WATER CLARITY- Water can become clear or murky at any time of year, due to changes in wind, current, suspended mud or debris, or other environmental factors. Unlike smallmouth bass, largemouths prefer murky water. They'll feed more actively and farther from cover, using their strong sense of smell and their ability to sense movement and vibration with their lateral lines. This makes chemical bass attractants; lures that vibrate, rattle or spin; and lures that push a lot of water more important. (See the Equipment Tips page for a homemade bass and trout attractant recipe).
In clear water, largemouths are more wary because they feel exposed to predators, including humans. They can get a better look at lures and fishing lines. They also hold tighter to structure, where natural bait is more likely to be found. Many anglers feel that it is very important to match the size and natural color of the available food sources and use finesse-type presentations in clear water. However, there is a growing school of anglers who switch to "power" presentations with big lures that are retrieved very fast to get a reaction from bass in clear water.
EQUIPMENT, LURES and TECHNIQUES- Largemouths can be caught on baitcasting gear, spinning gear and fly fishing gear, using live bait, any of an enormous variety of lures, and a surprisingly large variety of flies.
LIVE BAIT- Bass will eat almost anything, including small bass. Those large, vacuum-like mouths were designed to allow them to slurp up prey from small insects to 12-inch rainbow trout. Trout are not legal for live bait in most states. But many states allow the use of shad, mudsuckers, minnows, crawdads, waterdogs (larval tiger salamanders), frogs, worms, and insects like grasshoppers. A smaller group of states has also allowed the use of small bluegill or perch. These baits can be rigged and presented in almost any manner imaginable, from fly-lined (a hook with no weight) to more complex three-way swivel rigs with special weights. The most popular way to rig crawdads and waterdogs is with a sliding weight above a swivel, with a leader attached to the hook. A crawdad would then be hooked through the tail and worked slowly but continuously along the bottom so it can't wedge itself into a hiding spot, but looks natural. A water dog would normally be hooked through the lower jaw and out near the nostrils. Live worms are often also rigged with a weight, swivel and leader, though many are hooked and presented like a soft-plastic worm, which is addressed below. One trick for live worms is to purchase a worm blower (a tiny plastic bottle with a hollow needle on top) to inflate the worms so they float just above the bottom.
SOFT PLASTICS- Soft plastics are reputed to be the most effective largemouth lures. They come in an astounding variety of shapes, sizes and colors with or without built-in scents. There are soft plastics that imitate worms, bugs, baitfish, crayfish, waterdogs, and rainbow trout to name a few. There are also new "freak baits" that don't imitate anything in particular, but they have wings, legs, feelers and other appendages that make them look alive and give them unusual action. Soft plastics can be rigged on an unweighted hook, directly on a jighead, finesse rigged, Texas rigged, Carolina rigged, drop-shotted or wacky rigged. For a finesse rig, one or more small split shot are attached to the line, usually at least a foot or two ahead of the hook, and the soft plastics used are usually small and have little or no action on their own. A Texas rig consists of a sliding sinker, usually bullet-shaped, that slides freely or is pegged just above the hook, which has the point buried in the body for a weedless effect. A Carolina rig uses a sliding sinker, usually followed by a bead to the protect the knot, then a swivel, two to six feet of leader, and a hook buried in a soft plastic worm, lizard, tube jig body, grub or other soft-plastic bait. Drop-shotting is a new technique that is gaining popularity. One to three hooks (depending on preferences and regulations) are tied directly to the line using Palomar knots, with extra line hanging down and tied to a weight. Weights used on drop-shot rigs include split shot, pegged sliding sinkers, and casting sinkers (also called bell sinkers or bass sinkers). A drop-shot rig is usually fished slowly with the line vertical or near vertical with occasional pauses and twitches. It allows constant contact with the bottom but keeps the bait off the bottom in the strike zone. When split shot or pegged sinkers are used, they just slip off the line if they hang up so the rest of the rig is usually not lost. Wacky-rigged worms are also gaining popularity either unweighted or as part of a drop-shot rig. Wacky rig means that the worm is hooked through the middle, with both ends dangling on opposite sides. A wacky worm falls slowly in the water column with little or no action. Then a small twitch makes both ends swing toward each other, like a drowning worm. The wacky method is particularly effective near submerged structure.
HARD PLASTICS- Hard plastic baits include topwater lures, crank baits, jerk baits, and lipless crank baits.
Topwater lures draw dramatic strikes, especially in the warmer months. This includes poppers and dog-walking baits like Zara Spooks and the Spit 'N' Image. Try working these baits fast, because they are generally intended for active bass. However, a slower retrieve also often works. Some pros like to work Zara Spooks and similar baits very slowly, pausing for long periods, then giving a slight twitch like a dying baitfish. There are other topwater lures designed for use in heavy weeds or lily pads, which are usually shaped like frogs or mice. Anglers who have had problems with their line tangling on the hooks of their topwater baits should try treating their line with fly floatant or candle wax for a few feet ahead of the lure. The line will then float in front of the lure and tangles will be virtually eliminated. The candle is cheaper, but it can melt easily in the sun, making a mess in your boat, tackle box or vest.
Crankbaits have become very specialized. They are available in sizes from about an inch to 15-inch trout imitating crankbaits. Many are rated to dive to specific depths. Some float, some sink and some suspend. Some have special lips and wings to help prevent snagging in timber. There are also lipless crankbaits that have more realistic baitfish profiles. Crankbaits get their action from a simple crank of the reel handle. As the reel pulls them in, they wobble back and forth. However, stop-and-start retrieves and varying the speed can also be keys to getting bites. For the best action, the line should be tied right to the crankbait's eye or split ring, not attached using a swivel or snap. Sometimes crankbaits need to be tuned by carefully bending the eye toward one side or the other until they run straight.
Jerkbaits are long and slender. They are usually fished using a jerk-reel-jerk-reel retrieve. Jerkbaits usually have a small lip that causes them to twitch and/or make short dives. The original jerkbaits were made of wood and floated. Now they are also available in suspending models. Floating models can often be used quite effectively as surface lures instead of a Zara Spook or popper. Soft-plastic jerk baits achieve a similar action to hard-plastic jerk baits, even though they don't usually have lips.
SPINNERBAITS AND BUZZBAITS- Spinnerbaits have a jig-like head with a skirt or soft plastic body and an arm that reaches up and then back with one or more spinner blade. There are Colorado blades (shaped like rounded eggs), Indiana blades (shaped like long eggs), and Willow leaf blades (shaped like a willow leaf or a very narrow football). By using different sizes and shapes of blades, a spinnerbait can be tuned to run very shallow or very deep. Many anglers only use spinnerbaits in shallow to mid-depth water, but more and more anglers are learning to "slow roll" spinnerbaits so they bump along the bottom.
There are also in-line spinnerbaits, like Mepps or Roostertails, that have a spinner blade attached to the front of a weighted body, with a hook (often skirted with rubber or feathers) at the back end. Traditionally considered a trout lure, larger models of in-line spinnerbaits are gaining popularity with bass anglers. These are primarily fished within a few feet below the surface when bass are chasing baitfish near the surface with either a steady retrieve or an occasional pause. However, some creative angler is sure to think of additional ways to effectively fish in-line spinnerbaits.
Buzzbaits are a lot like spinnerbaits, but they have enormous, almost prop-like blades that make a lot of splashing and noise at the water's surface. The noise often aggravates bass into striking. Buzzbaits are usually retrieved steadily right at the surface.
JIGS AND SPOONS- Jigs are hooks with a built-in weight. Soft plastic or pork trailers can be added. Some jigs come with skirts made of rubber, silicone, animal hair or feathers. Jigs come in many shapes and sizes and weedless or non-weedless models. Round jigheads run straight, wedged or cone-shaped jigheads dart erratically, vertically compressed jigheads (taller than they are wide) fall fast to run deep or be cranked at extremely fast speeds, horizontally compressed jigheads (wider than they are tall) fall slowly and/or wobble, football jigs (built like a sideways football) are good for dragging along the bottom without snagging in rocks, and jigheads with a downward sweeping lip will wobble and dig into the bottom like a deep-running crankbait. There are probably more different configurations possible with jigs than any other lure and certainly too many to list here. The real advantage with a jig is they are usually much cheaper than other lures, so anglers dont worry as much about losing one in a hard-to reach spot in thick cover. Many jig fishermen paint their own jigheads and add their own skirts, bucktail, marabou or other feathers, soft plastic trailers or pork trailers. One method that is gaining popularity in Western reservoirs is to use a football jig with a crayfish-shaped soft bait, which is dragged along the bottom, climbed up the sides of rocks and wiggled. In winter periods, many anglers like to downsize their baits and work them slowly, because the fish are less active. Some people like to use vertical jigs or spoons in the winter or whenever bass are inactive, like ice jigs, Hopkins spoons, or Kastmasters, which imitate the frantic vertical zips of feeding shad. (Since spoons are swum or deep-jigged in many of the same situations as jigs, and trailers are sometimes added to them, they are included in this category). Vertical jigs and jigging spoons are also useful anytime bass are schooling deep or relating to deep structure. Consider inserting a Hopkins spoon into a tube bait for a very versatile lure that can be deep-jigged or cast and retrieved.
FLIES- Flies traditionally used for largemouth bass include poppers, hair divers, leeches, hair mice, frog patterns, crawdad patterns, worm imitations and a wide variety of streamers. However, they will also hit damselfly and dragonfly imitations, large terrestrial patterns like grasshoppers and crickets, and baby bird patterns fished near overhanging or partially submerged trees. The real surprise is that bass will occasionally hit smaller fly, nymph and attractor patterns usually used for trout. New fly patterns for bass are being developed due to the increasing interest in fly-fishing for this species. There are even fly-fishing jerkbaits now, made of woven tubing or other materials, often with a clear plastic circle just ahead of the bait to give it an extremely erratic action. Non-fly anglers may want to try out the clear plastic circle trick with soft jerk baits.
The more an angler knows and the wider variety of techniques an angler has mastered to fall back on, the more largemouth bass the angler will catch. Go get 'em. But please check out the scientific information and visit the sponsors below.
Largemouth Bass (micropterus salmoides) are the largest members of the Black Bass subdivision of the Sunfish Family (Centrarchidae). They will eat their little cousins, especially small bluegill. Like all sunfish, the male builds the nest and guards the eggs until they hatch. Largemouths generally have a more greenish coloration than the bronze-colored smallmouth bass, but the main distinction is the fact that the corner of the largemouth's jaw extends past its eye when the mouth is closed. The smallmouth's jaw does not extend past its eye.