This is probably what you've been waiting for all along in this series — coverage of the baits Mike Long prefers when chasing giant bass. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. We all love tackle and the gear that makes bass fishing possible.
But Long has a caveat: "Don't get so caught up in the gear of trophy bass fishing that you forget the basics we've already covered, like finding the right water, having the proper mindset and taking care of yourself so you can best use your time on the water. Those are essential in your quest to catch the biggest bass of your life.
"The best bass lure ever made won't catch a fish if there's none there, but a bad lure can work if you fish it in the right place."
In fact, any lure could catch a world record if you put it in the giant bass' face when she's ready to feed. It could be a tiny crappie jig or a huge musky plug, but for that to happen with those sorts of baits, you'd be relying on luck. As you'll see throughout this series, Long works very hard to remove luck from the trophy fishing equation. Certain lures and lure types put the odds more in his favor. Long is all about playing the percentages.
The Fab Four
Long believes four bait types are your very best bets for the bass of a lifetime. Ranking them in order, they are the jig, stickworm, swimbait and plastic worm.
Over the course of his angling career, Long has caught more than 70 percent of his bass over 10 pounds on a jig. Many of them were taken while sight fishing for bedding bass, but plenty came before the spawn as he "stitched" a jig near spawning flats. It's probably true — though it could never be proved — that the jig has produced more bass over five pounds than any other lure type in history.
Big plastic worms have also been enormously successful over the years, though Long's methods differ from most. The stickworm, as exemplified by the Senko from Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, has been around for less than 20 years, but it's already a proven commodity both on the tournament trail and among big bass fanatics. And the swimbait has become a part of almost every bass angler's arsenal over the past two decades.
"I sometimes swim a jig," Long says, "but I generally think it's best when you keep it in contact with structure or cover. I love jigs because they're so versatile. You can fish them on deep structure, flip and pitch them to shallow cover or use them to sight-fish for bedding bass, and all you need to do to go between those methods is change the color, weight or style of the bait."
When it comes to retrieving a jig, whether he's casting, pitching or flipping it, Long usually likes to "scratch" the bottom, inching the bait over, around and through the best cover he can find. The late Bill Murphy, himself a legendary trophy bass angler, once told Long, "You know you're in a good spot if you're losing lures."
"On a good trip when I'm fishing a jig around cover, I'll lose 15 or 20 jigs a day," Long admits. "That's just the price you pay for getting your lure where the bass are, and if you're not willing to make that kind of commitment, maybe trophy bass fishing isn't for you."
When you're crawling the bottom with a jig, you're almost certainly emulating a crawfish. For Long, knowing the available types and colorations of the crawfish in the area he's fishing is very important. You want your bait to be realistic, and with more than 300 species of crawfish in the United States alone, it can be a challenge.
"Where I do most of my fishing," Long says, "there are two types of craws that I try to imitate. I'm not sure of their scientific names, but I call them 'creek craws' and 'cold water craws.' The creek craws have a red tint and will hibernate in cold weather. The cold water craws are larger — almost like a mini-lobster — and they're turquoise in color. I try to match their color based on the seasons and their molting patterns. Purples and browns are my fundamental colors much of the year, but I'll go to black in dirty water to get better contrast. In the spring, I use a lot of green, but go darker when I'm fishing deep water."
Because bass can be very specific about their feeding preferences and often narrow their forage to one particular option, Long can be just as particular about matching the hatch. A lot of his focus on color, however, goes out the window during the spawn when he's targeting a big female on a bed. Then he typically opts for a white or black jig.
"If the bottom's dark, I like a white jig; and if the bottom's light, I use a black jig," he says. "I want as much contrast as possible so I can see the bait and know what it's doing at all times. And I always use a jig with a rattle when I'm sight fishing. I want them to hear the bait as well as see it."
For more on how Mike Long uses jigs to catch trophy bass, check out this video.
When Gary Yamamoto introduced the Senko more than a decade ago, he inadvertently created a new lure category (the stickworm) and gave Mike Long one of his best tools for catching monster bass.
"I love fishing big Senkos," Long says. "My favorite is the 7-inch model in green pumpkin with red flake. It's extremely lifelike and effective all year long."
Most of the time, Long Texas rigs the big stickworm, fishing it on a 5/0 Owner or Gamakatsu offset worm hook and 15-pound-test fluorocarbon line, but sometimes in the middle of the day when the light is brightest and he needs some extra action and realism, he'll wacky rig it.
"I almost never weight the bait," he says. "It's just so much more lifelike when you fish it weightless. The only time I add weight is when I'm fishing the bait extremely deep."
And when Long says "deep," he means it. The big Senko is his go-to bait when bass are suspending in 30 to 40 feet of water. That's when he'll add a small button-head weight to the middle of the lure and fish it vertically, like a jigging spoon, but slower. During the prespawn, Long Texas rigs the bait and fishes it relatively shallow with a more conventional cast and retrieve.
"The Senko is extremely natural and is great for bass that are in a neutral feeding mood," he says. "It's hard for them to pass up something that's falling right past them and looks like it's dying."
For more on how Mike Long uses stickworms to catch trophy bass, check out this video.
You might have thought that swimbaits would rank higher on Long's list of trophy baits, but he thoughtfully puts them behind jigs and big stickworms, admitting there are days when they rank at the top of the list.
"I have an enormous collection of swimbaits, and have thrown lures up to 10 and 12 inches long that weighed several ounces," Long says, "but my go-to size is the 6- to 8-inch range for a very good reason. Most of the stocker trout in my area are between 4 and 8 inches long. If you throw anything bigger than that, you're just not matching the hatch, and it will reduce the number of strikes you get."
Long's favorite swimbaits to attract giant bass are the Huddleston 6-inch Weedless Trout and the 6-inch Jerry Rago SKT Pro Inline Swimmer. The "Hudd" is the locally famous "68" model — a 6-inch version with the tail of the 8-inch version — but instead of using the tail Huddleston makes, Long pours his own.
"I like the Hudd when the water's clear and the Rago when it's dirty because the Rago is a little brighter," Long explains. "I like a rainbow trout color in the late winter and spring, but switch to baby bass in the summer."
When does Long scale up to an 8-inch swimbait? When he absolutely knows there are giant bass eyeing his lure and thinks a bigger meal might attract them.
For more on how Mike Long uses swimbaits to catch trophy bass, check out this video.
Big Plastic Worms
If jigs have caught more bass weighing better than five pounds than any other lure type, plastic worms have probably caught more bass than any other. Long likes them when he's targeting trophies, too. A big worm gets down where lunkers live, penetrates cover well, and can be fished excruciatingly slowly — just the way big bass often like it.
"I make my own plastic worms in the 12- to 14-inch range," he says. "I make both straight and ribbon-tail versions and use the straight-tails when the bass want a lure that's moving really slowly."
When it comes to colors, Long keeps things simple.
"I like translucent colors in clear water, and my favorite clear water color is cinnamon neon blue. If the water's got more tint to it, I'll go with chocolate neon blue or chocolate with a blue vein."
Just as with the big stickworm, Long prefers to fish his plastic crawlers without any weight, though he occasionally opts for a 1/8-ounce sinker in extremely deep water.
"I 'pop' the worm a lot," he says of his retrieve. "I'll just lift it sharply and let it slowly fall back to the bottom. A lot of times I won't move it for five minutes. I think a bass can sense there's something going on with the bait because there's a line attached to it and a living being on the other end. I believe we transmit something through the line that makes that worm seem alive and triggers the bass."
Most of Long's worm fishing is done with a 5/0 Owner or Gamakatsu offset round bend hook that he bends very slightly inward — toward the shank. By reducing the "bite" of the hook, he's better able to keep the point inside the worm and away from cover that might dull it.
For more on how Mike Long uses big worms to catch trophy bass, check out this video.
A Word on Terminal Tackle
If you think the first job of a trophy angler is to remove every last possible piece of terminal tackle from the presentation equation, then Mike Long's attitude will surprise you.
"I use a lot of black duo lock snaps with all kinds of baits," he says. "I don't like them for jigs or plastic worms, but for baits that trigger a reaction strike they're great and save you time and line."
A surprising amount of Long's fishing is done on remote waters that require him to hike or bicycle in. For those waters, tackle is at a premium and he may have only one or two rods and reels with him. Changing out lures quickly to fit an immediate need is essential, and a snap is the ultimate in convenience. They also save line.
"It's easy to tie a Palomar knot around a snap and waste very little line — maybe just an inch or two," he says. "If you try to do the same thing around a big swimbait, you might lose a foot or more each time you re-tie."