If you're anything like me, the day has come where you stood in a weigh-in line and stared at the guys ahead of you with two bags in each hand. After that you turn around and the guy behind you has got the same thing! Here you are with a single bag, there might be 13 lbs in there if you're lucky! You wonder why you even got out of bed that morning. Was it really worth the gas to come out here and get humiliated? Did spending the day at home taking care of the house really sound that bad? And most importantly, how did these other guys do it?
I want to discuss the difference between fishing for a bite and fishing for a big bite. Despite popular belief, there is a difference. Odds are, that guy standing in front of you with all those bags wasn't dragging the same 4" worm, throwing the same tube, or fishing the same crankbait. He may not have even been in the same part of the lake! Its not a case of random luck, there is a reason all those bug-eyed monsters are in those bags!
Over the last few years I have found what I believe to be the four most consistant ways to catch giant bass. By implementing jigs, topwater, swimbaits, and sight fishing you can catch more and bigger fish than you've ever caught before! I'm going to discuss the first three at length tonight and will save the fourth for another time.
As you read through this, keep in mind that the baits mentioned are the baits that I am personally using to catch oversize bass. I recognize that you live in a different place fishing for different fish and I have taken that into consideration. Therefore, realize that when I mention a 9" swimbait, you may want to consider one that is 4"-8". If I mention an 8" lunker punker you may consider using a Super Spook instead of the Super Spook Jr. The particular baits in question, while important, are not a deal breaker. Focus on the concepts and I believe this information will help you catch bigger bass more consistantly.
In addition to choosing the right bait it is also important to consider the right location. This is an entire topic within itself that will have to wait for another day but follow these quick examples to increase your odds of encountering an oversize largemouth. Examples of high-percentage locations are long-tapering points, wind-blown points, creek channel bends, edges of flats, ledges, and weedlines. Most importantly, the location you choose needs to have quick access to deep water. (The actual depth will vary based on the body of water you are fishing.)
Another misconception is that your goal is to catch fish. What I mean by this is that if you are catching 1 lber after 1 lber, the odds of suddenly catching a 7 lber, let alone a 14 lber, are greatly reduced. Large bass will occasionally school up but it is rarely with small bass. What this means is that if you are catching a lot of small fish its time to move. You are looking for locations that are holding a handful of quality fish, not a school of small fish. From here let's transition into fishing a jig.
12.4 lber on a 1/2 oz SuperMat Brown Pitchin' jig with Uncle Josh Pork Trailer. Circa 2009
The jig is no secret. It is widely accepted nationwide as one of the most consistant fish-catchers available today. Unlike the other big bass options, bigger is not always better when in reference to the jig. Instead, I feel that attention to detail is the important focal point. All too often an angler will choose one or two jig colors for all applications. Remember, the jig is used to imitate everything from crawfish to bluegill.
11.4 lber on 3/4 oz Dirty Jigs No-Jack Jig with Jackall Trailer. Circa 2009
It is important to carefully match your colors to the forage you are imitating. A few colors that I have extremely high confidence in are Molting Craw, Camouflage, Supermat Brown, and Pumpkin seed Bream. These colors can be found at www.dirtyjigstackle.com
They represent varieties of brown, purple, watermelon, green pumpkin, and bluegill. This allows me to duplicate nearly any forage that the base may be keyed in on.
There are a multitude of ways to use a jig but my personal experience has shown that hopping, swimming, and pitching are the three most consistent ways to catch big fish. When I hop a jig I use a drag-pump-pump action. This allows the jig to imitate a craw that is beginning to move, then spooks and pumps up off the bottom. Typically the bite will come as soon as I let the bait fall back to the bottom.
7.5 lber on a 1/2 oz Camouflage Pitchin' Jig with Sweet Beaver trailer. Circa 2009
Swimming a jig is another versatile option. A variety of trailers can be used to further imitate a particular forage. I typically combine my jig with a Paca Chunk, or Optimum Double Diamond swimbait to gain different actions. This technique is incredibly simple! I often just cast and retrieve the bait as I would a spinnerbait or crankbait. The power of this bait is in the secondary movement. Not only is the trailer moving but the skirt pulsates as well. This breaks up the pattern and causes a shimmer across the whole bait that is extremely lifelike!
The last way I fish the jig is simply by pitching it into heavy cover. For this I typically use a 3/4 oz pitchin' jig. Using a heavier jig allows me to get a reaction from the bass. The bait falls so quickly that the bass has a split second to react before the bait is gone. Ideally, I will let the bait fall, shake it, and pull it out, in just a few seconds. By implementing this technique a great deal of water can be covered in a short period of time.
8.3 lber on 1/2 oz Alabama Bream No-Jack Jig with Optimum Trailer. Circa 2009
Topwater is another awesome opportunity for big bass! This genre represents everything from a 2" popper, to a buzzbait, to a 15" wakebait. There is something about a slow moving bait across the surface of the water that draws in big bass. Fast moving topwaters are extremely effective but rarely catch bass exceeding 8 lbs. If you are looking for a true giant, slower is typically better.
9.6 lber on Black Dog Lunker Punker with Custom wrap from Swimbaits Inc. Circa 2009
Some of my favorite topwater baits include the Black Dog Lunker Punker, the JSJ Bluegill, the Super Spook, and the Snagproof Frog. Each of these baits excels at catching large bass. However, the spook and frog are geared towards bass under 10 lbs. Topwater is a prime example of bigger is better! If you use a spook, consider the super spook instead of the super spook junior. You'll be amazed how many small bass will still eat it, and you might just be surprised by a fish that is bigger than any you knew were in your home lake.
Remember, getting more bites is not the ultimate goal. You need to find the balance between quantity and quality. Increase the size of your offering until you are catching a few less fish, with the occasional bigger bite. Consider that a 3 lb bass will often eat a 12" bait, whereas a 10 lb bass will often pass up on a 4" bait. Again, finding that balance point is key!
10.1 lber on Black Dog Lunker Punker. Circa 2009
I have found through trial and error, that big bass do not want to work hard for a meal. They will often track a slow moving bait but will not strike unless the bait does something erratic. When using a wakebait I use a slow, steady retrieve but will snap the rod tip sharply once or twice during the cast. The snapping motion causes the bait to turn or jump in an erratic manner. This brief change is often what the bass is waiting for and you will be rewarded with what I can only describe as a watery eruption!
One misconception about topwater is that bass prefer to eat on top during low light conditions. The vast majority of my topwater bass over 7 lbs came during the middle of the day. During these "off peak" times you may go for hours without a bite, but when it finally happens the bass will be big! I can recall many days where I've thrown a frog or a wakebait for 8-12 hours and only had 4-7 bites. But those 5 fish limits were almost always in the 25-35 lb range. Don't let the sunlight limit your options, topwater is a viable option 24 hours a day!
Serious limit of big bass (11 lber not shown) caught on a BBZ swimbait. Circa 2008
The final big bass option is the swimbait. This term used to mean a trout-imitating soft plastic lure with a swimming tail that was a minimum of 6" long. In recent years this genre has grown to include everything from a 2" Swimming Minnow to the 12" Osprey Swimbait. Like topwater, size matters when it comes to swimbaits. If you limit yourself to 2-5 inch swimbaits you are going to get bites, and plenty of them, but have you really selected for big bass? Is a 4" swimbait that much different than a crankbait or spinnerbait? I really don't believe it is. If you want a swimbait to work in your big bass arsenal, you need to start at 6 inches and work up from there.
There are a wide variety of swimbaits in the 6" range that will catch big bass. The 6" basstrix is now widely accepted as a big bass producer. This bait really isn't all that big. It doesn't require a special rod and reel combo but will often produce larger than average fish. The 6" baitsmith is another excellent choice. It is significantly larger than the basstrix but is small enough to be fished nationwide. This bait has been proven to work from California to Wisconsin and was conceived in the far Northern reaches of Idaho.
12.3 lber was caught on a 6" baitsmith swimbait. Circa 2008
While the 6" is a terrific option to catch big bass, going even larger will select for the true giants. The 8" Huddleston swimbait has caught numerous giant bass. It is based on the general shape of a trout and has a very natural action. Another terrific option is the 9.5" Baitsmith Magnum. This giant bait is a fish catcher! It has only been available since December of 2008 but has quickly become one of my go to options for giant bass!
11.3 lber on Baitsmith Magnum Trout. Circa 2009
Swimbaits are very similar to topwater baits, in that they are most effective when worked slowly. With these baits I use a variety of techniques. The most common technique is to sit shallow and work the bait slowly uphill. In order to accomplish this I allow the bait to sink to the bottom in deep water. Once it has reached bottom I begin a slow, steady retrieve along the bottom. Don't be afraid that the bass won't find a slow moving bait. Giant bass rule their domains and they will know when an intruder has arrived!
While the slow and steady retrieve is the most common don't be afraid to work these baits quickly to create a "bulging" effect on the water's surface. Fishing a swimbait in and around weed edges is another great way to locate big bass that are looking to ambush an easy meal.
11.5 lber caught on the Baitsmith Magnum. (Caught in the California Delta, a fishery that does not contain trout) Circa 2009
I hope that you are able to take some of these baits and principles and apply them to your own waterways. There is no reason that you can't go out to your favorite body of water and catch bigger bass! Remember, not every lake has 10 lbers. You may simply be trying to catch 4 lbers instead of 2 lbers. These techniques apply to every body of water nationwide. If you choose to impliment them you may soon be the guy standing in the weigh-in line with 5 bags smiling knowingly at the guy behind you who only came to weigh in with 4 bags!