The Versatile, Year-Round Bass Catchers
By Dorothy Philpott
Plastic baits come in assorted colors, sizes, shapes, and types such as floating and non-floating. There are paddle tails, gator tails, slim-line curled tails, and even some with no tails. Some of these baits have scent added to the plastic mixture such as salt, garlic, and anise. Whether you use the Berkley Power Baits, dip your own plastics in Spike-It garlic dye, or spray scent on your baits, I believe scented plastic baits catch more fish than unscented.
The versatility of plastics in fishing is unlimited. These baits can duplicate the movement of a swimming snake, be hopped across lily pads, moved slowly over grass beds, or tossed under docks. You can pitch them into buck brush and reeds, jig them at the base of trees, or retrieve them quickly across the top of the water. They can be cast out to do nothing, but float lazily in the water, and when rigged correctly, even make noise.
Plastic baits are designed to resemble worms, grubs, lizards, crawfish, frogs, baitfish, and centipedes. The shape of other baits, such as the infamous French fry, do not resemble any living creature, but bass will gobble them.
Worm fishing does not have to be boring for the impatient person. It isn't necessary to let the worm sit until the bass takes the bait. However, there are times this technique works when nothing else will.
Think of the bass as a cat. If you move the string (bait) a little, it catches the attention of the cat (bass). Slowly change the direction of the string, shake the string, and let it sit for a moment. The cat will watch the string, and, if your are persistent, the cat will attack the string. Bass react in a similar way. This method works well when fishing plastics and the bass seem to have lockjaw.
When it's feeding time for that cat, the sound of a can opener brings the cat to you faster than trying to call it for food. Put a rattle, either glass with beads, or a metal one, in your plastic bait. Shake your rod gently and the rattle will cause sound waves under the water. A hungry bass will investigate and inhale your plastic bait.
Speaking of inhaling, bass do not bite. They actually inhale your bait. They open their gills and inhale water along with your bait. There are times when the bass are aggressively feeding that you can feel a yank or pull on your line. When this occurs, the bass is actually inhaling your bait. Set the hook quickly. Other times, your line will feel mushy, as though you are pulling your bait through slimy grass. Set your hook! It's probably that really big bass you've been trying to catch.
When you fish with artificial baits, it is important to know the type of structure you'll be fishing. Grass beds, rocks, points, reeds, brush, timber, ledges, and docks are some of the structures you will fish. The plastic baits you use fishing these structures differ because of the shape and body of the tail. Gator tail worms and grubs have wide tails and leave a wake in the water as you reel in the line. This action attracts the bass when you are fishing sandy or clean bottom waters, murky water, and grass. Even though the gator tail catches in the grass, the vibration of the large tail attracts the bass. This type of tail is also more visible to the fish under certain conditions.
Slim-tailed plastics such as worms, Slug-gos, and lizards are used when you fish the edges of grass beds, trees, brush piles, and reeds. This tail slides around and over logs, and will not hang up as easily as the gator tail in the same type of structure.
Paddle tailed baits are effective when fishing over grass. The small paddle creates a waving action under the water, getting the attention of the bass hidden under the grass. It does not get hung up as easily as the gator tail.
Types Of Plastic Baits
The centipede, ring fry, and stud fry have the profile of a caterpillar. Either end can be used as the head when placing it on your hook. When the plastic will no longer stay up on the hook, the bait can be turned upside down, placed on the hook and used again. This can be extremely helpful when the bass are taking only that color of plastic, and it's the last one you have. The rings on these baits hold air and when you fish with them the air escapes, creating air bubbles under the water that attract bass. These baits are used on Carolina and Texas rigs. They can also be fished using a split-shot weight, light line rig, or with no weight because they are heavier baits. I prefer using a #3, wide-gap, offset hook with these baits for maximum penetrations when setting the hook.
Plastic frogs hopped over lily pads can give you a jolt as good as any topwater bait. Sometimes when the frog slides over the pad, and is allowed to sit on the edge of it, a bass will come straight up out of the water to try and eat that frog. Don't set the hook until you feel the bass tug down. It's difficult to stop your immediate reaction of setting the hook, but if you do not wait, the bass will swim away. Use a weed guard type hook for protection from hooking lily pads and stems, or imbed the point and barb of the hook into the back of the frog to make it weedless.
Fishing with lizards, a spawning bass' natural enemy, can be done year around. They can be purchased in any size and color you like to fish with. Notice the colors the live lizards are sporting for each season, and match the hatch with your plastics. Remember lizards can sit still, run, turn, stop and start on a dime. Using lizards in heavy cover can be tedious, but well worth the patience it takes to catch bass in brush, reeds, and heavy grass. If you fish this bait in deep water, the bass will try to kill and eat the lizard just as it does in shallow water. People have a tendency to utilize lizards only in the spring. But year around use of these baits can be very productive, just as they are in the spring. Lizards are normally fished using a Carolina or Texas rig.
Grubs and gitzits are normally fished on lighter line. Using a jig-headed-hook, thread the bait on the hook and cast it under a dock, near the bank, on a point, or around the pilings of bridges. Allow the bait to slowly arch back to your boat, keeping contact with your line so you can feel the strike. You can also hop these baits on the bottom or swim them under the water toward you. Use a hook size slightly smaller than the length of the body of the plastic, allowing the tail to move freely in the water. Some people also bend the point and barb of the hook out for an easier hook set. Grubs can, and should be, included in your list of Carolina rig baits to fish with.
Crawfish are a bass's filet mignon. Their little, snapping claws will call a bass as quickly as a can opener will a cat. Put a rattle in the body of the crawfish, and Texas rig the bait. You can also place a glass bead between the weight and the hook for an added clicking noise. Crawfish can be found near rocks, sand, and grass. When they are on the defense against and enemy, they move backwards. Put the bait on your hook so the claws will be facing away from you when retrieving the bait. Retrieve this bait slowly toward you. Shake your rod tip, then move the bait again. Change the pace of movement occasionally so the bait will seem alive. Watch the color of the crawfish change each season and use that knowledge when you go fishing with your plastic crawfish. Crawfish are probably fished more with jigs than solo. Jigs give bulkiness to the bait that attracts larger bass. They are very effective at night, and fished on a Carolina rig.
Do nothing, free-floating, jerkbaits, Bass Assassins, flukes, and Slug-gos are really fun to fish. These baits are formed to resemble baitfish and snakes. They can be fished in open water, over grass beds, near bridge pilings, under docks, deep and shallow water, through trees, near reeds, bushes, and grass lines. You can fish them with our without weights depending upon the structure you are fishing. To fish these baits, cast out and let the bait move slowly through the water, twitching your rod occasionally to keep the bait moving. You will feel a tug on the line, so you will know when to set the hook. You can also use these baits on a Carolina rig or, if it is schooling time for the fish, cast the bait into the schoolers. Be ready to set the hook when the tug occurs.
To place the jerkbaits on your hook, stick the point of the hook into the head of the bait about ¼-inch deep. Bring the hook through the plastic until the head of the bait reaches the offset top of the hook. Turn the hook toward the belly of the bait. Measure the length of the hook to the body of your bait. Where the body of your hook meets the body of the bait is where you stick the point of the hook through the plastic. Now, pull the shaft of the hook back toward your hand, slowly. When and where the barb of the hook is close to the bait, gently pinch upward on the plastic bait, and cover the point and barb of the hook with the plastic. You now have a weedless lure. You can use this same technique whenever you put most plastics on a hook.
The French fry is my personal favorite. Watermelon seed dipped in Spike-It chartreuse garlic scent is, to me, a killer bait. I fish this particular plastic year around, outside and inside grass beds, shallow and deep water, with the same good results. Normally when I fish this bait, if the wind is not blowing too hard I will use light line with a #7 split-shot on a spinning reel. If the wind picks up, I change to a #5 split-shot. Keep the line loose and watch it carefully. When the line begins to move, crank up the line, and set the hook. You can fish this bait on heavy line, Carolina rigged and wacky style.
Hooks, Weights, and Rigs
The hook size you use depends upon the size and shape of plastic baits you are fishing. Using off-set hooks will help eliminate the plastic sliding down the shaft of the hook. Wide gap hooks should be used when fishing the thicker plastic baits. The thicker plastic baits such as frogs, flukes, Slug-gos, and Bass Assassin, will bunch up on a regular worm hook. It's hard to get a good hook set if you don't straighten it out. The weedless hook is normally used for fishing grubs, gitzits, and frogs. This particular hook helps protect the barb from snagging in heavy vegetation. There are several ways to rig plastic baits.
Carolina rigs have a weight either pegged or separated by a swivel, 12 inches to four feet from the hook. If you are fishing deep water, I would suggest using the swivel. If your hook gets snagged, normally you will only lose the leader and not the weight. Keep extra leaders with the hooks attached in a zip-lock bag in your boat, and you can quickly re-tie your Carolina rig. The hook size you use depends upon the size of plastic bait you are fishing, so store different size hooks on those leaders in the zip lock bag. Remember, the larger the bait, the larger the hook.
A Texas rig places the weight just above your hook. This technique works well in water up to just over 20 feet deep, depending upon the structure you are fishing. If you are jigging in deep point grass beds, use the Texas rig because it keeps contact with your slim tail or gator tail worm. Using the Texas rig under these conditions makes it easier to feel a fish on your line.
The shape of the weight must also be considered. If the structure you will be fishing has a sandy, clean bottom, or grass, you can use a bullet weight. If there are rocks or tree roots, etc., use a barrel-shaped weight. It will roll over these obstacles better. If you are fishing light line, I would suggest using the Water Gremlin split-shot. It can be easily removed and replaced with a lighter or heavier split shot when the wind sops blowing or increases in strength.
A wacky style rig does not have a weight on the line. Tie your straight-line hook or weedless hook on the line. Push the point though the middle of the plastic bait, cast out the line, and let the bait move in the water either with the water movement or your rod tip. Because the weight is missing, your bait should not bog down coming across grass. Some people place a headless nail in the worm head to help it fall quicker.
Plastic manufacturers continue to create new shapes, styles, and colors for baits each year. All of them will catch fish. Just remember that oldies can be goodies to the bass. The only limitation of how, where, when and which plastic to use to catch bass is your own imagination.