Bassmasters know size matters. Sometimes bass are looking for a full-meal deal and will strike the biggest lures in your tacklebox: 10-inch worms, spinnerbaits with hubcap-sized blades, or maybe even one of those monster California plugs — the kind that looks like it was carved from a table leg. More often, they're chowing down on the most abundant prey available, and they'll bite standard-sized bass lures that mimic threadfin shad or crawfish.
But there are times when bass are reluctant to eat anything at all. That's when savvy anglers downsize their lures in an effort to coax a bite from fish whose jaws seem Super-Glued shut. Finesse baits, ultralights — call 'em what you will — itsy-bitsy artificials are our lures of last resort, the ones we reach for when everything else in the tacklebox has hauled water.For various reasons, tiny bass lures are more popular today than ever. Lure manufacturers have responded to the growing demand by marketing "condensed versions" of standard-sized baits, as well as totally new minidesigns geared to triggering strikes from finicky fish.
In my 31 years as a BASSMASTER correspondent, I've tapped the brains of the best pros and guides in the business; none of them hesitate to downsize their lures when conditions demand it, such as in the following scenarios:
o Cold fronts - The classic time to tie on the small stuff is following a frontal passage: When skies clear, temperatures plummet and bass are literally sitting and waiting for conditions to improve before resuming a normal feeding schedule. These fish will typically bite only a subcompact bait presented right in their faces.
Clear water — No lure, even the most realistic looking one, captures all the subtleties of living prey. In clear water, bass are more easily able to discern the imperfections of our baits, which explains why we often see a fish swim up to a lure, then turn away. But it's harder for bass to spot the flaws in a small artificial, so your odds of gettin' bit increase.
Frigid water — In water below 45 degrees, the digestive processes of the bass slow dramatically. It eats less often and targets smaller prey, such as baitfish fry or tiny crawfish. This is a good time to reach for a minilure!
High pressure — Bass respond to heavy angler pressure by becoming increasingly wary and reluctant to bite. B.A.S.S. pros know this phenomenon all too well, and they are increasingly responding to tight-lipped tournament fish by downsizing their offerings. Four time Classic winner Rick Clunn, for example, often chunks a tiny crappie crankbait to garner a quick limit of keepers when other pros are having trouble putting a pattern together with standard-sized lures.
Downsized shallow running crankbaits are the latest rage among B.A.S.S. pros. Check out Strike King's new Pro-Model 1XS, a 2 1/4-inch lure with a stubby bill designed for 2 feet of water or less. Worden's Timber Tiger DC1 is another diminutive shallow diver; created by ace lure designer Tom Seward, it can scoot over laydown logs without hanging up. Mann's Tiny 1-Minus is a mere 1 1/2 inches long and weighs 1/8 ounce; run it over the top of submerged grass. Norman's Tiny N series is a favorite of pro anglers; available in short- and longer-billed versions, it measures only 1 1/2 inches. Norman also offers a Crappie Crankbait series; although marketed mainly to panfish anglers, these tiny cranks will catch keeper-sized bass as well. Rapala has a new RR04 minicrankbait; this 1 1/2-incher looks like a miniature shad and runs to 4 feet on light line.
PRADCO virtually invented the forage-imitating ultralight lure (see "Catch 'Em With Critter Baits," March 2000), and their wee crankbaits and topwater lures have been mainstays in the tackleboxes of stream and pond anglers for decades. The Teeny Craw series is especially noteworthy; these popular minibaits mimic a tiny crawfish to a T. Root 'em around rocks and boulders, where smallmouths lurk. PRADCO's smallest critter bait is their superultralight Tadfry; this tadpole/fish fry look-alike is barely an inch long, and it's deadly in clear water.
Tiny surface lures are guaranteed to provide memorable moments for light tackle anglers. The venerable Heddon Torpedo prop bait series has made waves with topwater anglers for years; the smallest of these, the 1 1/2-inch Teeny Torpedo, draws strikes when ripped around the margins of small waters. Heddon's Zara Pooch is the smallest member of their classic Zara Spook stickbait family; this 2-inch topwater will get slammed when larger lures won't get a nod from sluggish bass. One of our favorites, the legendary Arbogast Hula Popper, is available in a 3/16-ounce edition; try this little jewel at dawn or dusk in a farm pond near you - and keep that drag loose.
The emergence of downsized spinnerbaits and buzzers is a hot trend in the bass lure market. One of the best of these is the 1/32-ounce Little Gripper from Gripper Baits (800) 665-2024). Originally designed as a crappie lure, this diminutive spinnerbait has racked up impressive bass catches as well. Its single, tiny Colorado blade provides just enough flash and vibration to draw a response from a dormant lunker bass in cold, murky water.
Strike King's new 1/8-ounce MiniKing spinnerbait and buzzbait use the same high quality components as their larger lures; they're already in use by top pros like Kevin VanDam. Bass Pro Shops' Crappie Spin is a 1/16-ounce spinnerbait that'll catch bass, crappie, even big bluegill. Fling it near some flooded buckbushes and see what bites it!
The all-time classic ultralight spinnerbait is the Johnson Beetle Spin. Available in sizes down to 1/32 ounce, this deadly little lure combines a fork-tail grub body with a safety-pin style spinnerbait frame. It will catch virtually anything that swims, including huge largemouths. Try it around weedlines and isolated grassbeds during cold front conditions.
You know how good full-size titanium spinnerbaits and buzzbaits can be - finesse versions like Terminator's Tiny-T baits are every bit as deadly. The Tiny-T spinnerbait weighs 1/8 ounce and is available in tandem and single blade configurations, while the 1/16-ounce Wee Tiny-T sports a single Oklahoma or willow blade. The Tiny-T Buzz weighs 1/8 ounce and features Terminator's quick-change skirts. (Outdoor Innovations, (800) 944-4766.
Several configurations of these compact lures are available; they're very popular with panfishermen, but will catch bass as well. Blakemore's Road Runner is one of the most popular; it sports a horsehead spinner design with either a marabou, twister or tube tail and is absolutely deadly on smallmouths. Slider's Whirly Bee has a flat head for sliding over bottom obstructions, a fork-tail grub body and a flashing spinner attached to the hook. Use it for largemouth, smallmouth and white bass in clear, cold water.
Northland's Whistler Jig is one of our favorites in the jig spinner genre. Available in head weights down to 1/32 ounce, this ingenious leadhead lure features a tiny propeller mounted on the hook shaft. Swim it slowly across a gravel flat or drop it down a rock bluff, and you can feel the prop buzz right through your rod handle! (Northland Tackle, (218) 751-6723.)
Strike King's Bitsy Bug is a new 1/16-ounce jig that's deadly wherever conditions call for a weedless lure with a subcompact profile and a slow, tantalizing fall. Choose pumpkin or olive-green skirt colors to mimic an early spring crawfish. This tiny jig can be fished with or without a trailer and is ideal for streams or rocky lakes.
A bit larger, the 3/16-ounce Tiny-T Jig from Terminator is just right when bass want a slightly larger finesse jig. A titanium trailer keeper holds soft plastics in place, and Mustad Ultra Point hooks ensure that bass stay buttoned.
The bobber-and-fly system has been widely publicized as an effective cold water bass tactic. Here, a tiny hair jig is fished from 8 to 12 feet below a plastic float; this is deadly for suspending smallmouths in water below 50 degrees.
Bee Head Lures (931) 243-6133; www.jigandbobber.com), located a short cast from famed Dale Hollow Lake, makes the Baby Punisher minijig series, some of the most lifelike flies we've seen for this system. Tied with premium craft hair, they bear a striking resemblance to immature minnows or fish fry common in clear water lakes.
Northland's Gypsy MiniJig is another clear water bass killer. It has a sparkly tinsel skirt that suggests the scales of a shad or a shiner. And their Creep Worm is a tiny jig with a realistic wax worm body and bulging rattle eyes that really move!
We won't delve too deeply here into the hundreds of reapers, miniworms, tiny tubes and other miniature soft plastic lures on the market. Suffice it to say that these squishy creations are most popular in deep, clear, highly pressured reservoirs. If you're having trouble getting bites on your usual 7-inch worms or lizards, by all means try downsizing to a 4-inch size or smaller.
The Slider worm is a classic example of the straight-tail 4-inch finesse worm; it's fished on a lightweight leadhead and simply reeled slowly and steadily through the water until a bass grabs it.