40 top tips, tactics & techniques for bassers

In case you missed an issue of Bassmaster Magazine during the past four decades, here is a sampling of some of the best advice ever printed to serve bass anglers.

For more than 40 years, Bassmaster Magazine has been the No. 1 source for the most up-to-date bass fishing information available. Every issue has been chock-full of news about the latest lures, new rigging and presentation techniques, and inside tips from pro anglers — all geared toward making your day on the lake more productive and fun. I’ve written for Bassmaster for many years, and am proud to have played a role in getting this information out to bassin’ fans everywhere. Here are my picks for the 40 best tips, tactics and techniques ever featured in the pages of this publication. Hopefully some of these have helped you catch more and bigger bass!

1. Bump cover

When retrieving a crankbait or spinnerbait, try to bump it into cover such as a stump or rock during the retrieve. Deflecting the lure off the object often triggers a strike because it looks like a frightened minnow to bass. Over the years, scores of B.A.S.S. pros have mentioned this nugget of advice in hundreds of Bassmaster articles. Were you paying attention?

2. Carolina craze

Rumor has it that this worm-fishing tactic originated in South Carolina, but there’s no doubt who was the first to bring it to national attention: Jack Chancellor. In the early ’80s, the Alabama B.A.S.S. pro was catching a hundred bass a day by dragging a blunt 4-inch worm with two tiny exposed hooks behind a long leader and a 1-ounce lead sinker. That big ol’ sinker would bump along the bottom, clicking and kicking up puffs of silt like a live crawfish, while the weird little worm would dart and settle erratically like a wounded minnow. Unlike a Texas rigged worm, which demanded a fairly high level of angler skill to fish properly, even a rank amateur could catch bass on this style of wormin’. Chancellor called it his “Do-Nothing Rig,” and shared it with Bassmaster readers in the February ’83 issue. When the technique helped Chancellor win the ’85 Classic, anglers everywhere began using it to catch bass on their home waters. Now referred to as Carolina rigging, the tactic has been tweaked and modified endlessly, yet it remains one of the most effective bass catching methods ever invented.

3. Power fishing

You’re fishing during a monster cold front. The bite is slower than refrigerated molasses. Should you tie on an itty-bitty bait and slow your retrieve way down? No. Instead, do like Michigan pro Kevin VanDam: Put your trolling motor in high gear and “burn” a spinnerbait or lipless crankbait, going for a reaction strike.

4. Invasion of the frogs

Weedless frogs, once fished exclusively in matted surface vegetation, have invaded open water. B.A.S.S. pros like Dean Rojas are twitching them frantically on top of points and breaklines for big bass.

5. Deadsticking

In 1979, Bassmaster reported that bass would strike a plastic worm when it was sitting still, sometimes for as long as a minute. Today “deadsticking” is a tactic anglers use with everything from worms to suspending jerkbaits.

6. Fluoro fact

When spooling fluorocarbon line onto a spinning reel, fill the spool only about two-thirds full to keep the line from springing off your reel like an out-of-control Slinky.

7. Hit the corners

KVD again: “Don’t waste time fishing an entire boat dock. Just hit the corners instead.”

8. Got swimbaits?

Modern swimbaits originated in California around 1990 when striper fishermen carved huge jointed plugs and trolled them on downriggers. When they began catching giant largemouth on ’em, word leaked out, and soon these handmade creations became the hottest bass lures on the West Coast. Swimbaits evolved — some became smaller, others hyper-realistic. Yet they remained an oddity to bass fans east of California until 2007, when Alabama pro Steve Kennedy caught the heaviest weight to that date in B.A.S.S. tournament history — 122 pounds, 14 ounces — on swimbaits. Now bassmasters everywhere are catching swimbait fever. Presentations are still evolving — some guys are nosing them along the bottom, others swimming them slowly through the water column for suspending bass. Stay tuned for further developments.

9. Make a wake

Former B.A.S.S. pros Basil Bacon and Ken Cook have relied on this tactic for decades for lunker bass, and I’ve seen it trigger some truly scary strikes. Cast a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce spinnerbait with twin Colorado blades to the bank, hold your rod at 10 o’clock, then adjust the retrieve speed until the lure’s blades are running just beneath the surface and throwing a wake like a fleeing shad.

10. Kamikaze crankin’

Remember when you were a kid and your dad would yell at you for casting his expensive crankbait into shoreline cover? How times have changed. With today’s square-billed crankbaits, hang-ups are history. The angled lip deflects sharply off cover while the hooks tuck into the belly, allowing a crankbait to crawl down a submerged tree like a squirrel. Your dad’s not looking, so cast to the shallow part of the cover and grind away, banging and scraping the bait back to the boat.

11. Ex-Stream excitment

Surface lures are an exciting choice for stream bass. These fish are used to seeing insects, snakes and rodents swimming from one bank to the other and will whack a buzzbait, chugger or popper.

12. Peg it

To keep your worm sinker from sliding, stick a toothpick in the hole and break it off.

13. Flipping and pitching

Flipping is a presentation technique credited to California basser Dee Thomas, who developed it during the mid-’70s. It allows an angler using a jig or worm to make multiple short vertical presentations quickly and with extreme accuracy, and is especially deadly when bass are buried in thick wood or weed cover. By 1977, flipping had become the hottest presentation on the B.A.S.S. Tournament Trail, and had started trickling down to weekend fishermen. As so often happens with bass fishing techniques, flipping mutated into pitching, which was initially referred to as “long distance flipping.” Pitching allows anglers to be farther from their target, an advantage in clear water. Today, both are considered gold standard presentation techniques by serious bass anglers everywhere.

14. The Twilight Zone

Here’s my all-time favorite spinnerbait tip. Tennessee pro Charlie Ingram says that when in doubt about how fast or slow to retrieve a spinnerbait, put on polarized sunglasses, stand up in your boat, cast, then reel at whatever speed puts the lure in “the twilight zone” — the depth where you can barely see its blades flashing. In murky lakes, you’ll need to fish it faster/higher in the water column to see the blades; in clear water, slower and deeper. This simple tactic puts the lure in the bass zone 90 percent of the time.

15. Shake it up, baby!

It’s one of the hottest presentation tricks on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit, yet it’s hardly new — Bassmaster was telling readers about it back in 1989. In the January issue that year, tournament angler/lure maker Jerry Corlew explained how he developed a method he called “doodling” as a deep water technique for largemouth and spotted bass in clear lakes. Wielding a baitcasting outfit with 4-pound line, the California angler would drop a 4-inch finesse worm rigged on a darter-head jig straight down to subtle structural edges, then once it hit bottom, he’d gently shake the rod so the lure quivered and pulsated in place. Today Elite superstars such as Mike Iaconelli have perfected the shaking technique and use it both deep and shallow.

16. Serve spawners a smorgasbord

Many Elite Series pros goad bedding bass into biting by constantly rotating the lures they cast onto their nest. They’ll try a tube, finesse worm, creature, floating worm and jig in quick succession, eventually riling up the fish sufficiently to make it bite.

17. Disappearing act

Swipe a dark green waterproof marker across the spool of your baitcasting reel. Visually, this turns a straight line into a dotted line, which is harder for bass to see.

18. Skipping

Skipping puts a lure where no overhand cast can reach — under boat docks, behind flooded bushes, beneath overhanging limbs. Learn how to skip — it’s cool, it’s deadly, it’s fun.

19. The deadly drop shot

This finesse tactic had its origins in Japan more than a decade ago, and then gravitated to the West Coast. Today it’s a mainstream technique used by pros and weekend anglers alike. Normally fished on spinning gear with light line, a drop shot rig features a sinker at the end of the line with a small hook tied about 18 inches above the weight. A soft plastic bait, usually a finesse worm or small soft jerkbait, is nose-hooked, then the rig is either cast out or dropped straight down under the boat. As the sinker is dragged or hopped over the bottom or shaken in place, the lure above it is activated — a deadly system when bass are suspending off the bottom.

20. Tone it down

Sometimes bass will flash or roll on a spinnerbait, maybe even peck its blades, but not strike it. According to “Bass Professor” Doug Hannon, who died in April 2013, the lure’s skirt color may be too intense to pass close scrutiny. “This usually happens when you’re using a chartreuse or bright white spinnerbait in fairly clear water,” the professor says. “Switching to a skirt in a more neutral color like smoke gray or moss green will often turn these lookers into biters.”

21. Punching

Can’t get to those big bass lurking beneath matted surface vegetation? Use a heavy jig or a pegged plastic worm to punch a hole through the grass. Go ahead — haul off and smack the surface weeds with the lure, then shake it repeatedly until it slides through the mat.

22. Fatten up your frogs

Here’s how to make a hollow weedless frog easier to cast on heavy baitcasting tackle. Cut a small slice in the lure’s back and stuff the hollow body with pinched-off pieces of plastic worm. The lure is now heavier and casts farther, but it still floats. Drop in a couple of glass worm rattles while you’re at it.

23. Target subtle transitions

Old reservoirs are often devoid of shallow cover. Lacking brush or weeds, bass in these barren lakes gravitate to transitions — places where one set of conditions changes to another — along the shoreline and bottom. Target areas where chunk rock changes to gravel, mud changes to shale, sloping banks begin to flatten out, etc. That’s where the bass are.

24. Rip it

Trigger a reaction strike by casting a lipless crankbait into a weedbed and ripping it repeatedly with sharp strokes of the rod.

25. Get the lead out

Bassmaster pros such as Florida’s Peter Thliveros are sold on tungsten sinkers, and not just because tungsten is “greener” than lead. “They’re much smaller than lead sinkers of equivalent weight for a stealthier presentation,” he says. “And they’re harder, so they transmit changing bottom conditions up your line and through your rod.”

They also cost considerably more, but a growing number of bassmasters seem willing to pay the price for these premium weights — they’re one of the hottest tackle trends of the new millennium.

26. Wacky wormin’

Sticking a straight shank hook sideways through the middle of a straight-tail worm and fishing it weightless by twitching it around shallow cover is one of the most exciting bass techniques ever, and unlike many bass-catching innovations, it didn’t come from the pro tournament circuit. According to Bassmaster, it was invented when a novice Yankee fisherman visited red-hot Toledo Bend Lake in Texas back in the early ’70s. He inquired at a marina what lure to use for the lake’s big bass and a clerk sold him a bag of plastic worms. A couple of hours later, the tourist returned to the dock toting a huge stringer of lunker bass. When asked by a local guide what lures he used to catch the hawgs, he replied, “Just these rubber worms.” He held his spincast rod aloft and at the end of his kinky line was a gold Aberdeen crappie hook with its point stuck through the worm’s egg sack. The grizzled guide exclaimed, “Why, that’s the wackiest way to hook a worm I ever saw!” then promptly started rigging his own worms the same way.

27. Current events

River bass often lurk behind current-breaking objects on the bottom. Compact lures such as hair jigs, leadhead grubs and metal blade baits rule in current because they sink quickly and match the size of common river forage species.

They also create less current drag than bigger, bulkier baits such as spinnerbaits and fat crankbaits, so it’s easier to get them into the strike zone and keep them there.

28. Rattle ok?

In the ’90s, lures with factory rattles were the hot ticket among bass anglers. Now the trend seems to be shifting toward quieter presentations. “Bass get used to rattling baits on highly pressured lakes and eventually learn to avoid them,” concludes North Carolina pro Marty Stone. “In today’s tougher bassin’ climate, a quiet lure usually gets more bites.”

29. The number one color

An overwhelming number of B.A.S.S. pros say that if they were limited to just one color of soft plastic lures, it would be green pumpkin.

30. Float-and-fly

This unusual winter bass technique was born in the clear, cavernous highland reservoirs of east Tennessee, and enjoys a cult following among smallmouth aficionados. A tiny hair jig (fly) is rigged 6 to 12 feet below a bobber (float) on an extra-long, whippy spinning outfit with light line. The rig is cast fly fishing-style to steep rock banks and points. The fly suspends below the jig and is activated by wave action or gentle shaking of the rod tip. Lethargic bass mistake the jig for a tiny minnow and suck it in — when the float goes down, the battle is on.

31. Hunt gravy

Like gravy on mashed potatoes, a little cover makes a choice piece of bass structure even better. In summer, when bass are offshore, use your graph to locate a stump, weed patch or big rock on a point, channel ledge or hump. Toss a marker buoy near (but not directly on) the cover, back off and fish it with a jig, plastic worm or diving crankbait. Large numbers of bass may stack up on these gravy spots sometime during the day, so check ’em often.

32. Nail a lunker

To weight a soft jerkbait or plastic worm, cut off a section of a nail and insert it into either the head or midsection of the lure, depending on whether you want it to sink nose-down or horizontally. This allows a much stealthier presentation in clear water than either a Texas or Carolina rig.

33. Fallback lure

When fishing a buzzbait, keep another rod handy that’s rigged with a floating plastic worm or soft jerkbait. If a bass boils on the buzzer but doesn’t hook up, immediately drop the buzzer rod and cast the fallback lure to the boil. More often than not, it’ll get eaten immediately.

34. “Smallmouth ain’t largemouth!”

Colorful Dale Hollow guide Benny McBride said this famous quote in Bassmaster more than 20 years ago, and truer words were never spoken about bronzeback bass. McBride argued that the main reason you’re not catching more smallies is because you’re not fishing where they live. Unlike largemouth, bronzebacks relate more to deep water and structural edges than to shallow cover, and they’re more likely to be fooled by a grub or tube bait than a chunky crankbait or 8-inch plastic worm.

35. Blade basics

Vary the blade style of your spinnerbaits with the water clarity. In clear lakes, where bass feed by sight, use slender willowleaf blades — they resemble minnows. In murky water, where bass use their lateral lines to locate prey, switch to rounded, hard-throbbing Colorado blades.

36. Trolling motor tip

Approach shallow areas with your trolling motor on a constant slow to medium speed. This is less likely to spook wary bass than continually starting and stopping the motor.

37. Soft jerkbaits postspawn

Postspawn bass are notoriously tough to catch. They’re in a transitional phase, finished with spawning but not yet relocated to their deep summer haunts… the perfect time for a soft jerkbait such as a Slug-Go. Cast the baitfish mimic around flooded bushes close to spawning coves and retrieve with intermittent twitches and pauses.

38. The fastest bass-catcher

When bass are stacked up on deep structure, you can catch a limit on a jigging spoon faster than with any other lure. During the ’82 Classic, Jack Chancellor used a spoon to catch 11 keeper bass in only seven minutes!

39. Jerkin’ prespawn bass

Back in the ’80s, Arkansas pro Larry Nixon revealed to Bassmaster how he would drill holes in floating minnow plugs, then fill them with lead until they were neutrally buoyant. The makeshift suspending lures, dubbed “jerkbaits,” were deadly on sluggish prespawn bass. Thousands of readers tried it, many unsuccessfully — no telling how many perfectly good minnow plugs were destroyed. Thankfully lure manufacturers now offer jerkbaits weighted at the factory to suspend, so you can put your drill away.

40. Land that lunker

You’ve hooked the bass of a lifetime. How will you get it into your boat? Most B.A.S.S. pros will risk swinging a lunker aboard only if they’re certain it’s solidly hooked, and then only when using a single-hook lure such as a worm or jig. With treble hook lures such as crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits and topwater plugs, they’ll play out the fish carefully before attempting to land it by hand. “While the fish is still ‘green’ and pulling hard, I try to keep it a safe distance from the boat,” says Alabama pro Aaron Martens. “Then as it begins to tire, I’ll gradually work it close enough so I can see where and how well it’s hooked. I’ll then lie down on the deck or sit in the driver’s seat and ease the fish toward my outstretched hand by pulling it with my rod until I can grasp its lower jaw firmly and lift it aboard.”

Originally published June 2008