It is a moment forever etched in my memory, that evening bass fishing trip with my angling buddy Scott Cox, as we slid across the calm waters of a small North Texas body of water in a small aluminum johnboat.
Hoping to catch a largemouth bass — and with a little luck, a big bass, the size for which my home state is well-known — I tied on a large plastic worm, Texas-rigged, of course.
As the evening shadows gathered, I tossed the worm next to a laydown with a few limbs sticking up out of the water. As I let the ripples slowly dissolve, I began to pump my graphite rod tip up, then down, to allow the 8-inch motor oil-colored worm to slowly rise, then fall towards the bottom.
Two or three moments into that routine, I felt the tell-tale "tap-tap" at the end of my monofilament line, small jolts of electricity that caused me to reel up the slack, lower the rod tip, and then power it all backwards as I drove the hook home.
Moments later, I was carefully lifting a 7 1/2-pound largemouth into the boat, my biggest bass at that point and time.
Ahh, the power of plastics ... especially when springtime's spawning bass are on the prowl in shallow waters across the Southern U.S.
From the Texas-rigged plastic jelly worms, crème worms, and Mr. Twisters that helped start this lure craze, to today's myriad of tubebaits, salty craws, Power Worms, Ring Fries, lizards, jerkbaits and pork-resembling chunk trailers for jigs, there's certainly no shortage of soft plastic baits at your local tackle shop.
And the reason, of course, for this plethora of plastics is this: when fished the right way, at the right time, in the right place this spring, plastic baits can result in the landing of a bass of bragging-sized proportions — whether you live in Texas or not!
OK, OK ... technically speaking, the jig isn't a soft-plastic bait. But the trailer on a jig's hook certainly can be. And if the Texas-rigged plastic worm can make a solid argument as one of history's best all-time bass catching lures, then the jig-and-pig combo can make its own claim to being one of fishing history's most versatile all-time lure selections.
That's because the jig-and-pig works at just about any time of the year, given the right circumstances. In the wintertime, jig-and-pigs are deadly around the rocks and drop-offs that bass can be found wintering along. In the summertime, pitch one into a hole lying in the middle of a hydrilla bed and see how long it takes to get smashed. And in the spring, a time of the year when fishing is a shallow-water affair in a cover- and vegetation-rich environment, the jig-and-pig — with a soft plastic trailer of course — can work wonders on big bass.
In fact, in a conversation I had a few years back with BASS veteran Gary Klein, one of the greatest anglers of all time, he told me when it came down to lure selection around this particular time of the year, the first bait he'd make sure he had in his tackle box was a 1/2-ounce black/blue Rattle Back jig.
"I like to fish target oriented baits," Klein said. "Those include spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, lizards, and jigs, lures that I can cast to a target, and effectively fish that target with."
As for color combinations, it's tough to beat a black/blue, black/brown, or black/blue/purple mixture, although at times a lighter-hued shade resembling a shad or a crawfish can work well, too.
When you fish a trailer behind any of those jigs, a plastic chunk in a variety of colors is always a solid choice. If you're looking to bulk up the bait's overall appearance in the water, don't overlook attaching a salty crawworm to the jig's hook; conversely, if you're looking for a more slender profile to pitch into tight cover, consider using a short curly-tailed plastic worm or a longer curly-tailed grub to the back of your jig.
Alabama's Tim Horton, the 2000 BASS Angler of the Year, likes to fish plastic worms, albeit it at times, a different sort of plastic worm than the one I described in this story's opening.
"In April, I love to fish floating worms as you're fishing targets," Horton said. "Since bass spawn around some type of cover that is usually not too thick, it's real important to look for objects that are off to themselves — maybe not a real thick hydrilla bed — but where there are clumps of grass, or something like that."
Horton successfully used the floating worm technique in a BASS MegaBucks tournament a few years back on South Carolina's Lake Murray. In fact, more than half the bass Horton weighed in at that event came on a floating worm he was throwing in and around spawning cover.
"The floating worm works really well for that, since you can work it through the cover with a more subtle presentation," Horton said. "The floating worm will sink very, very slowly, and in doing so, you can give it some real small twitches which tantalize the fish while the worm is in that strike zone."
To give a floating worm that tantalizing action, Horton says that he will typically pop his rod tip "... just maybe 2 to 4inches." Such a technique will actually make the floating worm fold up as the ends come together in the water.
"The bait then opens back up, and when this happens in a short period of time, it can really be enticing to bass," Horton said.
How does the likable 'Bama BASS pro rig a floating worm?
"I like to use a YUM Houdini worm, which I'll Texas-rig with a 4/0 hook," Horton said. "Usually I will put a swivel 10 to 12 inches above the hook. My leader will usually be the same pound test I'm fishing, something in the 12 to 14-pound monofilament range. As for worm colors, I like yellow, white, or a sherbet."
How does Horton fish a floating worm setup?
"Usually, I'll fish it on a baitcasting reel," Horton said. "About the only exception is when I'm trying to get it under overhanging willow trees, or trying to skip it around boat docks and up under the boat docks. Then I'll use a spinning reel."
Horton says to keep in mind the strikes on floating worms are usually not very aggressive.
"I think it's a reaction strike," Horton said. "A floating worm doesn't really represent a baitfish or crawfish, but maybe a catalpa worm falling out of the trees, or something of that nature."
Another popular plastic bait utilized this time of the year is one that Oklahoma BASS pro Edwin Evers puts near the top of his lure list: the versatile lizard, a bait that can elicit a smashing strike from a female on the spawning bed.
"It's a good bait to fish," Evers said. "In terms of catching big bass, lizards and salamanders really prey on the eggs that big females lay, so the bigger fish are more apt to eat them. I do get a lot of bites from bigger fish in the spring on lizards."
How big? Evers indicates that he has caught lots of 8- and 9-pound bass on this type of lure, a bait that he likes to fish primarily during stable weather conditions.
"With a lizard, I like to keep it on bottom," Evers said. "I'll do that by popping it and scurrying it across the bottom, still looking for isolated cover [to target]."
Evers likes to use a YUM 6-inch lizard in green pumpkin or watermelon colors with a 1/8-oz. weight. He'll then fish it Texas-rigged around visible cover, using a 7-foot medium heavy action rod, a 6:3:1 reel, spooled with 14- to 17-pound test monofilament.
Jerkbaits and Flukes
Evers is also a big fan of fishing soft plastic jerkbaits and fluke style baits — especially as the spawn winds down.
"These are huge in the post-spawn pattern," he said. "Bass are starting to feed up on shad again, that and bluegills, so those two baits can imitate those really well. Plus, bass are starting to school."
Evers says that since these baits imitate shad really well, an angler can skip them up under boat docks and back into tight places.
"It is a bait that covers the upper water column and I like to work it in heavy cover," Evers said. "When I fish one of these baits, I'll twitch it side to side. I'll do that two or three times, let it die and fall, then do it another two or three times, and let it die and fall again. They'll typically hit it in-between twitches, or when you're letting it die (and fall)."
When he fishes such a bait, Evers typically rigs up with a Bass Pro Shops white or a baby bass-colored one with a green back. The Oklahoma pro then rigs the bait with a 4/0 off-set round bend hook thrown on fluorocarbon line in the 12- to14-pound test range.
All of this is tied on a 7-foot, medium action rod with a high-speed reel: "The high-speed reel is real important in fishing these baits, so that you can reel in the slack in a hurry to set the hook," Evers said.
Soft plastic, tube-style baits are another weapon Evers keeps a healthy supply of in his tackle box. That's been true since he experienced some big bass success during a tournament several years ago on Toledo Bend Reservoir, as Evers flipped a black neon tube into the flooded buck brush.
"They were holding between two pieces of cover ... and I would throw it in there, move it as slowly as possible, and I was catching big ones," Evers said.
Today, tubebaits are one of Ever's favored methods to target bass with.
"I think tubes are a great year-round bait, especially spring through fall," Evers said. "They're a basic imitation of a crawfish or baitfish, depending on what color you fish."
How does Evers fish a tubebait?
"My favorite way is to use a flipping technique in the spring," he said. "I'll be flipping bushes, grass, anything that could be spawning cover, with a 3/16-oz. or 1/4-oz Bass Pro XPS Tungsten weight head."
As for the color of the tube itself, Evers usually lets the bass' current feeding habits on shad or crawfish dictate that, although he also likes fishing a black neon tube.
Whatever color he's actually utilizing, Evers will hook the soft plastic onto the tungsten-weighted jig-head, sporting a big 4/0 hook with an extra-wide gap. Oftentimes, Evers will also put a XPS Big Tube Rattle into the tube, which he'll cast and retrieve with a 7-foot medium heavy rod, a high-speed reel, and line in the 20-pound fluorocarbon or 65- to 80-pound Spider Wire range.
According to Evers, the key to fishing this bait is working it slowly — to the point it becomes a source of irritation to shallow springtime bass.
"I'll flip it in the bushes, let it sit there, hop it up and down, and let it sit there for an extended period of time," Evers said. "A lot of times, the fish won't pick it up on the initial fall. But as you leave it in there and hop it up and down, air is coming out of the tube in bubbles. As [the bubbles] come out as [the tube] falls, it's an added attraction for bass."
How long should you leave the tubebait in cover? Evers recommends 10 or 15 seconds, sometimes longer if the bass are locked on spawning beds. He'll leave it a little longer still when the water is murky, or the bass aren't very aggressive.
While the Oklahoma angler likes to fish a tubebait a little faster as the pre-spawn moves into the spawn, he reminds anglers such a lure can also be an excellent choice later on as well.
"It's a great bait in the post-spawn," Evers said. "You can flip it into flooded bushes, into other flooded cover, or bring it closer to surface. Use that rattle and bang it on branches and shake it on braches higher in the water column during the post-spawn period."
And then, of course, there is the veritable plastic worm — the bait that started this story. From weekend warriors like yours truly, to young guns hoping to make their mark on the tournament trail, to legendary pros with household names, a Texas-rigged plastic worm is tough to beat on just about any bass water in the South.
Take Erik Burns, for instance, a young college-aged bass angler who spends his fall guiding waterfowlers north of Dallas with his Rugged Duck Outfitters service. During the spring and summer months, however, Burns occupies his spare time between duck seasons by targeting big bass, often with a Texas-rigged plastic worm or Ring Fry tied on at the end of his line.
But unlike my 8-inch motor oil-colored worm that began this article, Burns prefers at times to downsize his plastic worm offerings.
"I like to go to plastics and finesse fish with the smaller stuff when the fish aren't as aggressive, when they're about to go shallow, or when they are still suspended and the bigger fish haven't gotten their metabolism up yet," Burns said.
Is there a time when Burns will go bigger on the soft plastics?
"Later on in the summer, when the fish are deeper, I enjoy flipping Texas-rigged worms around lily pads and in the pockets and along the edge of hydrilla," he said. "That's when I like to fish bigger worms in the 6- to 8-inch range to go for the big boys."
Big, small, or somewhere in between — it pays to have your tackle box well stocked this spring with a versatile arsenal of soft plastic lures in a variety of hues including: grape, tequila sunrise, red shad, black with a neon-yellow or a red-flaked tail, motor oil, and Junebug colors, among others.
The reason, of course, is simply this: when fished at the right time, in the right way, and at the right place — plastic lures can help you land the biggest bass of your angling career.
And that is the power of soft plastics when it comes to springtime bass fishing.