The Top 5 Bass Baits for Spring You Need in Your Tackle Box
Expert Joseph Alfe reviews his top five springtime techniques and baits, and how to apply them. With these baits, you'll be confidently catching bass.
Springtime bass fishing is here. Across the country, and especially on northern waters recently released from winter’s grip, bass begin actively feeding. Though springtime weather can be difficult to endure for anglers, as wind and cold chase each other across the waters, it can bring some of the season’s fastest action. And its big bass time too, as egg-laden females gorge themselves to prepare for the spawn. Springtime often means targeting windswept flats and points. To properly cover these areas, we will review my top five springtime techniques and baits, and how to apply them.
1. Rattle Baits
It’s no secret that rattle baits shine this time of year. While bass prowl the flats, they often travel in schools or pods and are on the move. A rattle bait provokes a reaction bite from these fish and stimulating even one fish in a school to bite can frequently turn on the entire school. Rattle baits are excellent search baits because you can cover water quickly. The trick is to pick the right type of rattle bait and understand how to use it.
Choosing a rattle bait
Rattle baits are made in a variety of weights, sizes, and noise-producing patterns. Anglers must first determine what type of water they are fishing. An angler fishing a clear highland reservoir with a clean hard bottom should choose an entirely different bait than an angler fishing a soft bottom, shallow pond in the Midwest. Features to consider are the weight, drop rate, and landing attitude, or how the bait hits the bottom.
Those fishing deeper or hard bottom waters would do well to choose a more compact, heavier bait that drops fast and lands belly up. Great examples of these include the Duo Realis Apex Vibe or the Lucky Craft LV 150. Conversely, Anglers fishing weedy, soft bottom and shallow water will want a bait that has a slower rate of fall such as the Strike King Red-Eye Shad or the Livingston Ripper Pro. The Sixth Sense Quake comes in a suspending model that could be a game-changer in these situations.
Next, choosing the size is an important consideration. My go-to when in search mode or when active fish are present is the Red Eye in 1/2oz., though I will also go to the 3/4oz. It also depends on how you will work the bait. Downsizing to a 1/4oz. on a lift-fall retrieve can be deadly. Retrieve style and speed can be critical.
Working a rattle bait
Many anglers believe rattle baits should be burned back on a straight retrieve. This undoubtedly works, but consider these other techniques. Frequently, bass will follow a rattle bait that is worked fast. By occasionally stopping or ripping the bait, then letting it fall, bass can be triggered to attack. Another retrieve is the Yo-Yo. This involves letting the bait settle on the bottom on a tight line, then ripping the bait so it jumps off the bottom, followed by a tight line fall to the bottom. Pay attention, as bass will frequently pin the bait on the bottom or engulf it as it falls. Often, when you begin your rip upwards, the feeling of added weight signals that a bass is on the line.
The lift-fall is similar to the Yo-Yo. This is a more subtle technique, often used with smaller or denser baits. Here, we let the bait fall to the bottom, and then instead of ripping it up, an easy wrist action hops the bait slowly, almost like hopping a jig. This can be very effective in deeper or clear water. Baits such as the Duo Realis Apex are designed to fall quickly then sit upright on the bottom when using this lift-fall motion.
Colors are subjective, but there is no denying that reds and crawfish colors are special in the spring. These are so popular that even now, most brand’s craw patterns are back-ordered until May or June. Pro Tip: If you run across a sale on rattle baits off-season, buy as many as you can in craw and other favorite patterns.
The sound or type of rattle is also important, with some using small bb’s to produce a loud rattle that sounds like a hive of angry bees. The Bill Lewis original Rat-L-Trap is famous for this, as is the Rapala Rippin Rap. Others use tungsten knocker balls to produce an entirely different hard knocking sound. Others use stealthy quiet rattle systems. Typically, I start with an aggressive sound and work quieter, especially on pressured water where bass can become accustomed to the typical rattle sound.
Choosing the right rod
Lastly, the tackle used should nearly always be a baitcasting setup to properly work these baits. I prefer a longer rod for better control, usually 7ft or 7ft 3in and in a medium or medium-heavy power, with a medium or medium-fast action. This slower action is key in working these baits and keeping fish pinned when using treble-hooked baits. I like braided line such as Sunline FX in #50, or if I’m missing fish, a 20# monofilament or Copolymer line such as P-Line, which provides a bit of stretch to further cushion the shock of the strike and fight.
2. Jerk Baits
Springtime is jerk bait time. Hands down, this is one of the most effective cold water presentations you can use. This is one of those baits that elicit a visceral reaction from bass, and you can frequently trigger an entire school with a jerk bait. Generally, we are looking for a suspending bait that can be paused and will hang in the fish’s face. This pause is what makes bass come unglued. The rule is, the colder the water, the longer the pause. Sometimes painfully long. As the water warms, a more darting, erratic action will draw strikes.
Jerk baits typically can be separated into two categories: suspending and slash types. True suspending baits excel in cold water. The best baits suspend in a level or slightly nose-down attitude, though nose-up can also trigger fish. Top-quality suspending models include the gold standard Megabass Ito Vision 110, the Duo Realis, and Lucky Craft Pointer. Slash baits, conversely, shine as the water warms and fish get aggressive. Good slash type baits are the Rapala X-Rap and Rip-Stop, and the KVD 100
How to work a jerk bait in cold water
Early spring means suspending jerk baits. It also means cold water. Cold water bass are still lethargic from the long winter, yet they still need to feed. The name of the game here is pauses. Long pauses. Painfully long pauses. Work the bait with subtle twitches and darts, then pause and…. wait. Pay attention. Try and keep slack out of the line, but don’t reel up enough to move the bait.
Bass will typically slowly follow the bait from below, and as the bait is paused and suspended, they become more agitated by its presence. They may even slash at or do what I call a “drive by,” where they attack the bait short, and slash at it as they swim by. With a sensitive rod and a tight line, you can feel the water pressure change as the fish slash at the bait. Sometimes they will hook themselves in the cheek or side when they slash short. In cold water, the longer the pause, the more agitated bass become, and the more likely you can change a follower into a biter. Cold water is where high-quality baits such as the Megabass, Duo Realis, or Lucky Craft shine, though cost-effective offerings such as the Luck-E-Strike Rick Clunn STX or 6th Sense Provoke also are effective.
Working a jerk bait as the water warms
As spring progresses and the water warms, jerk baits should be fished more aggressively. This is also the time I start to incorporate slash type baits into my line up. Here, I work baits aggressively, with a varying cadence that might typically be described as “rip-rip-rip-pause.” The quick darting and slashing bait gets schooling bass fired up and following. Then as the bait pauses, bass will typically attack violently. Doubles are not uncommon, as several bass may attack the same bait at the same time. They will also often follow a hooked bass to the boat, and this can reveal the presence of a triggered, aggressive school. Good choices for this pattern are Rapala’s X-Rap and Rip Stop, the latter employing a rear tab that stops the bait cold on the pause. Experiment with speed and cadence until the fish tell you what they want.
Gear for working jerk baits
Personally, and I know I will get flack for this, but I prefer spinning gear for jerk baits. Spinning gear is easier to work a downward chopping motion and to keep line tight on the pause. I use an Airrus Stargate in 7ft medium power, medium-fast action, and pair it with a Diawa Fuego reel. I always use braid or fused line such as Berkley Nanofil or Sunline Siglon in 10# to eliminate line stretch and amplify sensitivity to feel the drivebys. As the water warms and aggressive action takes over, I move to a 6ft 10in to 7ft casting rod in a medium power, with a medium-fast action, such as a G-Loomis 6ft 10in jerk bait special or Shimano Zodias. On casting reels, I prefer a quality fluorocarbon or Copolymer line such as Sunline Sniper or P-Line in 10# test.
3. Swim Baits/Swim Jigs
These versatile baits have really caught on in recent years and for good reason. Simple, natural-looking, and easy to work swim baits and swim jigs flat out catch fish. And big fish. They are so natural, and fish are so completely fooled, they often engulf a swim jig with abandon. There are several different kinds of baits in this category. Swim baits in particular are separated by those consisting of soft plastic paddle-tail style baits and hard plastic baits such as articulated and glide baits. We will leave those out of this article and focus on the soft plastic-bodied baits.
Soft swim bait/swim jig presentations come in two parts: The head/hook and the body. Let’s start with the heads. In cold water, I prefer a no frills plain leadhead jig with a wide gap, stout hook. I often use a VMC swimbait jig in either a baitfish style head, or just a plain round head jig. This simple presentation allows the paddle tail body to swim freely, with a nice belly rolling action. Here, a low and slow retrieve is best. I simply cast out, count down to the desired depth, point the rod tip to the water, and slowly reel. Fish seem to track these baits and then rush in and engulf them. Experiment with weight, but I recommend the lightest you can get away with. In shallow water less than 10ft, I will usually start with a 1/8th or 1/4oz jig.
Deeper water, or to reach fish suspended in open water, may call for heavier weight. The next head design is the familiar skirted jig. Any skirted jig will work, but purpose-built swim jigs usually feature conical-shaped heads for slithering through grass, and some sort of fiber weed guard. My go-to skirted swim jigs is the KVD Swing Head jig, which features an articulated joint behind the head attached to a wide gap offset hook designed to Texas rig soft bodies for an even more weedless presentation. Keitech makes a sled-style headed jig that is excellent for bumbling along the bottom, also Texas rigged.
Virtually any soft plastic bait can be paired with a swim jig, from flukes to creatures. For this article, we will focus on the paddle tail style swimming bodies. My hands down favorite is the Keitech swim bodies, both the slim Easy Shiner and the Swing Impact Fat. To me, there is no substitute for Keitech. There is just something about the way it swims. Other notable offerings are the Bass Assassin Boss Shiner and the Berkley Power Swimmer. Sizes can range from 2.5in up to 8in, but for most applications I prefer something in the 4in to 5in range. Fish smaller, plain swim baits on a spinning rod, and everything else on a 7ft+ medium power, medium-fast action casting rod. There is no wrong way to work these, so experiment until the bass tell you what they want.
4. Bladed Jigs
Bladed jigs burst onto the scene in 2006 as pro, Brian Thrift, won an FLW event on Lake Okeechobee, including two fish over 8lbs. The word was out, and originator Ron Davis soon couldn’t keep up orders. Shortly after, Z-Man acquired the rights to the unique bait that Davis had named the Chatterbait, and the rest is history. In short, a bladed jig is an articulating coffin-shaped blade attached to the front of a lead jig, with the line tied directly to the blade. This provides a violent wiggling action that puts out a strong vibration and causes the jig and trailer to wiggle. Today, there are dozens of brands offering dozens of versions, and some very effective ones. Only the Z-Man Chatterbait, however, features the patented direct connection of the blade to the head that allows the most vibration and an instant start.
They remain my favorite, and I will spend the extra money on the premium versions such as the Chatterbait Elite and Evergreen Jackhammer that feature upgraded hook and hardware. Bladed jigs usually have a rubber-legged skirt, but not always. Selecting a trailer can be daunting, but a good rule of thumb is matching the trailer to the technique. For craw imitating, use a creature or crawfish-style trailer or double-legged grub. To imitate baitfish, a fluke style or paddle tail gets the nod. While there is no wrong way to fish a bladed jig, early spring fishing is often about imitating crawfish that have awoken from their winter hibernation, and they begin to move in large numbers. Spring bass key onto these migrations, as well as baitfish schools working shallow flats, especially on windy days.
Imitating crayfish with a bladed jig
Like rattle baits, many anglers simply cast out and reel back a bladed jig. While this will undoubtedly work, imitating a scuttling crawfish is deadly in the spring. To do this, cast the bladed jig out and let it settle on the bottom. Begin your retrieve slowly, hopping and dragging across the bottom in an effort to imitate a scurrying crawfish. Also, like rattle baits, imitating crawfish with shades of red and orange will pay big dividends. Pair this technique with a craw-style trailer such as a Berkley Rage Craw or a Yamamoto Cowboy.
Here I choose natural or shad imitating colors such as white, white and chartreuse, or green pumpkin. Bladed baits do an especially good job of imitating small Bluegill, a favorite springtime bass target. A green pumpkin bladed jig with hints of blue and orange in the skirt and trailer can be a spring killer. Speaking of trailers, a fluke-style body such as a Bass Assassin or the 10,000 Fish Yoto Worm is effective. Other options are paddle tails or even large grubs.
Cast out and begin a slow retrieve, with frequent pulses of the handle to jump the bait forward and billow the skirt. When your bait encounters vegetation or grass, a quick ripping motion will snap the bait free and trigger vicious strikes. I tend to throw my bladed jigs on a stout rod such as a medium-heavy power, fast-action of at least 7ft to 7ft 3in length. Many prefer softer action rods for this, but I like to slam these big single hooks home with some power.
5. Ned Rig
The Ned rig is all the rage now and has accounted for some truly huge bass. It was conceived by the legendary Ned Kehde of In-Fisherman Magazine a few decades ago as the answer to catching sluggish, cold water bass. And boy does it catch them. It is an exceedingly simple rig consisting of a pill- or mushroom-style plain jig and a small, cigar-shaped “do nothing” plastic body. The first Ned rigs were constructed by simply cutting a Senko or Yum Dinger in half.
Today, there are dozens of Ned bodies from brands such as Z-Man, Missile, Yum, and others. There are all kinds of variations too, with specially shaped jigs, skirted jigs, and bodies with claws, legs, and other frills. These all work, but there is something in the simplicity of a plain, original style Ned that just far out-produces everything else. Perhaps its plain, cylindrical body perfectly imitates a crawfish that has had its pinchers pulled off, as bass often do, leaving it vulnerable. Who knows, but I always use a plain Ned body like the Z-Man TRD with a plain Z-Man or mushroom-style jig. Fishing the Ned is stupid simple.
The word is LIGHT. In gear and in touch, so leave the bait casting gear at home. I use a medium light spinning setup spooled with a fused line such as Berkley Nanofil in 12# test (diameter of 2#) or a straight 6#-8# fluorocarbon such as Sunline Sniper FC. Cast and let the bait settle, then on a tight line, hop and glide the bait along the bottom with a light touch. Bass oftentimes simply pick it off the bottom and swim off with it, so watch your line for any movement. Keep movement natural and to a minimum and you will catch spring bass.
Spring bass can sometimes be an enigma. Cold water and bad weather, especially wind, can turn any trip miserable. By employing these five springtime baits and techniques, you can warm yourself in the glow of a successful day on the water, in numbers caught and in big fish. With these five baits, I would be confident fishing any body of water in the country, catching spring, cold water bass, and now you will be too. And, as always, if you have any questions on gearing up for your next fishing adventure, reach out to me or one of my fellow Fishing experts here on Curated for free advice and recommendations.