Big baits catch big fish; small baits catch small fish. Most anglers bow to the simple logic of that old angler’s adage. But it ain’t necessarily so. Given the right time and place, it is just as easy to think small and come up big.
What’s the deal?
Conventional wisdom hearkens back to a widely held principle of “energy conservation.” It says that fish learn not to waste their energy chasing forage that doesn’t deliver more calories and nutrients than it takes to catch them. By that logic, a big easy meal like a bullfrog or giant shad makes far more sense to a bass or other predator than chasing little minnows all over the lake.
But that principle assumes that, to do this, bass must hunt small baitfish singularly as if engaged in some high-stakes game of playground tag.
The truth is that the schooling habits of fry and baitfish and the feeding capability of bass – particularly largemouth — change the equation and, in certain situations make snacking on “small fry” a fruitful endeavor.
Think of it this way: you wouldn’t cross the room, let alone walk around the lake, for a kernel of popcorn. But you wouldn’t think twice about scarfing down a box of popcorn by the handful in front of a movie screen or your TV. And if you think that the concept of “handful” separates the eating habits of man from those of his beloved bass, just watch a bass feed on a school of disoriented minnows.
A largemouth bass is a near-perfect predator that can turn on a dime and inhale a crawfish or sweep up a half dozen minnows in one fell swoop.
Once upon a time, I had a pet bass and several sunfish cousins in my home aquarium. From time to time, I served them minnows. The lightning-like speed with which the bass attacked these baitfish was mind-boggling! At the end of a burst that often lasted no more than a second or two, the largemouth would have swallowed one or two minnows and have the heads or tails of three other victims dangling from his jaw.
Small lures – and “small” is a relative term – produce, too, when they resemble the size and shape of abundant lake forage, particularly during times of the year when these fish are ganged up and vulnerable.
Here are three situations in which little lures can serve you in a big way!
Postspawn = Raider
A small bait dropped on a bass’s nose just might tempt him to bite at any time, but the late post-spawn period – after not only bass but other members of the sunfish family have spawned – can be prime time for small stuff!
Small baits shine when a broad spectrum of the fish population is ready to resume feeding and the lake is dense with fry and fingerlings. Often, dense balls of bluegill, crappie and sunfish slide up on shallow flats, hover around cover, or drift around with wind, wave and plankton movement.
This is the perfect time for the Rebel Raider, a small, baitfish-shaped slow sinking bait that walks the dog under water. Because it sinks, you can fish it at the level of the fish no matter how deep or shallow they are.
What’s most fun about this post-spawn approach is the variety of fish that these baits will catch.
One recent post-spawn outing tells the story. We had worked much of a small lake with modest success with tubes, spinnerbaits, Texas-rigged worms and crankbaits for a couple of hours in the late afternoon. As my buddy and I eased in to work a promising piece of deadfall, I pulled out an ultralight rig with three-pound test line and a Rebel Raider. My first cast settled next to the deadfall and promptly earned a strike from a 3 1/2-inch bluegill. The next cast delivered a 6-inch bluegill and the third cast a 3 ½-pound bass.
And so it went that evening with almost every species we knew to inhabit the lake inhaling the tiny minnow imitator. We had plenty of bass in the mix, too, including several in the 3 1/2- to 4-pound range.
Late Autumn Migrating Shad = Teeny Pop-R
The Rebel Teeny Pop-R is a true classic that seems to capture the attention of every serious angler at some time during his or her angling career.
The Teeny Pop-R, the smallest in the Pop-R family, engages most anglers when they are young, and fond memories of the lure are likely to follow them to their grave. But others discover it later on and hoard the “secret” of this timeless tiny popper as if it were some rare diamond.
The Teeny Pop-R shines in many occasions. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass all find this bait hard to resist in the post-spawn period and it mesmerize almost any bass inhabiting a small stream. In murky water go with the basic silver/black color pattern, but for clear water the clear version always produces better.
The Teeny Pop-R is my topwater lure of choice when threadfin shad move up onto points and windblown flats in fall. Keep an eye open for feeding fish when this autumn movement commences. Cast it next to the schooling fish busting young-of-the-year shad on top and work it with your rod tip. And stay ready for action.
Largemouth bass prefer to ambush from cover, so any stump or brushpile on the flat is a high-percentage target. But you will find predators marauding schooling shad in open water, too. White bass and hybrids can supply plenty of action between bass strikes.
Early Summer Smallmouth Streams = Teeny Wee Crawfish
Crawfish and stream smallmouth make an inseparable pair through most of the season. And when water warms and bass get active, the sight of a fleeing crawfish is too much for a bronzeback to take!
Hundreds of crawfish species inhabit North American waters. Scientists estimate that there are over 330 species in the southeast U.S. alone. That fact, along with the crustacean’s lifecycle changes, accounts for the different colorations that crawfish sport and the corresponding crawfish imitations that anglers employ.
The Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish is an ideal crankbait on small smallmouth streams. They pretty much cover the spectrum of crawdad colors you will need, from spring reds to summer brown/orange or chartreuse/orange combinations. Observe your local crawfish when you can, and take note any time a bass coughs up a crawdad boatside.
The Teeny Wee Crawfish cranks down to two- and three-foot depths, making it ideal for working shallow runs and fishing the low-water stream conditions of a dry summer. In addition to smallmouth, the Teeny Wee is one of the top-rated trout lures in tailraces, streams and rivers across the country. Try various retrieves, from stop-and-go to a constant slow/medium retrieve.
Late Summer Tailraces = CrickHopper Trout
There is one time and place where the only bait you need is a Rebel Crickhopper. If you’re trout fishing a tailrace and the water flow is low, a variety of lures will catch these skinny water fish, but the moment that horn blows signaling the opening of more gates and a rise in water level, cut off whatever you’re using and tie on a CrickHopper – it’s about to get fun.
Trout know that the rising water dislodges bugs and grasshoppers from the shoreline, and they set up just waiting for one to get caught in the current. From a canoe, kayak or boat, focus on areas where weeds growing close to the water. Make an accurate cast right up against the bank and you may get struck before you can engage the reel.
If they don’t take the bait off the top, trout really love the CrickHopper simply cranked along like a crankbait. No one’s sure why it works – grasshoppers don’t swim much under water – but trout don’t know that. They love it cranked under water.
By Abe Smith
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