Bass fishing baits have changed quite a bit since James Heddon hand-carved a frog lure from a piece of wood he picked up on the way to a local fishing hole in the 1890s. Mr. Heddon’s lure must have worked alright, seeing as how he went on to establish a major tackle business. Of course, others were fishing with lures long before Mr. Heddon came along. So, ever since the first unknown pioneer of bass baits pitched a plug into the water, changes and improvements have been made to increase the chances of landing a “bucket mouth”.
The bass baits of today, although usually made of modern materials, still in many ways resemble the baits antique dealers now spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to own. When considering what it takes to catch a largemouth bass, you must obviously consider their diet. As juveniles, largemouths consume mostly plankton and insects, but as their size grows, so does the size of their prey. Bass regularly forage on smaller fish, crayfish, and frogs, but also have been known to consume small birds, small mammals, such as mice and rats and small snakes.
Gizzard shad are a main forage species of largemouth bass. A mature gizzard shad will average in length between 5-7 inches. At this size, gizzard shad are too large for bass under 14 inches to consume. Smaller bass feed on spotfin shiners and brook silversides, which grow no larger than 3 inches. Crayfish are another favorite, but bass must compete with numerous other species for these bottom dwellers. Therefore the recipe for bass fishing success seems relatively simple; use a bait to imitate a mature gizzard shad and an angler will be fishing a representative bait of the main forage of keeper-sized largemouths. But as any tournament regular will tell you, there’s nothing simple about consistently producing limits of largemouths on a bass fishing lake.
Tournament anglers and recreationalists alike are always looking for ways to stack the odds of success in their favor when in pursuit of largemouth bass. Whether anglers are ripping spinnerbaits in the shallows, or walking a Carolina rigged rubber worm along a rocky point, fishermen are interested in the latest and greatest models to add to their bass bait arsenal. Missouri has a number of retailers, like Bass Pro Shops and local tackle shops fully stocked with the lures tournament anglers have historically proven successful, and lures new to the market striving to become the latest “must have” bass bait.
Swimbaits are often very realistic looking, and do a great job of producing fish in lakes with high shad densities. Chatterbaits are also good producers because they are a very versatile lure. Soft plastics remain a hot ticket item for bass fisherman. Tournament angler Steve Hanson says his go-to baits are a Carolina rigged worm with a shaky head and a green pumpkin colored tube jig. He also pointed out that few baits have historically produced as well as the Rapala Shad Rap. Using a Shad Rap seems to make sense considering the importance of imitating shad. Chrome and black or chrome and blue Rat-L-Traps and spinnerbaits are two more lures every tackle box should carry.
An angler can easily fill a boat with tackle for catching bass. The guys and gals on the tournament trails have boxes of baits stuffed in every available compartment. Adjusting to the time of year, water temperature, water level and countless other factors will determine which bait is best to use at any given time. By keeping a variety of new and old, an angler is doing their best to cover all the bases.
See you down the trail…