Finessing creature baits

When conditions are tough, go ugly (and little) early

Mark Menendez

Bulky creature baits, such as Zoom's 6-inch Brush Hog, have caught on in a big way. Appendages sprout from these busy plastic baits top to bottom, including wings, flappers and curly tails. Though they don't mimic any particular bass forage, anglers who dote on them claim they probably represent crawfish and baitfish.

Soon after large creature baits proved their stuff, lure makers introduced downsized versions. Do they measure up to their larger predecessors? Three time Classic qualifier Mark Menendez thinks so. He takes creature-bait fishing into the realm of finesse with YUM's.

3-inch Wooly Hawgtail.

"I call it my big-little bait," says Menendez. "It's small, but its profile has enough meat that bass can find it easily."

The Wooly Hawgtail features a deeply ringed body, flappers, and double curly tails. Menendez catches bass with this bait by flippin', pitchin', drop shotting, and Carolina rigging. It's one of his go-to lures when he flips and pitches in rivers and heavily fished waters.

"I've always done better in river systems with little baits," says Menendez. "I'm talking about places like the Alabama, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. And when other guys flip and pitch big jigs and plastic baits on lakes, I can catch bass right behind them with the bitty Wooly Hawgtail."

Though he usually flips and pitches with baitcasting tackle, Menendez switches to a 7-foot medium-heavy Pflueger spinning rod to achieve better control with the light bait. He rigs the Wooly Hawgtail with a 2/0 straight shank hook and a pegged 1/8- or 3/16-ounce Excalibur TG tungsten bullet sinker. He spools his Pflueger Trion reel with 10- to 12-pound Silver Thread fluorocarbon.

Menendez claims that fluorocarbon provides extra strength and abrasion resistance. Even so, 10- to 12-pound test is light stuff for tackling heavy cover.

"Going light gets me more bites," says Menendez. "I take chances with it. It's worth the risk. If I can present the bait to the outside edge of cover, or find an alley into it, chances are good I'll get the fish out. I catch a lot of bass up to 3 ½ pounds on this bait."

In murky water, Menendez opts for dark colors, such as junebug and black neon. In clear water, he favors green pumpkin, watermelon and dark grasshopper. The lighter colors come through when he fishes the Wooly Hawgtail with a drop shot rig.

Menendez nose hooks the bait with a No. 4 drop shot hook knotted 10 inches above a 1/8- to ¼-ounce TG Drop Shot weight. He cuts back to 8-pound-test line and a 6-foot, 6-inch, medium action spinning rod.

"Drop shot fishing isn't just for deep water," says Menendez. "I've had phenomenal success drop shotting the Wooly Hawgtail for largemouth at Thousand Islands. I work it over clean bottoms surrounded by grassbeds. It's also super for sight fishing bedding bass."

When he Carolina rigs the Wooly Hawgtail, Menendez spools his baitcasting reel with 14-pound monofilament and a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. He places a 1/8-ounce TG sinker between the swivel and a 1-ounce TG sinker, to generate rattles.

"Last summer, I fished ledges on Kentucky Lake with my 15-year-old cousin, Alexander," says Menendez. "Even though he had little fishing experience, he caught 18 bass with a Carolina rigged Wooly Hawgtail."

A Carolina rig also does the job when Menendez fishes for deep spotted bass on lakes such as Lanier and Martin. He claims the little Wooly Hawgtail does a number on spots, especially on calm, flat days when the bass are inactive. When he locates a school of spots with the Carolina rig, he switches rods and mops up with a drop shot rig.

A Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog comes through for Florida bass ace Peter Thliveros when he fishes submerged grassbeds. Though this 5 ½-inch creature bait doesn't fit into the finesse category, it is substantially smaller than the original 6-inch Brush Hog.

"I like to fish the Baby Brush Hog in grass because it displaces a lot of water and has so much movement," says Thliveros. "In grass, I want my bait to put out as much vibration as possible to help bass find it."

Thliveros does especially well fishing grassbeds in northern lakes.

Watermelon candy is his favorite color when bass feed on bluegill. When bass dine on crawfish, Thliveros chooses green pumpkin in clear water and black neon in stained water.

"Crawfish live in the grass," says Thliveros. "And not just on bottom. They crawl up on the stalks and leaves. That's one reason a Carolina rigged Baby Brush Hog works so well."

Thliveros looks for tapering grasslines beneath the surface, and points or bars that extend deeper from the edges of grasslines. He casts to the vegetation from all angles, including parallel to the edge. When he fishes especially thick grass, he puts his boat over the grass edge, casts to deeper water, and works his Carolina rig uphill until it contacts the base of the grass.

"If I'm searching for bass in shallow cover, I start out with the Baby Brush Hog," says Thliveros. "I get more bites on a smaller bait. That helps me find the fish. Once I get my limit, I go to the bigger Brush Hog and cull fish."

Finesse creature bait roundup

You can choose from a variety of downsized creature baits. Here's a sampling of what's out there:

The 5-inch Hogg Assassin from Bass Assassin has curly tail leading arms. www.bassassassin.com.

Berkley's 4-inch Bungee Power Hawg is part of the Power Bait line. It also comes in Tournament Strength. www.berkley-fishing.com.

Culprit's 3- and 4-inch Wooly Booger features twin curly tails instead of flappers. www.culprit.com.

Gambler's 4-inch Baby Bacon Rind is a small version of the original 6-inch model. www.gambler-bang.com.

Gene Larew's 3-inch Baby Hoo-Daddy is among the smallest of the finesse creature baits. www.genelarew.com.

Strike King's Wild Thang Junior is a 3 3/8-inch tube-style creature bait. www.strikeking.com.

Zoom's 3 3/4-inch Tiny Brush Hog enters the realm of finesse fishing. www.zoombaits.com.

Creature-bait jig trailer

Thliveros often uses the Baby Brush Hog as a jig trailer. He cuts off the front legs, trims 1 inch from the nose, and threads the bait on the hook of a 3/8- or ½-ounce Team Supreme Jig. He especially likes this trick when he swims a jig over grassbeds that have yet to top-out.

"I cast the jig, let it sink, and maintain a swimming and pumping retrieve that makes regular contact with the grass," says Thliveros. "The swimming legs and flappers on the Baby Brush Hog give the jig a lot of movement."

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