People are always asking me what is the best lure to use on the river and it isn’t a simple question to answer. There are just so many variables to consider when choosing a lure, like water clarity, temperature, time of year, current speed etc. What I will try to do is share about my top five favorite river lures that I use at different times of year.
Before I get started I’ll begin by showing you the results of a survey I conducted in the summer of 2007. This poll was asked to river fisherman only and the question was,”What is your top big river bass producing lure?” The results were very interesting and fairly diverse.
14% – Buzzbait
12% – Jig-n-pig
4% – Crankbait
2% – Jerkbait (soft or hard)
19% – Topwater plug
19% – Spinnerbait
19% – Soft plastic bait (TX rig, Carolina, drop shot etc)
2% – Chatterbait
4% – Swim bait
Now, we can clearly see that river bassers have caught big fish on a variety of lures. But, we all have our confidence baits and our personal favorites and I am no different. And, my top 5 frequently changes as technology and my continuous learning about the fish and their environment increases. Likewise, my top 5 would change depending on season. But, for now, let’s just take the top 5 all around lures.
5. Soft plastic jerk bait: I almost always have a soft plastic jerkbait on one of my rods for river fishing because it is a great lure to immediately throw back in when a fish misses your buzzbait, spinnerbait, swimbait or whatever. At times, in clear water and tough conditions I will cast it, but usually it is there to clean up what one of the other baits missed. My favorite way to fish these baits is by using the Yum weighted hook that they make for their Money Minnow swimbait. The weight is on the shank of the hook and it is painted white, which is usually what color fluke I like to use so it blends in seamlessly. The weight is perfect for throwing the lure on braid (which I like to use whenever I can) because it helps the lure sink in the current and it allows me to work the bait at a faster pace. Plus, the weight helps throw the bait further and more accurately towards my target. I like the Strike King 3x jerkbaits and the Zoom Fluke for the magnum size. The larger Yum hook fits the magnum size fluke very well. I believe it is a 6/0. I like to use 20lb braid on a 7ft medium heavy casting rod for these lures.
4. Swimbait: This bait was not voted very high in the poll, but until recently it wasn’t in the river scene as much and has increased a lot in mainstream fishing the past few years as well. I like to throw both soft plastic and hard swimbaits for big river bass. But, the hardest thing about a swimbait is simply learning when to use it and when not to, because they look so good and we always want to use them. Swimbaits are a great springtime bait when the water is clear enough and fish are feeding heavy. They can also be effective in clear water because of how realistic they look. I wouldn’t fish them when you can catch fish on other baits just as easy because they can be costly. I throw the Strike King Shadalicious soft swimbaits and the Sebile hard swimbaits the most. I like 30-50lb braid on a 7′6 to 7′11 casting rod in a heavy action to handle these heavier baits. If the water is real clear I will drop to 20lb P-line. A downfall to the soft swimbaits is that they are very finicky and even the slightest nick in them can cause them not to swim properly. Also, at times it just takes a couple fish and the bait is done. Even though the hard swimbaits are more expensive (usually $20 and up) they should last longer assuming you don’t lose it. I can’t get into all the details of these baits on this article but let’s just say it can be complicated and frustrating for the average angler so be prepared for this before you get into learning how to fish these baits.
3. Jig-n-pig: This is a very versatile bait and has one advantage over most other baits – it can get into the thickest gnarliest stuff there is and not get snagged. The weed guard is the key to these type lures. Typically as long as you don’t set the hook the bait will continue to crawl over whatever branches, rocks or debris is on the riverbed. Getting into the thickest areas is crucial because the biggest largemouth bass like to hide deep in cover and sit and wait to ambush bream and other creatures that come in their strike zone. When throwing a pig-n-jig I like to use heavy line between 40 and 60lb braid and occasionally in clear water, where my bait is not always in very thick structure, I will use 14-20lb P-line. I am kind of partial to Strike King jigs, especially the new swimming jigs by KVD that work very well with a paddle tail trailor. I also have done very well with Booyah jigs. I am not going to go into as much detail on the jigs because I have already written an article devoted only to them. You can check it out here.
2. Buzzbait: I am putting buzzbait number two because I enjoy fishing it (who doesn’t?) and they catch a lot of big bass. Plus, in the southeast you can pretty much fish it between 9 and 12 months out of the year depending on where you live. This is partly due to the fact that rivers are moving water so the temperature does not vary from top to bottom as much as a lake might. So, when the fish are active, they are usually active on all water column levels as long as their is forage in each water column. My magic water temperature number for buzzbaits is 57 degrees. That number can vary depending on how deep or shallow the river or creek is that you are fishing. I might throw a buzzbait at 54 or 55 if it is a smaller, shallower river. 57 is not the preferred temperature, but just the temperature when I might start considering a buzzer. I personally like the Bass Pro Shops inline buzzbait because it has a unique sound in the river and due to its inline shape can be launched much further than a typical buzzbait. The only downfall to that bait, in my opinion, is that its hook is smaller than I would like for handling big fish. I add a trailor hook to it to make sure that I am going to hopefully stay hooked up with the fish. I like 30lb braid on a 7′6 rod with an action that falls somewhere in between medium and medium heavy. The colors on a buzzbait are not as important as other baits but I still try to use the white and smoke colors in clear water and chartreuse in stained water. Half ounce is my favorite weight and I will almost always add a second skirt to the bait to give it a bigger look and feel. Remember, we’re going after the bigger bass here not the dinks so lets intimidate those lil dudes to keep them from biting if we can. Bigger is better for bigger bass.
1. Spinnerbait: Number one has to be the spinnerbait because it is so versatile. It catches bass year round, and big ones. It can be fished in water that is deep or shallow, stained or clear, cold or warm. I prefer Strike King’s Kevin VanDam spinnerbaits and SOB’s Mini Me spinnerbaits. Mostly I use the Mini Me’s on smallmouth, spotted and shoal bass in clear water. When it is stained or when I am fishing for largemouth the way to go for all species is the KVD Strike King baits. The swifter the water, the heavier I will go. In most situations I like to use the 1/2 oz size, but have been known to throw 3/4 or even down to 1/4. In clear water I stick with the most natural colors like white, smoke or KVD’s sexy shad. In stained water I begin mixing in some chartreuse colors and if the water is very stained I will throw on two skirts (maybe a black and chartreuse) to give the bait as much bulk as possible. Also, in very stained water you might want to try the Colorado blade version so that you can work the bait slower and give it more vibration. Similarly in clear water, or water with a lot of vegetation you might want to try a tandem willow leaf version. This will allow you to work the bait faster when the fish are feeding more by sight. Also, willow leaf blades cut through grass better than a Colorado. Finally, there is the tandem version with one Colorado and one willow blade. I use this version most often but probably need to switch more than I do when the conditions call for it. In the river I typically use 30lb braid for my spinnerbaits and a 7ft + medium heavy rod.
Now, not to confuse you any more, but I do throw tube baits, plastic worms, hard jerk baits, crankbaits, topwater plugs, soft plastic frogs and other lures at the right place at the right time. Lures are just tools and just like a knife might work to loosen a screw, it will never be as good as a screwdriver. You have to put in the hours on the water and continue to learn when and where each tool will be most effective. We all have a lot to learn, including myself, but that is what makes this sport great. If we ever got to the point where we knew it all, I seriously doubt any of us would still be fishing.