“Worming” is probably the most widely used technique for fishing largemouth bass, and there’s no mystery underlying it’s success: plastic worms mimic a wide variety of bass food items.
But there are times when the bass will turn up their noses at worms. The possible reasons for this are many, including water and weather conditions, spawning, etc. What do you do then? Most people would answer “break out the hard baits”, but we’re going to show you another option for stimulating bites on more and bigger fish: soft plastic critters.
“What’s a critter?” you ask. The term “critter” generally refers to baits mimicking a specific live animal, such as a crawdad, lizard, frog, water dog, etc. Critters are very versatile as they not only present a different bait profile than a worm, but also can be fished throughout the water column, from the surface to the bottom. Soft plastic critters present lifelike movement and feel, and can be scented. The important thing to remember is that a critter is NOT a worm – they are mimicking a different set of creatures, and must be fished differently to reflect a living critter’s actual behavior. Let’s review some critter fishin’ techniques.
We’ll start with crawdads. Also known as crawfish, crayfish, and mud bugs, most largemouth bass anglers know that this is one of the fish’s favorite food items. The important thing to remember about crawdads is their movement. Crawdads have only two speeds: slow and fast. Slow movement is when they are crawling on the bottom. Fast movement is when they “swim”, using flicks of their powerful tail to scoot backwards. Your retrieve should reflect this. Use a slow, twitching retrieve, and every once in awhile give a couple of good sharp jerks to mimic the backward swimming motion.
Weight is necessary to keep your crawdad on the bottom. Try a Carolina rig, using a bullet sinker and plastic bead. The clicking noise is a great fish attractant, and mimics the sound of the crawdad feeding. Color is important, too. Since you’re fishing on the bottom, visibility is an issue. Experiment with crawdad colors until you find one that stimulates the bite.
Lizards are not aquatic animals. The usually fall into the water from overhanging plants, or are chased in by predators. Largemouth bass are opportunistic feeders, and will eat anything that hits the water, including lizards, mice, and snakes. Such items are a bass favorite, especially for bigger fish, since they represent an opportunity to get a bigger meal in one bite.
In using lizards, remember that they are land creatures, so when in the water they are not milling around and feeding. Rather, they’re trying to get to shore. Lizards are best used parallel to shore in shallow water (8 ft. or less). We don’t use weight. Remember, a real lizard will be swimming on the surface, The weight of the hook is enough to keep the bait oriented. Presentation is fairly simple. Just hook the lizard through the belly and swim it fast enough to get some action from the tail. Throw out over grass or lily pads, or parallel to shore. Remember to keep it near the surface. You’ll find that most of your bites occur either near shore or in grass or lilypads, where the bass will think the lizard is about to get out of the water and escape.
Three things we look for when buying lizards: the first is color. We prefer green with brown or chartreuse. Remember that the lizard is on the surface, backlit by the sky, so realism is important. Second, we like ribbon or curly-tailed lizards, which have a nice lifelike action. Third, we buy lizards that have a slot in the belly. This leaves less plastic to penetrate with the hook.
Frogs and water dogs (salamanders) are amphibians. They live in the water but breathe air, so there are several methods for fishing these baits. One method is similar to lizard fishing, having the bait move from place to place on the surface, for example, between lily pads. Like the lizard, this method requires no extra weight.
Another method is to mimic feeding behavior. Water dogs like to root around in rocks, vegetation, and mud trying to kick up insects, grubs, and worms. Frogs also root on the bottom, but will travel back and forth to the surface, so give your frog a good lift now and again. Shake these baits on the bottom to stir up the mud, and then slow down the retrieve to make it appear the critter is sorting the stuff looking for food.
Fishing these baits on the bottom requires weight. To accomplish a realistic feeding action, Carolina rig a sinker no more than 1-2 inches from the head of the bait. A glass bead can be used with a conical weight made of brass, steel, or tungsten.
Critters can be extremely effective for site fishing. When large bedding female bass are on the nest, they are not really feeding, but will attack aggressively if they feel their nest is in danger. This is where critters shine, as they mimic natural enemies that feed on bass eggs.
When site fishing try to use bright colors to make sure you attract the largemouth’s attention. Use very slow movements. Remember, the fish are not feeding in this scenario, and you’re trying to mimic a critter sneaking up on the nest. Also, since the spawning bass isn’t feeding and will not actively chase baits, you must keep the bait right in front of her nose long enough to get her angry.
Site fishing requires lots of patience, for you may have to cast a hundred times and run your bait right past a big bass without her doing anything. But the 101st time she’ll get mad enough to attack, and your reward will be a big fat female. Remember to get a picture and return the fish to the water quickly so she can successfully hatch her brood and ensure lots of largemouth bass for future anglers.