By Don Wirth
Legendary Florida bass expert Doug Hannon relies on a Texas-rigged plastic worm when fishing heavy weed cover like lily pads.
Contrary to what many weekend anglers believe, bass pros don't possess supernatural powers for finding and catching fish. Instead, they earn those fat paychecks by correctly analyzing the fishing situations that confront them. This analysis includes determining the type and location of bass cover where they're fishing, then picking the best possible lure and presentation.
Sounds elementary, doesn't it? There's no sixth sense involved -- the pros simply maximize their opportunities for bites by putting the right lure in the right place at the right time.
Choosing the correct bait for the cover you're fishing is at the heart of every successful bass outing. To help you make the right decision, we present our recommendations for the best lures to use when fishing bassin's Big Three: wood, rock and weed cover. We suggest getting three large plastic utility boxes, one for each type of cover mentioned, and loading them with the lures mentioned.
Lures for Wood
Wood cover includes stumps, standing timber, deadfalls and brush. It's great bass habitat, especially when found in classic bass locations including shallow coves and flats, channel edges, points and submerged humps.
Bass generally hold tight to impenetrable wood (stumps, logs, standing timber) for concealment when in a feeding mode, but will move into penetrable wood (root systems, brushpiles, tree limbs) when inactive. A single piece of wood can provide both types of cover -- a submerged tree's trunk is impenetrable, but its root system and branches are penetrable.
When fishing impenetrable wood, your lure must be able to bump or crawl over the cover without hanging up. Design features that enable a lure to do this include large diving lip, streamlined head or body shape, weedguard and a concealed hook point. Therefore the best lures for fishing stumps, logs and standing timber are the following:
- Crankbaits with large diving lips
- Weedless jigs
- Texas-rigged plastic worms and lizards
Fishing penetrable wood demands a lure with the ability to root out a bass in a very tight, snaggy spot without hanging up. Design features facilitating this include weedguard, streamlined head/body shape and concealed hook point. Lures best suited to brushpiles, limbs and roots include:
- Weedless jigs
- Plastic worms, lizards and craws with a pegged sinker
Presentation tips for wood:
- When fishing tree trunks and stumps, always bump the cover with your lure. This causes it to change speed and direction, giving it the appearance of a fleeing baitfish or crawfish. The strike normally occurs immediately after the bait contacts the wood.
- When fishing a laydown log with a spinnerbait or crankbait, retrieve the lure so it travels the length of the cover instead of cutting across it. This will maximize its contact with the cover.
- Bass often hold at the major forks of submerged trees. Here, a spinnerbait is your best bet -- slow-roll it up to the fork, then stop the retrieve so the lure flutters straight down.
- Avoid overhand casting to roots, brushpiles and tree limbs -- you'll hang up constantly. Pitch or flip the lure into the cover instead.
- Visibility is often poor in thick root wads and brushpiles. Here, use a lure with strong visual contrast, such as a black worm with a chartreuse tail.
Lures for Rock
Wood cover holds plenty of bass. Choose lures that can bump off standing timber, stumps and brushpiles without constantly hanging up, like jigs spinnerbaits and plastic worms.
Rock is generally regarded as inferior to both wood and weeds in terms of bass attraction, but bass are drawn to it where other types of cover aren't available. Rock is the prevailing cover in many deep, clear natural lakes and highland reservoirs. Rock cover occurs in the following forms:
Chunk rock, which ranges in size from fist-sized to head-sized. Traps decaying organic matter upon which crawfish feed.
Riprap, large pieces of rock used to shore up the bank near a reservoir dam. Good habitat for crawfish; shad feed on its slimy algae coating.
Boulders, massive rocks most often found in Western reservoirs and Canadian shield lakes. Provide plenty of shade to conceal bass in clear water.
Gravel, common in rivers, shield lakes and reservoirs -- great habitat for crawfish and an ideal spawning surface for smallmouth bass.
Sand -- rock in its smallest form! Porous, so it enables aquatic vegetation to take root. Perfect spawning surface for largemouth bass.
When fishing chunk rocks, boulders, gravel and sand, hangups usually aren't a worry. Instead, the extremely clear water typical of rocky lakes will dictate the type of lure used more than the cover itself. Therefore the lure should a) look extremely natural, with a lifelike baitfish or crawfish profile and color pattern, and b) have an erratic action, which is far more appealing to a bass in clear water than an unvarying, mechanical action. The best lures for rock cover are the following:
- Soft-plastic jerkbaits
- Wood or plastic floater/diver minnows and suspending jerkbaits
- Small leadhead grubs, tube baits and jig/pork combos
- Flashing metal baits (jigging spoons, tailspinners, blade baits)
- Finesse worms fished on small leadheads or split shot rigs
- Small deep-diving crankbaits
- Topwater lures
Presentation tips for rock:
- Use lighter line than you'd use for fishing wood or weeds. Rocky lakes are often gin-clear, necessitating smaller lures and a more discreet presentation. Western bass anglers commonly use 4- and 6-pound mono when fishing rocky cover in deep, clear impoundments.
- On sunny days, choose lures with a realistic reflective baitfish pattern, such as a foil-finish crankbait or a smoke metalflake grub. On overcast days, the same lures in flat, non-reflective color patterns such as bone white or crawdad will be more visible.
- Bass often suspend over large rocks and may respond to a topwater lure or jerkbait retrieved over their heads.
- Retrieving a jig in short, erratic hops around chunk rock, riprap and gravel will mimic a live crawfish.
- A 4-inch finesse worm is one of the deadliest lures for probing rocks. Rig it on a leadhead with hook exposed, drop it straight down onto rockpiles in deep water and shake it gently on the bottom.
- When bass are on deep rocks, try a metal blade bait. Its heavy vibrations and intense flash can draw strikes in water over 50 feet deep.
Lures for Weeds
Realistic crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits with a flash finish are excellent choices in rocky lakes.
Aquatic vegetation is arguably the best bass cover of all, but it can be frustrating to fish -- constant hangups and that big glop of grass hanging from your hook can soften your resolve to probe weedy cover. But knowing what lures work best in specific weedy situations and how to fish 'em correctly can connect you with the biggest bass of your fishing career.
weeds aren't created equal. Here are the types most important to bass anglers:
- Surface pads, including lily pads and water hyacinths. These provide maximum overhead cover for bass, and their fragrant blossoms attract insects to crank up the food chain.
- Junk weeds, including hydrilla, milfoil and coontail. These grasses grow in thick mats in sheltered coves and tributaries and provide sensational cover for bass and forage species alike.
- Submerged grasses, such as eelgrass. These crank out plenty of oxygen and provide good cover for bass and baitfish.
- Emergent grasses, including cattails and maidencane. They serve as a bridge from the terrestrial world to the water for insects, frogs, rodents and other small creatures bass feed upon.
Lure-design properties effective in weeds include long, slender profile (for sinking through thick grass), weedguard, concealed hook point, flat shape (for skimming over pads and matted grass), and noisemaking blades or rattles. Lures that showcase these properties include:
- Weedless frogs and rats
- Texas-rigged plastic worms and lizards
- Weedless jigs
- Weedless metal or plastic spoons
- Lipless rattling crankbaits
Presentation tips for weeds:
- Douse your worm or lizard in liquid fish attractant or cooking oil so it'll slide easily through thick weed mats to the bass below.
- Don't use a stop-and-go retrieve when fishing frogs and rats across surface pads. Reeling slowly and steadily will make it easier for bass to locate the lure.
- Use the tail of a plastic worm as a trailer when fishing a weedless spoon. A bright trailer color like chartreuse or red will enable bass to spot the lure in thick grassbeds.
- If a bass strikes your surface retrieve in matted grass or pads, but misses the lure, just keep it moving -- chances are it'll come back for a second try.
- Concentrate on edges where grass meets open water. Bass often locate here to take advantage of prey in both types of habitat.
Choosing Bass Cover by the Season
Bass cover is often seasonal in nature. Here's what you should be fishing during the four seasons:
1) ROCK -- Clear, rocky lakes are often your best bet in winter where iceover doesn't occur. They stay warmer longer than shallow, weedy or woody lakes and can provide good fishing all winter long. Best bet: Deep rocky points.
2) WOOD -- Provided it's deep enough. Avoid shallow wood cover and look for isolated stumps on deep points and channel drops instead.
3) WEEDS -- Always fish 'em if available.
1) WEEDS -- Bass will flock to the first weed growth in shallow lakes. Best bet: Weeds will be thickest in the warmest water, usually in the lake's northwest corner.
2) WOOD -- Stumps and logs 8-10 ft. deep in early spring, then all kinds of wood in shallower water once the surface temp rises.
3) ROCK -- A distant third now.
1) WEEDS -- Lily pads provide so much shade, the water beneath them may be 5 degrees cooler than elsewhere in the lake, meaning bass in pads will be more active. Milfoil and hydrilla beds will be thick now and will hold plenty of bass. Best bet: Isolated weed patches close to deep water.
2) WOOD -- Fish laydowns on shallow flats in murky lakes; stumps and brushpiles on deep channel structures in clear lakes.
3) ROCK -- Try rockpiles at night in clear highland lakes.
1) WEEDS -- The last remaining weeds as the lake cools are a natural bass magnet. Best bet: The deepest weeds will be the last to die. Use a deep-running crankbait to pinpoint their location, then slow down and fish 'em with a weedless jig.
2) WOOD -- Stumpy flats are good now; bass will gorge on shad here prior to moving deep for the winter.
3) ROCK -- Begins to exert more attraction as weeds die off. Try topwaters over rocky ledges and gravel humps.