Strategies That Work

August 01, 2017

Bass finesse tactics work better than dynamite in Michigan, especially when the big hogs are in skinny water. I’m not talking about long distance casting small tubes on Lake Charlevoix for smallies. My target is largemouth in southern Michigan lakes, ponds, reservoirs and backwater river flats. I’m looking for fish that are spawning or in shallow water looking for an easy meal. For this brand of bass fishing use a stealthy approach.

Ya gotta love modern electric motors that allow you to sneak along the shore, casting to fish you spot while wearing polarized sunglasses. Success hinges on spotting fish before they detect you, make a long distance cast, plop a squirming worm in their face and watch as their strike instinct kicks into high gear and they charge the slow falling presentation and gulp the offering. That’s when you set the hook, lean into the rod full force and jam the hook through their boney jaw. They immediately respond with an acrobatic leap and splashdown that sends an adrenaline rush through your body. Some shake the hook as they twist and turn while airborne; others hit the calm lake surface with a resounding splash and sprint for any structure where they can tangle the line in weeds, around docks, tree branches, rocks, stumps and more.

Hawg bass, like this 6 pound 8 ounce monster largemouth taken by Jesse Livingston from Ionia, can be caught from shore, boat or dock using worms. Kenny Darwin photos

I perfected the technique of stalking bass while sneaking along the banks of Sanford Lake, Wixom Lake and the Tittabawassee chain of lakes while growing up in Midland County. Pro fishermen would admit my stalking methods are deadly but scoff at the fact I used live crawlers handpicked under the cover of darkness from Midland Country Club. I’d use only big mature crawlers big as snakes and I’d keep them alive, cool, out of direct sunlight. A size #4 Eagle Claw style 151 bronze hooks with baitholder barbs was inserted through the worm’s collar and threaded up the shank to hide the hook. My spinning rods were medium heavy action and I used 6-10 pound mono line.

I would hook dozens of bass in a single day by patrolling sunken stumps, logs, edges of weedbeds, or any structure that attracted bass. It was exciting to see the telltale largemouth black horizontal lateral line, cast to the unsuspecting fish and witness the take. Some bass would gulp the wiggling crawler on the fall, others would allow the tempting live twisting meal to touch bottom and when the crawler slithered across bottom to escape that’s when watching bass inhale the offering by venting water through their gills at lightning speed. Few thrills in fishing are more impressive than a lunker bass tipped vertical eyeballing your live bait presentation and the solid thud of the strike as the bass sucks the rig off bottom and swims toward cover.

But few serious bass fishermen or tournament pros use live nightcrawlers. They replace the deadly bait with plastic imitations. As summer arrives most bassin’ men fish deeper water using jigs to take plastic worms to likely bucketmouth hideouts. Perhaps the deadliest tactic going pound for pound against all the other lures is Texas rigged worms. As summer progresses most switch to Stanley, Bass Pro or Arkie heavy jigs and use craw worms as trailers.

I cut my bass catchin’ teeth fishing with K & E black plastic worms with weedless wire hooks. I’d sneak kissin’ close to lily pad beds or thick weeds and cast the worm into open pockets. With this deadly presentation the worm sinks slowly, twisting and wiggling toward bottom. Bass found close to structure see the falling worm and charge out of the shadows to attack the slowly sinking lure. Some strikes occur shortly after the worm begins its decent, others happen when the twisting lure is half way through the water column, but more often than not the strike comes shortly after the worm touches bottom. You can increase hook ups by giving the rod a slight twitch which causes the worm to wiggle on bottom.

Polaroid sunglasses will enhance your chances of seeing more bass because the polarization cuts the glare off the water and allows you to see fish. It is a riot to toss out the worm and watch a big bass charge the offering, slam on the brakes and remain inches from the worm and follow it toward bottom. It’s a full blown rush when a big bass is facing you and the polarized glasses allow you to see the big mouth open and suck in the worm at lightning speed. Fishing eyewear is a way of life for those who hunt any species. Gotta have them for those clear water smallies on Charlevoix Lake, ‘eyes in Lake Leelanau, great whites on the Detroit and bronzeback in the Kalamazoo. One of the biggest bass I have ever landed I spotted with the aid of sunglasses in the shallows of Gun Lake.

By using huge pectoral fins a largemouth bass can remain in any position and move any direction by sculling water. Once the strike instinct takes over a largemouth will smash the lure by charging close, biting and engulfing the slithery creature by venting water through its gills. Sometimes they follow the worm until they are straight up and down and you can see them pound bottom on the take as they kick up a cloud of bottom silt.

Savvy bass anglers use the slow-fall worm trick when bass are in shallow water. Once they move to deeper water the best strategy is a Texas rig. This is nothing more than placing an egg-shaped sinker ahead of the lure. This allows you to make long distance casts and drag the lure tight to bottom. 1/8-1/4 ounce bullet-shaped weights are ideal for most medium water fishing. When bass move to summer lairs larger 1/2-3/4 ounce weights are needed. Texas rigged worms take on an action of their own as the lead taps bottom and sends electric vibration the length of the worm.

Rods should have enough back bone to set the hook into the boney mouth of a largemouth. Try 6-7 foot rods with a stiff midsection and butt. Length can be a matter of choice. I loved catching bass on my 10½ foot Swan steelhead rod. Shorter sticks provide good feel and fit better into boat rod lockers.

Savvy bass anglers use 14-20 pound braided line that casts with ease and is strong enough to cut through weeds. Most attach a barrel swivel to the braid and use a clear fluorocarbon leader 18-48 inches long. The fluorocarbon line is tough, has high-stretch toughness but is super clear and fish can’t see it. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible and has great knot strength.

There are hundreds of plastic worms on the market ranging in size from 4-12 inches, for most Michigan conditions I prefer the 6 inch size but use the 7 inch length when the fish are active. Some pros are nuts about some of the fancy colors available like Junebug, Watermelon, Motor oil, Copper reuse Goby, Green Pumpkin and zillions more. Some folks dip worms in garlic scent or spray with crawdad, baitfish or other flavoring and scent.

I’ve had good luck with most scent products and prefer a worm that has a twister tail. As for color, I’m sold on two main colors when it comes to attracting and catching largemouth bass; black and purple. I understand why black is unbelievably affective because it mimics a leech, lamprey or bottom dwelling worm-like critter. Black is also a bright color that bass can see even in colored or stained water. But I don’t understand why largemouths prefer purple colored presentations. There are no purple worms in the wild, no grape colored leeches or lamprey. But for some strange reason bass go bonkers over purple colored worms across the entire state of Michigan. At times bass want a dark colored purple offering; especially when night fishing or when water is stained. When the clouds blow away and the sun is bright, bass seem to prefer a light purple or grape worm.

Plastic wormin’ is one tactic that is guaranteed to help you catch more and bigger bass. Sometimes you need to flip ’em into shallow water holes found in dense weed beds, or pitch ’em near docks or lily pads. When the fish go deep try parallel casting and drag worms along bottom in 10-20 foot depths. In deeper water use electronics to find fish and free spool until the Texas rig hits bottom. Drag the worm along bottom giving it an occasional 6-12 inch hop to attract fish.

Preparing to go bass fishing can be as complex as you want to make it. Basically you can get by cheap just buying hooks, weights and worms. Much of fishing has nothing to do with catching; but experiencing fresh air, exercise, camaraderie and enjoying Michigan’s great outdoors. Setting the hook and feeling the powerful pull of a big bass is a bonus.