be photographed and released. We caught several more bass that day, Grady’s being the largest.
Early spring fishing is a great time to catch big bass and many are caught by crappie fisherman using minnows or crappie jigs. Many years ago, I caught a 6-pound bass on the same type of white crappie jig that Grady was using on a cold early April day.
Bass are in a pre-spawn mode and feeding. Pay close attention to the size of shad or minnows in your lake or pond. There may be several thousand baitfish providing bass with a floating supermarket. Chances are the bass will readily attack lures that same size. For example, if a school of shad tends to be 3 inches long, throw lures that size. You may catch bass on other size lures, but probably not as many. Bass recognize their main forage in size and colors. This is one reason why smaller lures are productive throughout warm-weather fishing.
I love fishing light tackle with ultra-light rigging and always have. I rarely use fluorocarbon line bigger than 4-pound test because it is harder to see in the water. Besides, I like that challenge.
Early spring fishing is often plagued by weather patterns, especially in natural settings like a lake or pond. Experts have determined that weather changes affect everything through the entire food chain, especially bass, but they adjust to these changes through different feeding patterns.
Colder spring water slows down bass metabolisms and calories intakes are reduced. Heavy rain makes bass feed in different areas and they zone in on what is most available, generally baitfish. Murky water in weed beds may push the bass out to find more clouds of the smaller shad. Small, easy meals become important, making smaller lures more attractive.
We first learned the value of smaller lures in the late 1960s when my childhood buddy cast a No. 2 Anglia Mepps into deep water and reeled in with a brisk retrieve. A good bass gulped down the flashing spinner and broke his new 8-pound test line. He soon landed a 3 1/2-pound bass and years later we learned he had been casting over an old submerged rock wall.
We caught several more bass from 2 to 4 pounds on Beetle Spins that day. This little 1/32-ounce lure is a giant killer. I once watched a young bluegill fisherman catch a 7-pound bass on a black and yellow Beetle Spin with the classic overhanging spinner flashing through the water and a 9-pound channel catfish caught in Missouri on a Beetle Spin years before.
We, too, were successful for early-season bass on Al’s Goldfish, tiny spoons that we mainly used for trout. I managed to catch a 5-pounder on an Al’s Forty-Niner spoon this spring.
Of course, we can’t second guess every bass in the lake, but only bass know what is appealing at any given time. Ideally, a step toward successful bass fishing is trying different techniques, lure sizes, shapes and colors.
Small balsa minnows like the Countdown Rapala and floating Rebel have been two of my best lures through past springs, especially around thick cover like the edges of weed beds, moss, boat docks, logs, stumps or any cover where bass may wait for an easy meal. I always let the minnow imitation set for a minute and then twitch it several times. Bass love to find an easy meal, especially a dying one that does not require burning scores of energy.
Wounded bluegill or shad will flip on the surface until a bass crushes it with a deadly attack. That is exactly how largemouth bass slam floating balsa lures, with a vengeance. Sometimes they hit it for the kill and then come back for an easy meal.
I am not saying to give up your larger bass tackle, but give smaller lures a chance, even in bass tournaments. My close friend, the late Roger Moore, was one of the first to fish B.A.S.S. Tournaments with light tackle. He only used light to medium action rods. He once explained his theory to me:
“I give bass an easy meal,” Moore said. “They don’t have to attack a big spinner bait or crankbait, just a morsel. I present my lures on lighter line and I think that makes a difference. Many of my competitors use 20- to 30-pound test while I prefer 6- to 10-pound test, especially effective in clear water.”
Small lures and light line can be effective. Just ask my grandson.
Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.