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Jim Gronaw: Light tackle bassing in the spring

Treat small waters, and big bass, with respect by releasing those quality fish for future sport and enhancing the gene pool.
Treat small waters, and big bass, with respect by releasing those quality fish for future sport and enhancing the gene pool. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Let’s face it — there are many, many ways to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass, the most popular freshwater gamefish in our nation.

You can fish the hydrilla and milfoil in tidal rivers throughout the Mid Atlantic slope rivers, you can ply the swift waters of Piedmont rivers and streams, or you can fish the deep, clear drinking-water reservoirs throughout the East Coast populated areas.

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Additionally, there are many varied environs in between these standards. However, one of my favorite ways to catch largemouth bass is on light spinning gear in small public and private lakes throughout the region. You don’t need expensive gear, top-notch sonar or even a bass boat to get in on the action.

Often, the vessel for success is a kayak, pair of waders or simply the will to get wet, and a little bit wild.

I have been fishing for bass in small, quiet venues for most of my adult life, with many joyous days, and nights, doing the light tackle gig with a variety of soft plastics. In a lifetime of fishing I have caught and released eleven bass from 22-24 inches long, seven of which came from waters of three acres or less.

During that time, I have also had the great joy of putting other people on to their “personal best” bass. The game plan is simple, effective, productive and fun. Here’s the scoop:

Tackle

I personally like what one would call “light action” spinning rods that are from 6-7 feet long that have a sensitive tip and a backbone for setting hooks. The Tech Lite series of spinning rods, made by Field & Stream (Dick’s brand) are light, comfortable sticks capable of fishing a variety of soft plastics in weightless presentations, and easy on the wallet. Other rods can do as good or better and it is often a personal choice.

Coupled with a quality 200 series reel by Shimano, Okuma or Rapala, you should have enough “oomph” to pull all but the biggest of pond bass to your hand.

For lines, the choice may again be personal, but I have recently taken a liking to lightweight braids such as Gliss in 18-pound test, NanoFil in 14 or Power Pro in 12. Light braids can set hooks easier and quicker, enabling more fish to be landed. As a leader material, I like clear monofilament or fluorocarbon from 10- to 15-pound test, knotted to the braid via a small barrel swivel.

The mono/fluoro leader should be about 20 inches long and is tied to a 1/0 or 2/0 offset worm hook by Gamakatzu or Owner. The reels should have a good drag system and be able to slip when that occasional 5-pound class bass takes your offering.

To many bass anglers, this type of setup may seem too demure to handle the bulk of the fish one might encounter. But in my neighborhood, most bass are running 1-2 pounds with a 3-pounder usually being the big fish of the day. This works well where little or no surface grass and emergent weeds occur. It is also good for stream and river smallmouth bass settings in larger pools and calm backwaters.

If you are fishing heavy cover, then, by all means, up your gear to suit the situation.

Lures

The family of soft-plastics known as “stick worms” have been at the forefront of modern bass fishing for more than 20 years. They are soft, plain looking worms with a blunt end and a tapered end, usually measuring 4-5 inches long. They are sold as the classic Senkos, Stik-Os, Yum Dingers, Slop-Stiks and many, may more.

They are one of the easiest baits to fish and may well be the most productive bass lures of all time. My Favorite is the Stank X Stix. All come in myriad colors, but I like to stick with darker browns, olives, black and watermelon patterns.

I used a three-inch stick worm to coax this light-tackle giant from a Carroll County farm pond recently. What a fish!
I used a three-inch stick worm to coax this light-tackle giant from a Carroll County farm pond recently. What a fish! (Jim Gronaw photo)

You can fish these several ways, but my favorite is the wacky rig, whereby, you simply thread the hook in the middle and perpendicular to the worm and cast and retrieve it in short twitches, allowing it to sink after the movement. Most bass will bump it with some authority and then move off with it. When you feel this lean forward with your rod tip and as the fish starts to swim off, reel up to the fish and set the hook. Done this way, most bass will be safely hooked in the mouth and eligible for safe release. I would not recommend allowing the fish to swim off several yards or more than a few seconds as they could easily swallow the bait, making un-hooking chores tough.

You can also fish stick worms “in-line” with the blunt end of the worm hooked on the offset and the hook point imbedded in the plastic. This allows the worm to slither through weedy conditions without accumulating debris on the worm head. And if you want to fish it on top of matted algae for explosive surface strikes through the grass fish the worm in-line — only in reverse — with the pointed end forward. This allows the worm to travel across the top of the surface grass.

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To do this, however, you might want to up your gear to heavier 20 to 30-pound braid or perhaps 17-pound test mono. A step up to medium heavy spinning or bait casting gear would be required as well, but then we are no longer in the “light tackle” game.

Other soft plastics can work well and often are needed to find just the right bait to turn bass on to this shallow bite. Rigged the same way, the classic 7-inch Berkley PowerWorm in black, blue or root beer can be magic. Those 4-inch Zoom Trick Worms are another go-to plastic if the fish are fussy.

To be honest, the list of quality plastic baits seems endless.

So, grab a light rod, a bag of plastic worms and have a ball with light tackle bass fishing!

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