Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Nice Catch:

Bass baits and techniques


When you’re trying to learn to catch fish, you read articles, watch YouTube videos and follow fishing shows on cable TV. Those writers and hosts throw out terms related to techniques and lures without explanation. Then you walk into a tackle store, and there are aisles of lures in every color, size and shape. It can be pretty confusing.

We’ll explain bass baits and techniques in every 2021 issue. Let’s start with crankbaits.

Deep diving, lipless and square bill

Crankbaits are hard-body lures that dive upon retrieve. The bodies can be plastic or wood (for example, cedar or balsa). Plastic bodies are easier to manufacture and less expensive; wood bodies are more buoyant.

A plastic or metal bill emerges from the front of the body. Tie your line to the small loop on the bill. The longer the bill, the deeper the lure dives.

The shape of the bill determines the action of the lure as it is retrieved. Wide bills wobble more; narrow bills have more subtle action. Why does that matter? A wide wobble means more vibration. Bass locate their prey by picking up vibrations through their senses. Narrow bills perform better in colder water because bass metabolism is slower when it’s cold, and too much vibration may turn them away.

To further complicate buying decisions, some lures also have rattles inside hollow chambers in the body (most are plastic bodies). The rattles could be BBs, lead or steal balls or even tungsten balls. Each of those emit a different sound.

There’s another form of crankbaits called lipless crankbaits. They don’t have bills, but the shape of the body causes the lure to dive.

Even with all that in mind, there’s no set rule — bass may react to any of the lures at any time. You can trust these general starting guidelines on lures.

wide-wobbling lures (top) perform better in warmer water.

lipless crankbaits (center) excel in cold water when fishing around submerged vegetation.

square bills (bottom) excel when fishing around shallow brush and rocks.

Try These Techniques

You not only have to select the right lure for the situation, you also have to know how to use it. Sometimes you can cast the lure and use a steady retrieve, but it’s usually better to vary the speed and cadence. Speed up, slow down, pause.

If you want to trigger a strike from bass that may not be feeding, try dragging diving lures along the bottom or at least tick the bottom. Rip (violently lift) a lipless crankbait out of the vegetation or reel just fast enough to keep the lure ticking the top of the submerged grass. You can also try another style of crankbait that has a nearly square bill, as square bills deflect well off rocks and wood.

Good fishing to you.

Let's get cranking…

stay SHARP

Crankbaits should be equipped with sharp hooks. At times, a bass may just swat the lure and sharp hooks will catch their cheeks. Sharp hooks are necessary. Carefully sharpen the hooks with a very fine hook-sharpening file or buy new premium hooks to replace the stock ones. A good way to tell if you have good hooks is to gently touch your thumbnail to the hook point. If it sticks or grabs the nail, the hooks are pretty sharp.

Bring it back

Any crankbait may get hung up on the bottom or a tree. Invest in a lure retriever. Some are telescopic poles with a hook on the end to extend to the snagged lure. In deep water, you may need a lure retriever hooked to a small rope, twine or heavy fishing line. Some people use retractable dog-walking leashes.

A little more action

Rod action determines how well you can get a bass hooked and not lose it, especially if it jumps. Softer rod actions allow the bass to inhale the lure and not feel as much resistance. Many people like a graphite/glass (fiberglass) rod for this reason. It’s a good action rod for more open water, but it weighs more and can be fatiguing after a long day of casting. A premium graphite rod with a moderate action (bend when loaded) is becoming more popular for modern enthusiasts.

Get it in gear

Reel gear ratios can improve success and reduce fatigue. Medium gear ratios such a 6.3:1 or 7.1:1 or similar are the biggest sellers. With big lures that have a lot of drag resistance, lower gear ratios such as 4:1 or 5:1 are less fatiguing. Ripping lipless crankbaits out of the grass is better with an 8.1:1 gear ratio because it’s necessary to pick up loose line (slack) quickly. (These ratios are approximate because not all manufacturers have the exact same gear ratios.)

Keep it on the line

Line diameter is another important consideration. Thinner diameter line allows crankbaits to dive deeper. A lot of anglers use 10- to 12-pound line to get the lure deeper. But around cover, use up to 20-pound line or so. When fishing vegetation (hydrilla, etc.) braided line is the preferred choice — especially for ripping lipless crankbaits out of the grass. Many strikes come when the lure is quickly yanked through the grass.

Mind your knots

The final tip, which is very critical, is how to attach the line to the lure. Some lures have a plain line tie. When you cinch down a knot, it hinders the lure’s potential side-to-side (wobble) movement. Some lures come with a split ring already in place. This is better. However, carefully tie the line so it doesn’t get caught where the spilt ring wire interconnects. The line will fray and break with a big fish. Oval split rings (pictured) are a better choice.

Others prefer snaps (no swivels) so they can change lures quickly. The disadvantage is that if the snap is of poor quality or weak, it can break, especially if it is opened and closed frequently. Many anglers put on a strong snap but don’t use it to change lures — they always leave it closed and cut off the line and retie often, using the snap as an alternative to split rings.

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