Every time I go out on the water, I naturally think about the best way to get bass to bite, and generally it boils down to two options. I can try power fishing with big noisy crankbaits and spinnerbaits, using fast retrieves to get reaction strikes, or I can try finesse presentations with smaller, more natural-appearing lures to get feeding and reaction strikes.
Yes, you can certainly "fire up" a school of suddenly-stopped-biting bass with finesse lures. I have done it far too many times to count, and besides, when you really analyze it, power fishing like this usually works only about half the time. Fishing pressure, changing weather, water clarity, wind and other factors can turn bass off, and you simply can't get them really active again, or at least active for very long, by power fishing.
Believe me, you just can't ignore how effective finesse techniques can be in these types of situations. Remember, finesse fishing is basically about using lighter line, smaller baits and creating a more natural presentation that appeals more to a fish's sense of hunger. Firing up a school of bass with a big crankbait may turn those fish on only long enough to catch two or three fish. You can keep them active longer with finesse tactics.
The best way I know to reactivate a school of fish like this is by changing the rate of fall of my lure. All the various finesse fishing techniques, including the shaky head, split shot, tube, drop shot and the others, fall differently. Let me give you one example of how this can work for you.
During the 2008 Bassmaster Elite tournament on Lake Erie that Kota Kiriyama won, I was drop shotting a Berkley Gulp! Goby in about 30 feet of water. This worked for a couple of days, but then the school died and on the third day I was able to get them restarted by drop shotting a Wacky Crawler, and it lasted just long enough to get me into the top 12 final.
On the final day I changed to a tube, which seemed to retrigger those bass instantly, and I'm convinced it did because of its spiral fall. Both the drop shot rigs just kind of sat there waving in the current after they hit bottom, but the tube fell completely differently. I'd been drop shotting with 1/4- and 3/8-ounce weights, depending on the wind, but with the tube I changed to heaver 5/16- and 1/2-ounce jigheads and rigged them inside the tube with the line-tie eyelet about 1/8 inch below the tube nose.
This gave me a moderate spiral. With the eyelet closer to the nose, the fall would have a tighter spiral, and with the eyelet further down, I would have gotten a wider spiral. Thus, with the tube I actually had several ways to change the fall. Anyway, the bass started biting instantly, and I finished fifth.
Changing direction with your lures is another way to help get a school of fish fired up, and everybody's read about deflecting your crankbaits off stumps and rocks to get that change. You can do the same thing with finesse lures, only you do it with your rod.
Going back to the Lake Erie example, if I did not get bit on the grub's initial fall, I didn't just gently raise my rod so the lure could fall again. Instead, I brought the grub up with a series of quick, short rod jerks, which caused the grub to jump suddenly and erratically, and, yes, I caught some fish that way, too.
These weren't feedings strikes, they were reaction strikes, and both were created on the same presentation, something that's hard to do with power fishing techniques.
The tube worked well for me at Erie, but it isn't necessarily always the best choice when you're trying to fire up a school of inactive bass. You'll have to look at each situation you're fishing and study your options. When I'm practicing for a tournament, or if I'm in competition and using finesse techniques, I'll have eight rods on the deck, each rigged for a different presentation — basically, a different rate of fall — because what works in 30 feet may not be the best in 10 feet.
Schools of fish turn off and stop biting for a lot of reasons, but it isn't impossible to fire them up and make them start biting again. Just remember, you have a lot of choices available with the different finesse techniques, and you can make your presentations appeal to both feeding and reaction instincts.