An Expert Guide to Catching Your First Largemouth Bass
Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist shares the gear, technique, and some pointers you'll need in order to catch some largemouth bass this season.
Bass fishing is a quintessentially American pastime. Across the country, bass can be found in diverse habitats like small creeks, ponds, and larger lakes where they can grow to weigh more than 15 pounds. Largemouth bass (Micropterus Salmoides) are a member of the sunfish family and are one of the most popular game fish to target.
Bass are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost anything from small minnows, to large rats, and even snakes! As a bass fisherman, I think they are a fun species to target because there are so many different ways to catch them. Doing online research about these methods can be overwhelming though. While browsing YouTube and Instagram, you will see content creators with access to the best equipment, but you don't need a huge collection of gear to get started. In this guide, I am going to lay out the rods, reels, and tackle necessary to get out on any body of water and start catching bass.
The first thing that you'll need to put together is a rod and reel. Most anglers start out with a spinning setup while others, who are up for a challenge, choose to pick up some baitcasting gear. Both spinning and casting gear have a place in bass fishing, but the right gear for you will depend on several factors.
Spinning Rods vs. Casting Rods
Spinning setups are easier to use for making long casts with light lures. Baitcasting gear, on the other hand, shines when using heavier lures and where casting accuracy is more important than distance.
For a spinning combo, a 7' medium, fast action spinning rod paired with a 2500-size reel is going to be the best place to start. Here are some recommendations:
- All-Purpose Beginner: The Lew’s Mach 1 Spinning Combo is a nice, all-purpose option for new anglers.
- Budget: For those on a budget, Lew’s American Hero Spinning Combo might be a better fit.
When it comes to casting gear, a 7' medium heavy, fast action rod with a 100-size reel will be capable of most bass fishing techniques. Here are a couple options:
- Entry-Level: The Favorite Fishing Lit Casting Combo is a great entry-level option, and so is Lew’s American Hero Baitcast Combo.
When looking at fishing line, using braid as a main line and tying on a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader is a good setup. Braided line can last for years, and tying on a two to three-foot leader will ultimately save a lot of money while allowing anglers the room to experiment and find the ideal line for them and their situation. Some fishing line recommendations are:
- Spinning Reel: Using a 15-20lb braided line like the Sufix 832 20lb, along with a 10-15lb fluorocarbon leader material like Sufix Advanced Fluorocarbon is a solid option.
- Casting Reel: Using 40lb braid with 15-20lb fluoro or mono leader will allow you to perform most bass fishing applications.
Now that we have an idea of where to start as far as rod, reel, and fishing line are concerned, I am going to offer some tips and tricks to get you started on your bass fishing journey.
Soft Plastic Worms
During a storm, rainwater washes worms from overhanging trees and the bank into the water, making an easy meal for hungry bass. Soft plastic worms offer bass a profile that they're used to seeing, with some variations to make these versatile lures catch their attention. Soft plastic worms can be productive all throughout the season, but they tend to be most effective in the summer when the temperatures start hitting between 75 to 80 degrees.
Anglers who are putting together a dedicated setup to use while fishing soft plastic worms will want a sensitive rod, paired with a reel that’s capable of managing lightweight lures. Spinning anglers might consider pairing the Daiwa Ballistic LT MQ with the Cashion ICON All-Purpose Spinning Rod or Dobyns Sierra Spinning Rod when putting together a dedicated combo for fishing soft plastic worms.
Fishing a Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko on a wide-gap hook is probably the most popular way to catch bass. The worm’s bulky profile creates a subtle action, signifying a substantial meal that doesn't require too much effort—that is the key to their success. A Texas rig is a great way to fish around grass and weeds without getting hung up. Some useful methods include:
- Slowly dragging a Yamamoto Senko or YUM Dinger underneath overhanging trees and along the bank is an effective way to start catching bass, especially during or just after a rainstorm.
- When bass are in deeper water, casting a worm out deep and allowing it to sink before slowly retrieving it towards the bank is another very fruitful way to catch fish.
The wacky rig is another way to present a worm to hungry bass. On a wacky rig, a soft plastic worm is pierced through the center by a small hook. The VMC Wacky Rigging Kit features a few options that anglers can try out. When cast out into the water, as the worm sinks, the action it creates is irresistible to bass and triggers aggressive reaction strikes. Finesse worms can also be very effective on a wacky rig.
Wacky rigs can be deadly when cast under overhanging trees where bass are awaiting all sorts of insects that might wash into the water. As the worm sinks towards the bottom after the rig is cast out, that is when the bass will strike. Some helpful tips for presenting wacky rigs:
- Carefully watch your line: Watching your line is important because it allows anglers to see bites on a slack line.
- Quickly reel in the slack: After seeing the line move, quickly reeling in the slack for an easy hookset is a really exciting way to catch bass.
Designed to imitate crawfish or other invertebrates, a jig is an essential tool for catching bass. A jig features a weight, strong hook, and a skirt to fill out the profile and add secondary action to the lure. A soft plastic trailer is used on a jig to fill out the profile and make it more attractive to big bass. Slowly hopping a jig along the bottom is also a proven technique for catching the big fish.
Lighter jigs can be fished on spinning gear, but those that weigh half an ounce or more will be best fished on a casting combo. While a medium-heavy casting rod will handle jigs in open water, fishing a jig around lots of vegetation will require a rod with a more substantial backbone. The Daiwa Tatula 150 would make an excellent reel for a dedicated jig setup paired with the Dobyns Fury 735c or Cashion Worm & Jig Casting Rod.
As the same suggests, the head on a football jig like the Keitech II Tungsten Football Jig is shaped like a football. This bulky presentation draws the attention of aggressive fish. As the lure is slowly dragged across the bottom, loping from side to side, bass will often come along and follow the lure before biting it. Using a soft plastic creature bait like the Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver or Missile Baits D Bomb as a trailer will allow this presentation to match the forage on any body of water, and allow anglers to catch big fish.
Football jigs excel in open water. In the pre-spawn season as water temperatures begin to warm up, football jigs are a phenomenal way to catch fish. The most effective ways to use football jigs are:
- Casting out deep in open water and slow rolling towards shallower water, especially during that pre-spawn period.
- In the summer when the bass are holding to the bottom of the water column.
Jointed Head Jigs
A jointed head jig uses a free-swinging hook attached to the head. As this dynamic lure sinks and hits the bottom, it kicks up a lot of dirt and mud that attracts fish. At the same time, the erratic trailer entices them to take a bite. A soft plastic craw or creature bait like the Googan Bandito Bug or Gene Lerew Biffle Bug makes an effective trailer on a jointed head jig. This presentation mimics a crawfish in a defensive position. Good opportunities for using jointed head jigs are:
- During the pre-spawn period: This is an excellent time to use these versatile lures. Targeting hard cover areas like docks and fallen trees is a great place to start. As males come up shallow and start making nests, fishing a jointed head jig is a great way to catch some bass.
- After the females lay their eggs: In this period, males will remain on guard protecting the eggs and newly hatched fry. This provides another excellent opportunity to catch some aggressive fish.
Lures that are designed to trigger an instinctual reaction strike are known as reaction baits. Some lures are meant to mimic prey that bass might be feeding on and coax them into biting. Reaction baits cause a disturbance in the water, alerting bass that there might be a threat to their environment. Rods used with reaction baits might have different setups, for example:
- Fast Action Rod: When fishing reaction baits on a rod with fast action, using a monofilament leader can act as a shock absorber and help keep aggressive bass pinned while they are brought to shore.
- Slower Action Rod: A setup dedicated to fishing reaction baits will be using a rod with a slower action and a reel with a gear ratio between 6:1:1 and 7:1:1. The Lew’s Tournament MP would make an excellent casting reel for the application when paired with a Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Glass Bass casting rod.
- Spinning Setup: For a spinning setup, the Daiwa Fuego LT spinning reel and Dobyns Sierra would make another solid reaction bait setup.
Also known as a bladed jig, a ChatterBait is essentially a swim jig with a blade in front of it that causes it to vibrate from side to side in order to attract bass. Bladed jigs are excellent tools to use in low light conditions because the vibration will help fish find the lure. Pairing a ChatterBait with a straight-tail swimbait trailer like the Yamamoto Zako will fill out the profile of the lure without adding any secondary action. Here are some options for different scenarios:
- ChatterBaits tend to ride higher in the water column. Using heavier bladed jigs, like the Z-Man Jackhammer, will help them stay down lower when they are situated closer to the bottom.
- In the pre-spawn season as well as during the hottest part of the summer, slow rolling a ChatterBait in the bottom of the water column is a great way to catch fish.
- In the summer when fish are up shallow, a ChatterBait is effective for fishing around grass as well as hard cover. Pairing a beaver-style trailer with a chatter will allow it to deflect easily against hard cover and keep it from getting snagged.
Spinnerbaits resemble shad, shiners, and other baitfish that bass might be feeding on. As they are retrieved through the water, the blades of a spinnerbait rotate. This reflects light and displaces a lot of water, which catches the attention of nearby bass. Spinnerbaits include two different types of blades:
- Willow Blades: These are great for fishing in water that is clear or stained. They are long and narrow, creating a lot of flash beneath the surface while also treating a discernable thump. The War Eagle Screaming Eagle Spinnerbait and Terminator Super Stainless Spinnerbait are some good options that utilize willow blades.
- Colorado Blades: These are very round and are cupped, displacing a lot more water. In flooded, muddy water with near zero visibility is where spinnerbaits with Colorado blades will be the most effective. This Mission Tackle Spinnerbait Colorado is a great example that utilizes a Colorado-style blade.
Spinnerbait coloring also matters. Ones with silver blades are best suited for fishing in clear water, while gold-colored blades excel in murky or tannin-stained water. Some uses for spinnerbait are:
- Fishing around hard cover like docks and stumps, which is a highly effective way to catch pre-spawn bass.
- In the summer, when targeting open water surrounding grass and other vegetation.
Topwater lures sit on or just below the surface of the water and excel at catching bass that are up shallow around a lot of cover. Buzzbaits and prop baits make a commotion on the surface by churning water, leaving behind a bubble trail that bass will follow until they come up and engulf the lure. Since braided and monofilament lines float, a braided line with or without a monofilament leader will be ideal. A reel with a high gear ratio is required to use topwater lures effectively, especially with buzzbaits and frogs. A gear ratio that's somewhere between 7:1:1 and 8:5:1 will allow anglers to properly fish these techniques. Lew’s Mach 1 Baitcasting Combo is well-suited for topwater techniques.
Prop baits feature treble hooks and float on the surface of the water. They have a propeller that turns as the lure is retrieved, creating a rhythmic disturbance that calls to bass that are hiding in shallow cover. Prop baits are also highly effective when retrieved in a start-stop pattern with plenty of pauses. Bass will come up to investigate the lure and usually will bite when the lure is resting still. They can be retrieved along weed lines and drop offs in the summer, and are also effective during the fall transition.
The Whopper Plopper 90 and Berkley Choppo are great prop baits to start out with and monofilament line is ideal for keeping fish pinned on the treble hooks.
While prop baits float on the surface of the water, buzzbaits are not buoyant so they need a fast reel—one with a high gear ratio—to keep them churning high up in the water column, and on the surface. For a dedicated buzzbait setup, I wouldn't use a reel with a gear ratio slower than 7:5:1.
A buzzbait will be productive when fished on straight braid or with a mono leader. The Greenfish Tackle Hammerhead Buzzbait or War Eagle Buzzbait are some good examples of a buzzbait and would pair well with a toad-style trailer like Big Bite Baits Tour Toad. Buzzbaits are good for use in:
Prefrontal Conditions: Just before the rain begins to fall, a buzzbait is my go-to fishing lure. Casting them out under overhanging trees and retrieving them parallel to the bank is a good method to use.
Fall Transition: Another key period for buzzbait fishing is during the fall transition. Fan casting a buzzbait covers a lot of water very quickly and works well to find bass that are looking to prepare for the winter.
Bass fishing is a great way to get outside and relax while enjoying nature. It can allow anglers to hang out with friends as well as make new ones. It can be a casual hobby to engage with when you have some free time, but it can also become a challenge worthy of investing time and money in order to perfect your craft. There are even organized bass fishing tournaments all across the country. There, anglers can compete against each other for cash, prizes, and bragging rights. There is a place in bass fishing for everyone and, whatever your skill level, it offers anglers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the world around them.
For help finding the right fishing gear for your conditions, please feel free to reach out to myself or another Fishing Expert here on Curated.