Basic Freshwater Tackle

Largemouth Bass

Rod and Reel

The debate over the best rod and reel combination for largemouth bass fishing will likely never end, and for good reason. The largemouth bass can be found in every state of the union except Alaska and is the most actively pursued gamefish in North America. Professional Tournament Bass Fishermen will tell you there is no perfect rod for bass fishing, that in order to maximize your chances of success you have to have multiple rods and that's what they carry on their boats. One rod for each type of lure they will use that is specially designed for that class of lure, or a certain water condition. And, most of them use casting reels, which if learned to use, can provide exceptional accuracy and control. But, I'm assuming you are reading this page in order to get started bass fishing so let's keep it simple. If you have read the backcountry saltwater tackle section of this website, you'll see I recommended a 7 ft spinning rod with a reel rated for 8-12 # line. (I use 8#) This rod will also work well in freshwater for bass, and if you have something similar, by all means use it. But for an outfit that is better suited for bass fishing, I am going to recommend a slightly shorter, but stiffer rod rated for slightly higher test line. (Note; You may have noticed that I seem to be stuck on Penn Spinfisher Reels and Shakespeare Ugly Stik rods. That's just because I've been using them for 30 + years and know more about them. The recommendations are more for comparison than anything else. There are plenty of other fine brands out there, such as Shimano, etc.
Rod; Shakespeare Ugly Stick, 6 foot, rated for 8-20 # line, Model SPL11060.
(Note; This is a one piece rod)
Reel; Penn Spinfisher SSG Graphite 450SSG
This reel is rated for 10 to 15 # line and loaded with 15# mono, will hold about 180 yards. I would use a minimum of 12#. The reason I like heavier line on a shorter rod for bass than I do in backcountry saltwater seatrout and redfish is not because bass are larger, but the fishing emphasis will be different. In flats fishing for seatrout and redfish, the ability to cast for distance, even with fairly light lures is a distinct advantage as fish on the flats, especially the larger seatrout are spooky. Except for casting from shore, bass fishing usually means shorter, more precise casts up against shorelines, stumps, weeds, and even into tight cover with weedless lures. When a bass hits you need to get him out of and away from the cover or he will wrap your line around every stump in the swamp. A shorter, stiffer rod, with plenty of backbone coupled with a heavier line will give you a distinct advantage. You can go with a lighter action rod as mentioned above, but you will have to be more selective in your casts, and may miss opportunities for the biggest bass of the day. This is explained to a greater detail in "Freshwater 101".
If at some point you decide to get serious about bass fishing, then a casting rig may definitely be the way to go. A quality casting rod and reel is more challenging to use but at the same time provide distinct advantages. Because a casting reel's spool rotates on the cast to let out line, the rotation must be controlled with your thumb or else you will end up with a massive tangle or "birds nest" at the reel, and you'll spend the next half hour trying to untangle it. But, at the same time, if you learn how to cast these, with some of the plugs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and weighted worms commonly used by bass fishers you will be able to cast with greater precision, cast these heavier lures further, and fish with less fatigue as these rigs are typically lighter that simmilar rated spinning rigs. Plus you will have greater access to specific actions for specific type lures. Thats why pros use them, and in their situation one less bass than the competition on the tournament trail can cost them thousands of dollars. Heres an article on bass rods. Choosing The Right Rod by Mark Lassagne.

Lures

There have probably been more lures designed for sale to bass fishermen than any other type of lure and with good reason. The Largemouth Bass is likely the most sought after fish on the planet. With the selection below we are going to go over a few of these and how they are used. Some of these are going to be old favorites of mine that have worked for me over the years, others are newer but proven. Again there are thousands of lures made for bass fishing under many different conditions. The selection below is a very small selection designed to give a visitor to the area or someone just taking up bass fishing a decent chance of bringing in some fish.

Top Water Plugs
Arbogast Hula Popper; This is an "ancient classic" as it has been catching fish for over 60 years and has been a personal favorite of mine since I began bass fishing back in the early 1970s. Cast it near lily pads or around other cover or shoreline. Let it settle until the rings in the water have almost subsided, and then twitch. Continue to work slowly. Comes in several sizes and color patterns. I prefer the 2 inch 3/8 ounce size in "Frog"
Rapala Original Floating Minnow; Model F09; If I were told that I had to fish with one and only one surface plug for the rest of my life, I would choose Rapala's original floating minnow. First hand carved in the 1930s out of balsa wood by a Finnish Commercial Fisherman named Lauri Rapala it launched an industry. It is a very simple lure to use. Cast it, let it settle on the surface, and then twitch it so that it dives just beneath the surface, let it resurface, and repeat. If you are not catching anything after a bit and you have enough clearance between the surface of the water and the bottom, about two to three feet, just cast and reel with a steady retrieve. This has worked for me more than once. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. I carry two with me, both of them 3 1/2 inches long, one in silver, and one in gold, and I recommend both of them.
Rapala Freshwater Skitterwalk; This version of the Rapala Skitterwalk, as the name implies is designed for freshwater gamefish. Use a pulsating "Walk the Dog action, then let it sit for a few seconds. Repeat. This version is 3-1/8 inches and 7/16 of an ounce. Start out with the Holographic Shad color.
Midwater
Rapala Twitchin Rap; This lure is designed to be nearly neutrally buoyant. Sinks slowly in freshwater, neutrally buoyant in saltwater. Fish it just as the name implies. Cast, twitch slowly, let sit for a few seconds, twtch, etc. Designed to imitate a baitfish about to die, signalling an easy meal for gamefish. Runs 6" to 2' deep.
Rapala Shallow Shad Rap; Use this plug when the bass are feeding on threadfin shad or shiners. Use it as a shallow running crankbait or a twitchbait. Shad color is shown and is a good choice in the 2-3/4 inch, 1/4 ounce model. Runs 1' to 8' deep.
Spinnerbaits; There are a huge variety of spinnerbaits on the market and they can be fished in a variety of ways, steadily retrieved, a pulsating retrieve wher they rise and fall ( the strike will usually come on the fall) jigged straight up and down over deeper structure. They can also be buzzed along the surface through patches of lily pads although there is a similar type lure designed just for this (below).
BuzzBaits; Above under spinnerbaits I mentioned buzzing the surface. this is where the retrieve is fast enough and the rod tip is held high enough to where the blades are breaking the surface, during the retrieve. This is to simulate the sound of a small school of shad or other prey skipping across the surface. Work around and through lily pads and other emergent or floating vegetation.
Johnson's Silver Minnow; The spoon is one of the oldest lures in use and still one of the best. The Johnson's Silver Minnow is a classic and should be in every tacklebox. Rigged weedless, this spoon can be fished through some very tight cover and thick vegetation. They can be dressed with a strip of porkrind for added action. Cast and retrieve it with a pulsating action, jig over deeper structure, or even skipped over thick lily pads. Attach to line with a snap swivel to avoid twisting your line.
Soft Baits
Worm Hook; For soft plastic baits this is the type hook you will be using. It is designed to be inserted into the front of a soft bait, exited just behind the head of the bait the same length as the shrt shaft coming from the eye, then reinserted into the bait in order to provide for a completely weedless presentation.
Here is a basic diagram of how a worm hook should be inserted into the head of a plastic worm. This also works with lures such as the bass assassin farther down on this page. However, for using fish shaped or other creature shaped soft lures, insert so that the exposed curve of the hook protrudes from the bottom of the lure's "chin" and is reinserted into the "belly". In this way the most weight of the hook will cause the lure to ride upright.
Plastic Worms; This is one of the all time favorite bass lures and its use has lead to revolutions in fishing rod designs as in the 1970s, Worm Rods, the first classification of rods specifically designed for bass fishing with specific lures were introduced. Short and stout, they were designed to allow casting of worms rigged weedless into heavy cover and pull bass out. These can be fished with without extra weight or with bullet weights (inset) to allow for greater casting distance, especially with the baitcasting worm rods favored by so many advanced and professional bass fishers. I like fishing these by throwing them weightless on top of lily pads matted vegetation such as duckweed or even up on a shoreline and then "crawling" them into the water. I've also dragged them over matted vegetaion and had bass take them on the surface
Bass Assassin Shad Assassin; Rigged weedless using a size 2/O worm hook (above), and cast with no extra weight, this lure can be cast among lily pads, near stumps and other cover and then twitched slowly. It will act like a disorientated or dying minnow and can be hard for bass to resist.

Live Bait Fishing for Bass

Over the years I have caught most of my largemouth bass on lures, but the two largest bass I have ever caught came on live bait. The largest, a ten pounder was caught at a Titusville retention pond on a small bluegill, and the other, a 7-1/2 pounder, at the dock at Fox Lake Park in Titusville, with a wild caught shiner about 7 inches long. In both cases the bait was caught at the fishing site on an ultralite spinning rig with a tiny hook baited with breadballs. However, live shiners are available at many baitshops as well as live nightcrawlers, which I have used as well.

Fishing Live Shiners; There are many ways of hooking a shiner for bass fishing. What little shiner fishing I've done for bass has been simply tying a hook to my line and positioning a float above the hook far enough to keep the shiner from diving into submerged vegetation. Use a float just large enough to keep some control over the shiner and see where the bait is. If it can only pull the float under for as second or so, that's good enough. For a small shiner of about 2-5 inches, use a 2/O size circle hook, for a larger shiner, use a 4/O circle hook. I've always hooked mine through the back slightly behind the dorsal fin, being careful to avoid the spine. You can also drive the hook upward through the bottom lip and out through one of the airholes or "nostrils" on the head. Cast this along the edges of matted floating weeds, near lily pads, over submerged vegetation or other cover. When the bass hits, the bobber will no linger be bobbing around or going under for short times. It will go under and stay or take off sideways with enough force it will travel under the water. If you're fishing with a large shiner give the bass several seconds to position the fish for swallowing. Then, if using circle hooks, do not "set" the hook with a sharp pull. Point the rod at the fish and begin to reel. When you feel the force of the fish firmly hooked then raise the rod to fight him. Here's some links with extra information on Bass Fishing with Shiners;
http://cyberangler.com/articles/live_bait_bass.html
http://www.bassnedge.com/tips/catching_bass_with_wild_shiners.htm
http://www.fishing.us/node/972

Fishing with Nightcrawlers; Many folks when fishing with worms or nightcrawlers will tend to bunch the worm or nightcrawler by hooking it in several places along the length. If using nightcrawlers, and targeting bass this is not necessary. I have had many opportunities to watch a bass in clear water attack a plastic worm. They will approach and just before their nose touches the bait, they will quickly open their mouths, sucking in water and expelling it through the gills, with the result being that the entire worm is instantly sucked into their mouths. There is no nibbling here, whoosh, and it's gone. When I fish a nightcrawler, I simply use a baitholder hook such as the Eagle Claw model 186 in size 1 or 2. If you look closely at the image above left, you will see that the shaft of this hook has two little barbs on the shaft. These are designed to keep bait such as a nightcrawler from sliding down the hook. Simply stick the point of the hook into the front end of a nightcrawler and work out the side so that the hook is buried up to the eye of the hook and the point protrudes out the side. Fish under a bobber near cover or just cast (freeline, no bobber or weight) and let settle near some cover. For a little more casting distance without whipping the worm off the hook and into the next county you can add a slit shot above the hook about 12 inches.
Other Baits for Bass; Bass will eat just about any animal that will fit in its mouth, including crickets and grasshoppers on one end of the spectrum to frogs, salamanders, mice, baby ducks, and even newly hatched alligators. I dont reccommend using mice, ducks, or alligators but frogs and waterdogs make great bass baits. A waterdog is the aquatic larva stage of a tiger salamander. Hook these upward through the lips, being sure to size the hook to the bait and freeline the baits around cover. Here's a couple of articles on that.
http://www.hiddenfishingtips.com/guide/bass-live-bait.html
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1725354
 

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