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Jim Gronaw: When bass want small baits | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

The wind was gently pitching and tossing my bobber and it was drifting dangerously close to a submerged log that was poking out of the water. My intended quarry was slab crappies however, I was content to catch anything as the chilly breeze and overnight lows had surely dropped water temperatures.

As the float eased closer to the wood it suddenly made a “pop” and dipped below the surface. Setting the hook, I could tell that it was either a record class crappie or, more likely, a good largemouth bass.


A spirited tussle ensued and finally I was able to sink my thumb into the mouth of a chunky 3-pound bass that had taken the tiny lure. The fish was fat and ready for the spawn and darted off with a splash upon release. Truth be told ... it was the third bass of the day that hat eagerly struck a bait intended for much smaller game.

It was not the first time my panfish pursuits were interrupted by over-active green bass and likely won’t be the last.


As we enter the spring season, we will see a variety of fish species overlap in various stages of their spawning cycles. Crappies are still shallow and even “backing off” of bedding sites when cold fronts come roaring through. Largemouth bass are moving shallow and even actually bedding in warmer parts of the state depending on water temperatures that remain consistently in the mid-60s.

Bluegills will follow 2-3 weeks later and spawn repeatedly throughout the summer in some waters peaking around the lunar calendar of the full moon. But during spring, all three species can be caught using crossover tactics as bass feed on smaller panfish and big panfish try to perpetuate their species.

Ultimately, it’s a wonderful time of year.

On any given year, my largest bass, fish exceeding 20-inches, are almost always taken on a variety of small baits or lures based on the fact that most of my angling is for panfish. If you are fishing good waters like Piney Run, Loch Raven, Eastern Shore millponds, or quality private water, then you are likely to hook and hopefully land large bass while panfishing. Also, some waters have panfish species as the dominant, or only, forage in the lake for larger bass.

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My recent experience with simple, “Old School” tube tail plastics on 1/32nd-ounce jigheads has led to a number of fine bass to the 19-inch mark. These tiny lures, long a standard for the crappie angler, are but 1.5 inches long and sometimes even smaller, yet they attract roaming, pre-spawn bass representing an abundant food source of either minnows or small bluegills or shad species.

One day last week I lost a 5-pound class fish that simply couldn’t stay pegged when I tried a 1/80th-ounce jig and live worm combo while questing slab bluegills. I knew better, given the fish at this particular water, but the fish simply opened up the tiny wire hook when it took off on a powerful surge. I hate it when that happens.

I have had similar experiences with midget-sized crank baits in the two-inch or shorter length. The classic Rebel Crawfish and Rapala Floating Minnows have done much damage nationwide over multiple decades as fishermen have taken both large and smallmouth bass on these tiny morsels. My recent favorite is the Matzuo Kinchoe Nano Minnow at 1.75-inches and cast on 4 or 6-pound monofilament and ultralight spinning gear. The lure sinks very slowly, not quite neutrally buoyant, but fish will indeed hit it on the fall. It was a sure winner for last fall’s crappies, but bass will blitz it as well.

Small, in-line spinner and mini-spinner baits can also have a place in your tacklebox. Many companies are now making panfish-sized spinner baits designed for crappie anglers but do very well on bass.


And the time-honored, Deep South tradition of using the classic Beetle Spins in those dark, tannic Dixieland flows not only crushes the panfish populations but has accounted for many high-quality bass as well. Don’t be afraid to try Mepps or RoosterTail spinners in sizes #0 to #2 for catching multiple species during one or more of your spring time outings.

But my all-time favorite treat for small offerings for bass is a simple garden worm hooked either on a # 4 long-shanked Aberdeen hook or a 1/32nd ounce jighead and suspended below a float. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. I am sure that most of the tournament guys out there are shuddering and cursing under their collective breathes, but this ol’ country boy likes to use what works. Again, those bass catches are usually accidental, but I’ll take them.

Yes, bigger is usually better and big baits mean big fish. But if you want action along with a shot at a roving lunker, then sometimes smaller baits and lures have their place. Give them a try.