Making the case for big baits

If you want to catch big bass, start throwing big baits.

That’s not a cliché. If you want to be as successful as today’s bass pros, it’s a fact.

That’s not to say you can’t catch bass, or big bass, on conventional-style baits. I made a good living doing that for years, but I’ve really devoted the past few years to focusing on big fish.

Of course, I’ve had to do that for good reason. To compete on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, the practice of fishing for a limit won’t work. Our lakes are getting better all the time and producing bigger fish.

That’s why my fishing today is governed by trying to catch five big fish and 35-pound bags. To do that, I have to fish big baits.

I’ve known for years that big baits equal big bass. But for the longest period, that meant fishing 10- or 12-inch worms. I would spend 10 minutes doing that, but fall back on the smaller baits to get bites.

I’m learning to discipline myself to accept fewer bites with big baits knowing that those larger lures give me a better chance of winning.

And the choices of larger lures are growing. We have big swimbaits, topwaters and glide baits as well as larger versions of the conventional baits, and I’m learning to trust and use them effectively.

For example, at Lake Fork last year, I had 29 pounds in one day and two of the biggest fish I caught came on an Ichikawa RC King Kong Shad 10. It’s a squarebill crankbait that weighs more than an ounce and dives to 10 feet.

The King Kong Shad is a lot bigger than traditional squarebills, and I caught an 8-9 and a 6-6 on it.

Granted, most of my other fish came on an old Lucky Craft 3.5 squarebill which is still bigger than 1.5 or 2.5 versions that most anglers throw today.

But the RC King Kong Shad produced two giants that accounted for more than 15 of my 29 pounds which exemplifies how bigger baits get those really big bites.

I have conditioned myself to use bigger baits in practice as well. In my younger days, I would practice for 40 bites a day. With today’s Elite Series, I have to be selective with my lure size and fish for one-third as many bites.

We’re fishing a lot of big-fish lakes, and given the quality of today’s young competitors on the Elites, I cannot be satisfied to build patterns around decent limits.

To be successful, an Elite pro needs real quality, not quantity.

When we were at Lake Eufaula last year I weighed in a 3-pound average and still didn’t make the Top 50. Catching 3-pounders is a lot of fun, but to do well on the circuit you have to at least target 4-pounders.

Sometimes that’s not even enough. I’ve had several tournaments where I’d weigh a limit with a 4-pound average or more and didn’t make the Top 10.

Of course, there are exceptions. If we go to a lake with a smaller bass average I will return to my older ways of fishing for limits. But that doesn’t happen very often.

My advice to anglers is to spend time with big baits on those lakes with big fish and build your confidence. Accept the fact you won’t get as many bites, but your chances of catching that giant you dream about will improve.