Time for soft plastics and more specifically, the tube.
People laugh when they see the size of the rigs I pull out to fish the river. They think anything over 2” is absolutely obscene and should be reserved for the lake. My time with fellow river rat Joey Monteleone (who has pulled up many, many 5lb + bass from the river) has taught me to believe… and to equip my arsenal with “monsters baits” such as the 4.5” Strike King “Flip N’ Tube” (shown above in Black Neon, with a 3/8oz slip sinker and a 4/0 Daiichi “Copperhead) hook), which is absolutely stellar in water ranging from very to moderately stained. A red bead between the slip sinker and bait helps protect the knot, and adds color and subtle sound. Lighter, more natural colors like watermelon red flake are good choice for clearer water conditions. People generally stop laughing when they see the size of the fish I’ve managed to coax from the river using a few simple techniques.
A brief primer:
- How – Better to let the slip sinker truly ‘slip’ – when the fish takes the tube, instead of feeling the weight of the sinker (if it were pegged or knotted in place), the fish can move off with the bait, which gives a more natural feel and increases the odds of getting a good hook set. Braided line gives a big advantage, as with most “feel” baits, in its ability to transmit all underwater sensation directly from line to angler (in addition to being able to wrest the bait through the rough stuff).
- Where – Weed growth is explosive right now, presenting the opportunity to work newly formed secondary structure. Tubes excel under, in, and around the kind of cover that gives crankbaits and other treble-hooked devices the quakes.
- When – Water temperatures above 70°F.
- Technique – Look for edges and run the bait parallel. Cast, flip or pitch to cover and let the bait drop. Instead of a “puff-puff-puff settle” technique as with the jig, the tube is more of a “dancing” motion. Keep the rod at the 10 o’clock position and pop more sharply on the bait than you would with the jig. Create a more vertical presentation, work through the rough stuff, and don’t be afraid to get into the nasty stuff.
The crawfish have emerged; when you see these pillars of dirt, you know it’s time to hang up the cold water techniques (no matter how entrenched in them you might be) in favor of soft plastics and buzz baits.
I caught my first buzz bait bass of the season working (surprise surprise) the edge of weeds, right along the shoreline. The explosive nature of the topwater bite is a beautiful thing. Be sure to lift your rod just as your bait hits the water to take slack out of the line and get your lure in motion – creating that initial motion with the reel can wreak all manner of havoc on your gear. Now that the bait is in motion, KEEP IT in motion! A retrieve steady enough to maintain position just above the surface and worked along edges will absolutely drive bass mad and bring strikes from heavy cover.
Additional Random Tips: What you see - a bass moving off structure in a straight line. They’ve seen something they don’t like. Can still be caught. A bass moving off erratically? They’ve heard something they don’t like. Much harder to catch. Lesson? Always be ninja. Bridgett in her (stealthy) bright yellow kayak will catch more fish than Thunderous Thom in his camo’d up kayak.
Here in middle Tennessee rivers where the water is over 70°F, the crappie bite in Stones River is slow. They’re post-spawn, sulky, scattered, and have moved to deeper water. I think a lot of our river bass will be on bed next moon. Bluegill are becoming more active and ready to spawn within the next month.
The window is narrow for the pre-spawn bass bonanza - GO GET BIT!
Little fish lie. Big fish hold the secrets.