Whether you’re a bass fishing warrior or a new tournament angler looking for more tricks of the trade, these critical techniques should be mastered to maximize performance and success. One of the reasons bass fishing in North America makes bass one of the most popular gamefish is they’re somewhat easier to catch than other species, primarily because they are so abundant. But, just because these fish can be found virtually everywhere doesn’t always mean you’ll always load the boat on every fishing trip. It’s more than just tossing out a bait and hoping there’s a hungry bass near by willing to bite; consistently catching lunkers comes down to proper technique. Below are critical techniques you should master to maximize your performance and success as a bass angler.
For many anglers, there’s nothing more exciting than catching a bass with a topwater bait. The sound of the lure, the sight of an approaching fish, and the exhilaration of seeing a big splash when a largemouth finally strikes can be enough to get anyone’s heart racing. Unlike pitching or flipping, topwater lures are meant for hungry, active fish. It’s a true “lure,” designed to attract attention with noise and dramatic movements.
There are several kinds of topwater baits, like poppers, jitterbugs and frogs. Some topwaters are easy to use and work best with a slow, steady retrieve, like a jitterbug. Others take some more technique. The aptly named “popper’ requires an angler to literally pop the lure as it is retrieved, pausing every few seconds and allowing it to go steady, imitating a wounded fish. The sporadic stopping and moving can drive bass crazy.
Another popular retrieving method is called “walk the dog,” commonly used for soft-frog or Zara spook-type baits. Walking the dog is where you quickly twitch the rod tip up and down for the duration of the slow retrieve.
Pitching and Flipping
When bass aren’t all that active and are hiding in thick cover, it’s as if you have to go into stealth mode to catch those shy lunkers. The best methods for getting to shallow-water thick cover, without spooking fish too much, are pitching and flipping. These methods are similar looking techniques, but some occasions require one over the other, especially as it pertains to distance. The key to successful pitching and flipping is practice, a long rod — 6 1/2-foot to 7 1/2-foot — and the right soft-plastic bait.
Pitching is the easier of the two techniques but is not as precise as flipping. Let out enough line so it’s about even with the reel, and keep your reel open (button pressed). With your thumb on the reel spool, lower the rod tip towards the water and with your free hand, grab hold of the lure (worm, tube jigs, creatures) and pull on the line to add tension. In one smooth motion let go of the lure while swinging your rod tip up. As the swings away toward your target, remove your thumb from the reel spool. The timing of these steps will take some practice. This combination should slingshot the bait towards your target. Be sure to close the reel as soon as the bait lands because bass often strike quickly.
Flipping takes more practice, but once you get a good feel for it, you can optimize your presentation and hit your target location more precisely than pitching. Begin by letting out somewhere between 8 to 15 feet of line and then close your reel. Grab the line between the reel and first rod guide and then extend your arm to the side as you pull on the line. Raise the rod and the bait will now swing towards you. Using a pendulum motion, swing the bait to your desired location while feeding the line through your hand. Tighten up the remaining slack and get ready for a strike. It looks a little awkward, but it’s a great way to get a drop on some shy bass.
A crankbait is all about reflex for a bass. They won’t want to chase it down the same way they would for a topwater bait, but even so, noise and presentation is still key to using a crankbait correctly. Crankbaits are a favorite for many tournament anglers because they can be used to cover a lot of water, both horizontally and vertically at a variety of depths.
Crankbaits work best around solid objects, like rocks, logs and stumps. It is possible to use a crankbait along the side of a weedbed, but generally drop-offs and rocky shoals with plenty of solid cover works best. The more you get to know the feel of the way your crankbait swims through the water and bumps into objects, the better you will be at catching bass.
Think of crankbaits as a teasing lure. Grab the fish’s attention by reeling quickly, then stopping and allowing the crankbait to slowly rise. Then reel up again and make another stop. This can drive bass crazy. When using a deep diver, you can try the “bumping the stump” technique to tease fish into biting. As you reel in and feel your crankbait strike bottom or something hard, like a rock, stop and let the lure float a little bit. All that noise and movement will bring bass in and wanting to feast on what they think is easy prey.
Spinnerbaits are a little trickier than crankbaits because it can be harder to successfully hook a fish given the design of the lure. However, once hooked with a sprinnerbait, it’s harder for a bass to throw the bait than when compared to a crankbait. Spinnerbaits are a great year-round lure that can produce results on any given day on any given lake. Retrieval should range from slow to medium speed and works best around solid cover and vegetation.
There are several different ways to use the versatile spinnerbait. One method is to allow the bait to fall to the bottom near a dropoff. As it hits bottom, reel up the slack, give it a few cranks and then allow it to fall to the bottom again. Keep repeating. For the most part, however, you’ll be reeling in continuously at different paces. The slower you reel in, the deeper the bait tends to swim through the water column. When you reel in at a faster rate, it will swin higher in the water column. Running a spinnerbait just below the surface will create a wake that some fish will find irresistible. You can even break the surface from time to time to mimic active bait fish.
Possibly the simplest technique for bass fishing, and one of the easiest techniques to learn, is jerkbait fishing. The hard part is knowing what jerkbait to use and when to use it. Jerkbaits come in many shapes and sizes that swim at varying depths, but no matter how different they may be, the goal remains constant: imitate a wounded bait fish.
As the name implies, jerking the rod tip with a little twitch as you reel gives the impression that your jerkbait isn’t healthy. Bass love an easy meal, and that’s what you’re tying to mimic. You’re basically holding up a sign that says, “Free Food!” While you may find success near weeds or in murky water with crankbaits and spinnerbaits, jerkbaits don’t have the same versatility. They are best reserved for clear water; bass being able to see the bait is the most important factor for success with this technique.
This finesse form of fishing takes a little more effort to rig up than the others, but it’s a crucial technique nonetheless and should be a part of any serious bass angler’s repertoire. If you’ve fished with a plastic worm, then you can adapt quite quickly to drop-shotting. The major difference is the weight is below the worm. As you reel up the worm and work its magic, the sinker bounces along bottom, leaving the worm several inches off the bottom in the water column, free for the taking.
The length between the worm and sinker can range anywhere from a few inches up to 2 feet; it all depends on how muddy the lake bottom is and how high you want the bait suspended from bottom. Unlike the other techniques mentioned here, you can drop-shot without having to retrieve. You can even just let it go from the side of the boat. The key is moving your rod tip in a way to make your bait dance.