How-To

Spawning baits for highland lakes

Highland lakes are defined as manmade fisheries surrounded by mountains or hills. What you see above water is a snapshot of what is below. Meandering creek channels, or valleys, and hills, like submerged islands are the defining features. Depth varies from deep water, up to 100 feet, making them ideal for catching all three species of bass sought by anglers. 
This gallery can get you started on what to use on highland lakes for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, with baits chosen by Bassmaster Elite Series and St. Croix Bassmaster Opens pros. The lineup targets the spawning period, when all species are on the move, and throughout the water column. 
SCOTT PELLEGRIN
Largemouth bait: 1/2-ounce Z-Man Original ChatterBait; Zoom Fat Albert Grub. 
Why use it: “It’s versatile, and you can use it shallow or deep, as the fish move up from deeper water to spawn,” Pellegrin said. The all-white look mimics the skin pattern of a shad. 
How to use it: Use a steady retrieve along rocky shorelines. Pellegrin uses a slow-rolling presentation over rocks in 10- to 15-feet of water. 
Largemouth or smallmouth bass bait: Megabass Ito Vision 110+1 Jerkbait. 
Why use it: To intercept migrating or transitioning bass on the move. 
How to use it: Make long casts and then use a two-jerk, pause and repeat presentation. Fish it around transition areas, like long, tapering points adjacent to deeper channels and pockets. 
Smallmouth bait: 3-inch Lunker City Ribster, Arkansas Shiner, rigged on a 1/0 Zone Loc Drop Shot Octopus Hook, with a 1/2-ounce Swagger Tungsten weight. 
Why use it: When smallmouth metabolism is slower in cooler water, when a finesse or downsized bait rig is a must. 
How to use it: When sight fishing for individual fish using bow mounted, forward-facing sonar. Either deadstick the rig or shake it in view of the bass. 
HARVEY HORNE
Spotted bass bait: 5-inch Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad, Pearl, rigged on a 1/4-ounce Gamakatsu Finesse Jig Head. 
Why use it: “The bigger bait is for catching more quality spotted bass,” said Horne. “You get into so many scenarios on a highland lake where the average size of a spot is the same, and this bait is great for a kicker fish.” 
How to use it: Cast, allow it to sink into the strike zone for suspended spotted bass. 
Smallmouth bait: Big Bite Baits Trick Stick, Green Pumpkin/Blue Swirl, wacky rigged, on a No. 2 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Weedless Wacky Hook. 
Why use it: When smallmouth are feeding on bluegill. 
How to use it: Cast it and use a steady retrieve or pump-and-retrieve presentation, around shallow rock and gravel spawning areas, or for suspended fish around standing timber. 
Largemouth bait: Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog, Bruised Melon, rigged on a 3/8-ounce swing-head style jig head, featuring a 4/0 Gamakatsu Hook.
Why use it: It’s ideal for prespawn largemouth feeding on bluegill.
How to use it: Drag it along rocky bottoms near spawning flats, or swim it for bass on the move, around docks and other transition areas. 
GERALD SWINDLE
Largemouth bait: Storm Original Deep Wiggle Wart, Brown Crayfish. 
Why use it: To cover water for prespawn and postspawn bass on the move, either from deep to shallow water, or the opposite direction. 
How to use it: You get deeper water coverage, from 10- to 20-feet, with the bait’s trademark wide wobble and loud action. “You can’t beat it for cranking it down deep to the bottom, so it can deflect off rocks and do what Wiggle Warts do best,” Swindle said. 
Smallmouth bait: 3/8-ounce Buckeye Lures G-Man Ballin’ Out Jig, with a Zoom Z Craw. 
Why use it: “When everyone else downsizes for smallmouth, I upsize in favor of catching quality fish,” Swindle said, “That bigger size can catch you a bigger kicker fish, or even a limit, when everyone else is catching the same-sized average weight.” 
How to use it: Fish it in deeper water, where smallmouth spawn.
Spotted bass bait: Zoom Trick Worm, Redbug, rigged on a 3/16-ounce homemade shaky head jig. 
Why use it: For versatility, when spotted bass range from shallow shorelines to suspended offshore. 
How to use it: Fish it around rockpiles and boat docks, using a cast-and-swim presentation. 
CHANCY WALTERS
Largemouth bait: Reaction Innovations Vixen, Bone. 
Why use it: During the prespawn and postspawn, when largemouth are active and on the move. “It’s ideal for classic highland lake situations around rocky transition areas, between pea gravel banks and boulders,” Walters said. 
How to use it: Alternate between a fast walking action or move slower, depending on the mood of the fish. 
Smallmouth bait: Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw, Cinnamon/Black/Purple Flake, rigged on a drop shot rig. Make it with a No. 3 hook, 1/4-ounce weight and 18-inch leader. 
Why use it: “Bedding smallmouth are easily intimidated by crawfish, and they will go out of their way to smash them,” Walters said. 
How to use it: Focus on gravel shorelines, long points and other suspected bedding areas. Use a slow, hopping presentation. 
Spotted bass bait: Megabass Ito Vision 110+1 Jerkbait, retrofitted with a Crank Wraps White Crappie lure wrap. 
Why use it: To intercept migrating spotted bass between deep and shallow water. 
How to use it: Use it in the same transition areas as the smallmouth bait. 
BRANDON PALANIUK
Largemouth bait: Storm Arashi Glide Bait, Ghost Trout. 
Why use it: “Glide baits have drawing power, and by that, I mean they will draw fish in from greater distances,” Palaniuk said. 
How to use it: An ideal choice for clearer water, use a slow, steady 3/4-turn, pause, and 3/4-turn retrieve. Repeat. 
Spotted bass bait: Rapala BX Waking Minnow. 
Why use it: “Spotted bass feed higher in the water column, and they seek out injured shad for a meal,” Palaniuk said. 
How to use it: Make long casts across suspended schools of spotted bass, and retrieve slowly so the bait’s waking action draws attention. 
Smallmouth bait: X Zone Hot Shot Minnow, drop-shot rigged. Make it with a No. 1 hook and 1/4-ounce VMC Tungsten weight. 
Why use it: “The size is easy for a smallmouth to eat,” Palaniuk said. 
How to use it: Fish it around isolated rock and wood habitat.