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6 Must-Have
Bass Fishing Lures

By Randy Tucker |

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There's nothing quite like the excitement of watching the water swirl briefly before a gulping, angry bass breaks the surface and tries to annihilate the lure you're tossing at him. For the pure electricity of man versus the wild, there aren't many challengers to the thrill of a hard-hitting bass attacking your lure.

Bass fishing lures fall into six categories, all of them are effective when used correctly, but they’re all unique in how they attract these most aggressive of North American fish.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of competitors when it comes to crankbaits, but Rapala and Strike King lead the way. We'll take a closer look in the product review section of these top-rated crankbaits. The same is true of plastic worms, the original artificial bass magnet. They’re very basic in design resembling a large nightcrawler in the water, but they mimic water snakes as well, another prime item on the bass menu. Colors, lengths, and thickness all vary with plastic worms, and we’ll take a look at those as well. Poppers, jigs, and top water baits will get a good product analysis as well, with my favorite, the venerable jitterbug from the 1950s still receiving high ratings.

We will begin this trek to fill your tackle box with the best variety of bass lures you can find with a closer look at the six basic types of lures.

1. Plastic Worms – Frogs – Lizards – Rodents and other Creepy Crawlers

On my 10th birthday back in 1966, I received a Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker. For those of you that remember it, the toy was a hotplate, with various forms and four bottles of goo that could be mixed into different colors before cooking it on the hotplate. The final result created worms, frogs, crawdads, and other creepy, wiggling plastic critters. I tried a green and gold crawdad with a number six hook slide inside it at a local pond and to my surprise, caught a half dozen or so 10 to 12-inch bass.

It’s the same concept a half-century later with plastic lures, only today they're larger, more realistic in shape, color, and weight than my little plastic designs from the 1960s. Largemouth bass are apex predators, they sit at the top of the food chain and they're among the most aggressive fish on the planet. A bass will hit anything that disturbs it, looks tasty or just because they have a bad disposition, they're fabulous to catch. Plastic bait works so well with bass because they mimic their prey. The other four styles of lures work well with vibrations, and the imitation of landing birds, jumping minnows, and swimming rodents, but a plastic creation looks just like a regular menu item to a bass.

You can’t just throw a plastic lure and wait for results, you have to work the lure in an expert fashion to attract bass. Once you've conquered the technique of cast, presentation, and retrieve, you'll have more strikes than you can count.

When to use

Plastics work throughout the day in just about any weather. My dad was a great bass fisherman and only used purple or black plastic worms, about 10 inches long. He always caught more bass than the rest of us. Plastics are a universal bait. Frogs and rodent shapes work best in reeds, cattails, and lily pads but worms will work in almost every situation.

Where to use

Plastics float, so they're not a good choice for bass fishing on fast-moving water, or in deep lakes, but they're dynamite in warm water when the bass are hovering 8 to 12 feet below the surface. To a bass, a plastic worm looks like an easy meal, and they'll attack it, even if they're not hungry.

How to use

A baitcasting or spinning reel, on a light rod with six-pound monofilament or 10-pound braided line works great with plastics. You want to hide your line as much as you can and let the plastic act like a worm, amphibian, or reptile swimming for cover.

Top 3 Plastic Lures

Robo-worm Red Worm

Inexpensive, and marketed in six-packs, this simple ribbed plastic worm gets the job done. Bass can’t resist the natural motion of a suspended nightcrawler, and the Robo-worm does the trick with sizes ranging from 4 ½ to 8 inches in length. Nothing fancy here, just a time tested, proven bass lure that always gets their attention.

Bass Assassin 4” Saltwater Curly Shad

Don't let the name fool you, this isn't a saltwater lure, but works effectively wherever you find largemouth bass. Fans claim it's the curly tail in this compact, four-inch lure that gets the job done. Hooked properly on a number six or larger hook, the tail swivels above the body of the lure enticing bass to strike. Available in a rainbow of color schemes, it's up to you to determine which color works best in the water you're fishing, but then again, that's all part of the fun.

Robo-worm Fat Straight Tail Worm

Nothing fancy here, just a tapered hung of plastic excitement that catches fish. The fat straight tail worm looks just like the nightcrawlers lining your driveway after an overnight rain shower, except this model comes in colors from neon to chartreuse with a dazzling variety of glitter, metallic glow, and spotted versions. The colors may appeal more to the angler than the bass they're after, but who knows? Experimentation is all part of the fun. These arrive in packs of eight worms and when hooked properly are bass catching magnets.

2. Poppers

Instant gratification is the thrill of a properly placed popper when the bass are active. Oftentimes, when nothing else works in generating a strike, a popper can do the trick. This technique requires the highest level of casting accuracy. A flick of the wrist and you can put the popper a few inches from the cattails and willows lining the shore, or with just a few more ounces of energy, you can send the popper flying into that same brush, followed by rowing your boat into the weeks to extract the lure, ruining the fishing in the process.

Poppers work by breaking the surface of the water, then quickly moving away, similar to a bird or large insect landing on the lake’s surface. This action simulates wildlife in a way that catches a bass’s attention quickly. Oftentimes you’ll get a strike the second the popper hits the water.

Poppers come in a literal rainbow of colors. There is no clear indication that one color works better than the other with bass, but we humans are attracted to brighter color schemes, thinking these are attractive to fish. Maybe they are, and maybe they are just another way of humanity putting preferences on wildlife where they don’t exist.

Poppers are easy to change with just a snap swivel, and changing them after 5 to 10 casts on a slow afternoon is one way to check the eyesight on a bass. If they do have a color preference, you’re apt to find it using this method.

When to use…

In late afternoon or early morning, when the sun is near the horizon are the best times for poppers. Bass surface feed at these times and the popper action is perfect as a lure when bass are near the surface.

Where to use

Close to shore, in shallow water. The best hits on poppers come just a couple of feet from heavy cover. Bass will strike horizontally from cover, or strike vertically after hiding in submerged vegetation.

How to use

Use a light to moderate rod, and a reel filled with light to medium strength line. Control and accuracy are the two most important skills in popper fishing. Put the popper in the right place and let the bass do the work. They’ll hit it if you present the popper properly.

Top 3 Popper Lures

Rapala Popper Pro

If you're a seasoned pro, this is the popper for you. The simple design of this popper allows a variety of techniques to be presented effectively to catch bass. You can use the basic cast and rip technique or pull and wait (the stall) along with other more advanced retrieves like working the lure left to right as you crank it in, sometimes called the "walk the dog" style of retrieve. Whatever technique you try, this popper will generate the action. It is available in seven different color schemes.

SPRO Bronzeeye Popper 60

The action of a popper with a bit of the cross over quality usually found in topwater lures. This lure makes a loud popping sound when it strikes the water, and when you jerk on the retrieve. That bubbling, popping sound makes a bass think they're hearing a struggling rodent or perhaps a downed bird in the water and they'll come flying for an easy meal. The rubber legs mimic a swimming frog, one of the favorites of a bass diet, and along with the popping sound create an irresistible lure.

K&E Lures Panfish Popper

This popper most resembles those you grew up with if you're a seasoned bass angler. The concave head, with the trailing hooks and the mane of feathers encircling the lure, looks like an oversized dry fly, but the action is anything but that of a fly. The sound generated as the lure pops the surface of the water and the lightweight features surrounding the lure create ripples in the water that will attract bass lying in wait in the weed beds below the water. This lure is available in four colors, with a couple in black and white patterns, and even a chartreuse version.

3. Jigs

Bass are a warm water species. They become active when the water temperature rises above 70 degrees. Unlike trout or walleye that prefer colder water, bass will gather in schools at specific temperature layers in a lake, or move into the shallows on warm summer days to feed on insects, snakes, rodents, and frogs. Bass prefer warm water, but they won’t stay long in water that is too hot and can’t hold oxygen as well.

A jig allows you to fish the appropriate temperature band you might find bass hovering in. A jig mimics a minnow primarily but can be used to simulate frogs or leeches. A jig is dependent on the action of the angler. Two fishermen using identical rods, reels, line, and jigs will get differing numbers of strikes because one can simulate the action of a darting minnow better than the other in the way he handles the rod. Baitcasting or spinning reels work equally well with a jig.

The most popular jigs on the market today are lead heads molded with a hook. You can pick up a plastic minnow in whatever color strikes your fancy, and slide that onto the jib. Silver and black, or black and red, even chartreuse and neon green plastic minnows can get big results.

The secret is to let the jig work, using its weight to drop and then with a quick flip of your wrist, making the jig dart up like a baitfish avoiding a predator. Though you’re after bass, when jigging you can get strikes from large trout and walleye in the same water on occasion.

When to use…

Jigs are universal, they’ll work in nearly every water condition aside from murky. A jig mimics a minnow best, but that doesn’t mean a bass can’t be fooled with other designs. Use a jig from shore on hot summer days, or from a boat, with the jig dropped straight over the side. The jerk and release action of jigging makes it easier to hook on strikes from any angle.

Where to use

Jigs work above weed beds with a drop shot rigging. The weight below the jig prevents weeds from snagging the jighead and since bass are notorious ambush style predators, they can remain hidden in the weeds, then strike the jig from below, a great combination. Jigs also work around submerged rocks, trees, and other underwater structure. The most popular bass jigs are weedless and designed to cut through heavy vegetation without mucking up.

How to use

Flip the jig into the current of a stream flowing into a lake, or let them bottom bounce on the sand in a river. Lightweight braided line works best with its added strength. Your rod can be moderate to heavy since the strike comes on the jig action and you don’t need to feel it as well as you do with other techniques. You can also toss the weedless varieties into heavy vegetation and even thick beds of moss to lure out lurking largemouths.

Top 3 Jig Lures

Strike King Finesse Football Jig

If you were to throw a lead weighted hook into a box of rubber bands, you couldn’t do much worse than this very effective Strike King design. Advertised as a football or “bomber” jig it is designed for long arching casts into deep water with slow, jerking retrieves that will draw bass out of hiding from underwater cover. Available in six color schemes including an interesting “peanut butter and jelly” pattern this jig is adaptable to a wide range of water conditions.

Pepper Jig Micro Finesse

The name is a little misleading since there is rarely anything finesse about hooking a battling bass. The design is the finesse part, along with the ¼ to 3/8 ounce weight. This jig is more tapered than the football style with the rubber components working with the plastic hooded stainless steel hook to prevent snagging on weeds. The weedless design makes it a good choice for fishing in submerged weed beds, around heavy moss, or even through standing cattails.

Booyah Swim Jig

Swim jigs don’t make any pretensions about how the lure is presented, they are designed to plow effortlessly through the heavy vegetation that bass often prefer to hide in as they wait to ambush their next meal. The Booyah jig features an arrowhead design, with a pair of loud rattles and a slick, silicone skirt that slides through vegetation with ease. Use this jig in the heaviest, shallow cover to draw out the bass.

Jigs for walleye, crappie, and perch most often resemble baitfish, for bass, don't worry about it. They can look like a mass of bouncy rubber tentacles, but looks don't matter with largemouth bass, it's the action that counts.

4. Spinnerbaits

The adage of “a jerk on one end waiting for a jerk on the other” is accurate with spinnerbaits. Not that anglers are jerks, but because this is the simplest fishing technique for bass anglers. All it takes is a cast, and a retrieve, the lure and the temperament of the bass do all the rest.

Spinnerbaits have been around for a long time. They're versatile, come in a huge variety of sizes, designs, and colors, and make for an interesting day on the water. The secret to spinnerbaits is the blade on the lure. Blades produce flash, vibration, or both, all actions that attract largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Three types of spinnerbait blades

  • Indiana Blade - Produces both flash and movement
  • Colorado Blade - Rounded blade that focuses on producing vibrations
  • Willow Leaf Blade - Slender blade that produces a lot of flash

The action of a spinnerbait makes it easy to use since all you have to do is retrieve it at a steady pace. The vibration features of some blades work well in murkier water where bass vision is limited. The vibrating blades produce a similar sound that a school of baitfish, a thrashing duckling, or a mouse makes in the water, attracting bass in the process.

Tossing a spinnerbait into shallow water with lily pads, or heavy underwater vegetation might get you additional strikes, but unless you invest in "weedless” varieties, you’re apt to spend a lot of time cleaning moss and other aquatic gunk off your lure.

When to use…

Spinners work best in clear water with bright sunlight or murky water during limited light. That might seem to be extreme, but light is your friend with a spinner designed to catch and reflect it. It is also your friend when using a spinner designed to produce vibration in the water. Neither works well in heavily weeded areas, or in shallow water with cattails or lily pads, but in open water with depths beyond eight feet, they can lure bass to the attack from hiding.

Where to use

From a dock, from shore, or most often behind a slow trolling boat, a spinner will attract fish. You may get strikes from other species aside from bass with a spinner since trout are as aggressive in some settings as largemouth bass can be. Let the spinner do the work, cast and retrieve.

How to use

A spinner is one of the easiest artificial lures to use. As long as the blades are free of vegetation and muck, they’ll do their work. Select a sonic spinner like a Blue Fox or Panther Martin for murky water, and a flashy spinner like a Mepps or Roostertail for clear, bright conditions. The spinner will do the work, you just cast to a promising spot, and then retrieve at an even rate. When you feel a strike, set the hook, and enjoy the ensuing bass battle.

Top 3 Spinnerbait Lures

5. Crankbaits

If you're looking for a lure that attracts bass and sets a hook easily, the crankbait is a good choice for you. Crankbaits typically have a pair of treble hooks hanging beneath the lure. That makes it easy to hook bass, but also easy to hook everything else in the water including limbs, vegetation, rocks, and submerged trees. Those treble hooks will catch just about everything.

Crankbaits are easy to spot since they almost all come with an extended bill at the front of the lure. A longer bill will drive the lure deeper into the water, a shorter bill will keep it just below the surface. Used in conjunction with a fish finder that has a temperature readout you can select a bill length that keeps the lure in the band of water most likely to contain bass. Find bass on the fish finder and set the crankbait depth appropriately and you have the advantage of presenting the lure right in front of them. It's no guarantee they’ll strike since many of us have bounced a lure right off a floating bass and never attracted its attention.

An additional benefit of a crankbait is the water flow. That bill pushes a lot of water aside as it moves. Baitfish do the same thing, small schools of shiners, fatheads, or other minnows created ripples in the water that attract bass. A crankbait will do the same thing.

When to use…

Crankbaits mimic baitfish in open water and attract bass by sight. The action of a crankbait is determined by the bill on the lure. The bigger the bill, the deeper the dive. A long-billed crankbait should be used in depths of 10 to 20 feet where bass are likely in the surrounding cover. A shorter billed lure works best in depths of six to 10 feet for the same reason. Crankbaits dart in the water like baitfish, enticing predators like bass.

Where to use

Crankbaits are a clear water lure. They can work along weed beds or with heavy shore cover, but they often get fouled with vegetation and require frequent cleaning. If you're fishing under those conditions there are better choices in bass baits. In clear water of known depth, you can find a deep-diving or even a rattling style of crankbait that will attract bass. The rattle feature adds sound to motion, a doubly effective method of catching fish.

How to use

Cast the crankbait and allow it to sink a few seconds before reeling it in. Crankbaits are depth specific, so letting one sink to an appropriate depth makes the retrieve much more effective. A short-billed crankbait can have you flip the bale on your spinning rod, or begin cranking your baitcaster almost immediately, while with a deep-diving, long-billed crankbait you should count to six, eight, or 10 before beginning your retrieve. The retrieve shouldn't be constant but instead a series of short jerks, with a couple of cranks of your reel in between. This lets the crankbait move up and down in the water while you bring it in, creating a more natural action of the lure in the water.

Top 3 Crankbait Lures

There are more crankbait styles on the market than any other bass lure. Designers love to mimic the action of baitfish as they slide through the water, dipping, diving, or swaying side to side. Bass like them too, and anglers often use these colorful contraptions more than any other lure when seeking out largemouth bass.

Rapala Rapplin’ Rap Lipless Crankbait

It's no secret that largemouth bass are apex predators and that they often cohabitate with yellow perch. Rapala’s noisy, BB filled crankbait looks just like an immature yellow perch, and thanks to its advanced technology, acts like one swimming in the water when retrieved correctly. The lipless design and hard vibrating action create an irresistible lure to hungry bass. Rapala is renowned for their realistic minnows and baitfish, and they've continued that tradition with this textured scale imitation perch.

Evergreen CR-8 Crankbait

Evergreen spent a little more time in the engineering department than their competitors in coming up with this long distance casting crankbait. It features a weight transfer system that slides the tungsten forward on casts, increasing distance while not affecting accuracy for short to mid-range casts. The natural wobbling action mimics a shad or large shiner minnow, driving hungry bass into feeding frenzies when it passes overhead.

Koppers Live Target Bluegill Crankbait

Perch are a compatible species with bass, but so are bluegill, and they’re much more plentiful in the Eastern and Southern waters of the USA. This crankbait looks like a miniature bluegill in your tackle box, and it has the same effect on bass. There is a caveat with this lure since bluegill aren't just a favorite prey of largemouth bass, but a popular menu item for walleye, northern pike, and muskie as well. Easy to use, and very effective, this lure will catch fish.

6. Topwaters

A topwater lure is the essence of fishing excitement when a bass decides to hit. The action of the buzzbait as it rolls across the surface of the water leaves a trail behind it. Often you can spot a bass on a strike run as it follows the trail to the lure. You can see the fish closing in and anticipate the ensuing strike. It doesn’t get much better than that on the water.

A topwater lure, like a jitterbug, will generate surface strikes from pursuing bass, but largemouth bass are ambush attackers as well. They'll wait below the surface for the lure to pass over then strike vertically ripping into the lure as it goes by. That's a great thrill as well.

Topwater lures are manufactured by hundreds of companies worldwide and many people make their own. A memorable Arkansas fishing trip when I was a kid had one of my dad’s cousins catching bass on a lure he made from a steel Budweiser can. It was long before aluminum cans were the standard, and all he did was solder snap swivels to the rim of the can and connect treble hooks to the swivels. It was a preposterously large lure, the size of a beer can, but it caught bass. Bass are insanely aggressive and will literally strike anything that invades their territory.

My best experience with topwater lures came in later afternoon as the sun was about to set. When there is no wind, a topwater at this time of day is very effective. The greatest frequency of largemouth strikes always seems to be between sunset and the arrival of darkness.

When to use…

A topwater lure or as they're often called, a plug, works best in shallow water. Bass don't limit themselves to certain structure as often as other sport fish, you can find them at depth, in medium-level water, or near the surface. Often during the hotter months, they'll move into the shallows to hunt surface creatures like rodents, large swimming insects, and even baby ducks. Bass will eat anything.

Where to use

In heavy underwater structure your only choice is often to stay on top of the water, away from all that moss, submerged trees, and rocks. A topwater plug will entice bass out of hiding in the shallow water, generating strikes from below that are easier to set the hook with when they occur.

How to use

Toss the topwater plug near a likely above water structure, maybe a few inches from a bank of cattails or right on top of a lily pad. Retrieve the plug slowly at first, then pick up speed. Bass are quick and will close the gap on the fastest retrieve if you've caught their attention. You're trying to mimic a panicked surface creature swimming desperately to avoid becoming dinner, a bass knows that action and will respond with a pulse pounding, surface breaking strike that is perhaps the greatest thrill in freshwater fishing.

Top 3 Topwater Lures

You can empty your wallet pretty fast at a sporting goods store if you peruse the bass fishing section dedicated to topwater lures. Topwater bass fishing is easily the most exciting style of angle for these eternally angry apex predators. The thrill of watching the water ripple, then boil as a big bass hunts down your topwater lure is as good as it gets in the angling world, but there are so many topwater lures that you can get lost in the hunt for the perfect one.

Rico Topwater

A pricey topwater lure designed to imitate the very popular shad, a nearly universal baitfish, this lure is a compact 2 3/8 inches long and weighs just one-quarter ounce. You’re not going to win any distance casting competitions with this little mighty might but what you lose in distance, you more than compensate for in control The hard sided bait with the enticing short tail above the rear treble hook isn’t for everyone, with a price 300 to 400% higher than competing models, but if you’re fishing an area known for heavy shad concentrations, this is a great lure.

Arbogast Jitterbug

I caught my first largemouth bass on an Arkansas farm pond almost six decades ago using my dad's venerable solid black jitterbug with the big white eye. It's still a favorite of southern anglers with its unique big billed design and dangling treble hooks. Arguably more bass have been hooked with a jitterbug than any other lure. The bass I caught that morning was barely larger than the three-inch lure he hit, maybe six inches total, but future bass rolled into the five to eight-pound range on that same lure. It sits in my tackle box now, and I rarely use it, not because it doesn't work, but because I couldn't stand to lose it.

Conclusion

Bass fishing secrets are among the most cherished in the angling world, but even the most secretive anglers will agree that different styles of lures, be that plastic worms, jigs, or topwater fit specific conditions.

Your choice of lure should depend on water conditions, murky or clear, deep or shallow, and involve a careful examination of underwater structure to be successful.

Choosing lures is a mesmerizing process, but one well with the effort when that monster largemouth bends over your rod and starts to strip the drag on your reel.