An old bass plug comes out of retirement and heads to Alaska for salmon…
Fishing with beads is certainly all the rage these days for trout, dollies, grayling, steelhead — and even salmon. Delivered via a fly rod or fished under bobber on spinning gear, it’s hard to deny the effectiveness of both hard plastic and soft beads. The little orbs work in a myriad of situations but are perhaps most effective when spawning salmon are present.
You’ve probably read about — or experienced — how trout and char in particular can get frustratingly selective when there are lots of loose eggs awash in a spawning stream. They see the real thing drifting along by the thousands so if your offering looks even slightly off, it’s going to get ignored. That’s of course how pegging the bead up away from the hook got started but anglers soon found that there was a lot more to it than that.
Having exactly the right size bead to match that of the spawning species is often essential — as is matching the color of the egg in terms of species and freshness.
Match the Hatch?
While “matching the hatch” is the key to success in most situations, I have also found that there are times when you can throw convention out the window and go almost the opposite direction.
The fist time I learned this lesson was on a small stream near Bristol Bay. I had a couple anglers who wanted a break from conventional salmon fishing and liked the idea of going after trout and dollies with a fly rod. I had just the place: A long, shallow flat absolutely loaded with spawning chums. I pulled the little sled over on a gravel bar and walked my guys up to the spot.
Before we fished, we climbed a high bank and looked down onto the flat. There were probably a couple hundred salmon working on redds in there. Behind the salmon were dozens and dozens of dark, slightly smaller shapes — big rainbows and char that were gorging themselves on eggs.
Chum eggs are pretty good size, so I rigged my guys up with 10 mm beads in a light orange color to perfectly mimic the eggs the salmon were releasing. I pointed the anglers in the right direction and then grabbed my needle nose pliers in anticipation of the un-hooking madness that was sure to come. Only it didn’t…
Neither of my dudes got bit on their first few casts but I’d seen that happen before. It was simply a matter of switching out the bead color. The color of a salmon egg can vary, based on location, water temperature and how long they have been in the water. So, I gave the clients a couple slightly different shades or orange and peach and set them back out into the run. Same result. Well, perhaps the eggs were older than I expected, so I switched them out to more opaque models since real salmon eggs turn cloudy or creamy when they’re dead.
After a half an hour of working over a teeming horde of actively feeding fish without a grab, I got frustrated and put a 12 mm hot pink BnR Tackle bead on one of the guy’s rods.
I really didn’t have a good reason for it other than the fact that I had run out of conventional wisdom. Well, you can probably see where this is headed: The guy immediately started catching a good 3 plus pound dolly or rainbow on every single cast! I switched my other client to the “pink wonder” and he quickly got in on the fun too. They must have landed 30 gorgeous fish off that flat — every single one with that funky pink ball in their mouths.
Since then, I have pulled that one out of my bag of tricks many times when the bite was lackluster. It doesn’t always produce the same results that I saw on that first day but it has been a trip saver on many occasions. I’m not totally certain what’s going on in those cases but my best guess is the color change somehow makes it easier for the fish to key in on the bead. It may just be that the pink (I’ve also tried dark red and chartreuse with good results) stands out just enough against the zillions of orange eggs down there.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. The “stand-out” bead may appeal to the predatory instinct that fish use to spot the one wounded baitfish in a school. They’re used to locking onto the loner or injured forage fish against a backdrop of hundreds or thousands of others and that may be what, in effect, is happening in this situation.
Of course, it’s hard to say but whatever the reason, I know changing to a completely contrasting bead — even when the conditions suggest you shouldn’t — is definitely something to keep in the back of your mind when the fish are playing hard to get.
I have also found that there are days when a technique I call “Thunder Beading” out-fishes all others. It’s really just a hyped up name for using a much larger bead than you’d normally would.
Just like the technique I described above, I stumbled onto this one by accident. One afternoon on a tributary to the Nushagak River, I had a couple clients casting 6 mm beads to match the small sockeye eggs that the rainbows, dollies and grayling were munching on.
The fish they were catching were relatively small — the grayling were all 12-13 inches and the trout and char were topping out around 18 inches. Still, my guys were having a ball catching fish every cast. I, on the other hand, was getting bored. They boys didn’t need my help so I was just hanging out on the bar watching the occasional school of fresh silvers work their way upstream.
Though silvers can become monotonous later in the year, those were the first of the season and I desperately wanted to hook one. Not armed with any silver-specific patterns, I decided I’d put on the biggest thing I had in my box — a 16 mm orange soft bead that somebody had given me to try. That thing looked like a golf ball in my bead box next to all the other 6 to 10 mm sizes but it was the only thing I had that seemed large enough to get a silver’s attention.
I waited around for a few minutes until the next migrating pod of coho came into view and then I lobbed my “Thunder Bead” into the run ahead of them and was shocked to see the indicator go down immediately. At first, I thought I’d hooked the lead coho but then realized I was fast into a 26-inch rainbow! Purely coincidence…or so I thought!
As it turned out, I started putting a pretty good beat-down on really nice trout and char with that kooky jumbo egg. It didn’t take long for the clients to notice I was catching much larger fish than they were so I handed one of them the rod with the big bead on it and he caught several good fish from 22 to 28 inches before he finally lost it on a snaggletoothed chum’s dorsal fin.
I’m always fascinated by what makes fish do what they do and the riddle of the big beads catching big fish kept me up thinking that night. We didn’t even know there were any big fish in that section of creek until I started using that tennis ball of an egg imitation. The obvious answer to it is the whole “big bait, big fish theory” but I wanted to read more into it.
As I noted earlier, trout can get crazy-selective when they’re focusing on eggs, so this behavior was pretty weird. Could it be that the big egg simply presented a better protein gained for energy expended ratio to the trout and dollies? Hypothetically, it took the same amount of energy for the fish to move to and grab the 16 mm bead as it would for them to take one of the sockeye eggs half its size. So, all things bing equal, the monster egg presented a better deal to them — especially when you consider it was fall and the fish must inherently feel the end of the season coming sooner than later.
There’s always a good chance that I’m over-thinking the situation and that the big bead was just easier to spot — kinda like the pink one in the sea of orange eggs I described above. I suppose you could also argue that, due to large size of the bead, there was less competition for it. The grayling certainly couldn’t get their little whitefish mouthes around it, nor could the smaller trout. Therefore, one could theorize that the largest fish in the run would be the most interested in the “Godzilla Egg.”
I suppose its sometimes best to just accept that something works without overanalyzing it. Just take my word for it, there are times when the biggest bead in your box is the one the fish will want!
I have also found large beads to be the ticket when the water is off-color due to the fact they are more visible. The larger profile of a 14 mm or 20mm bead in extremely cold water can sometimes coax otherwise lethargic fish in to striking when smaller presentations are ignored. Thunder beads also really seem to shine when there are no spawning fish in a river. Though the fish aren’t dialed into eggs at that time, they are still very familiar with the round shape and color of a large bead and eat them frequently.
Since I started fishing a lot of larger-sized beads (even up to the 40 mm size), I have noticed that salmon are pretty keen on them as well. Kings and silvers in particular have a taste for big beads but I have also caught plenty of chums, pinks and even reds on them as well. And that’s what really makes fishing these things fun — you just never know what you are going to catch when you have one on the end of your leader our tippet.
I guess the moral of the story here is to remember that fish often act in ways that we don’t fully understand. In the context of fishing with pegged beads under either a bobber or an indicator, keep in mind that perfectly matching the hatch doesn’t always ensure success. There are times when going against the grain and throwing something completely different at the fish pays huge dividends.
I’m a big fan of BnR Soft Beads, which you can get HERE.
With tens of thousands of bass lures available on the market these days, how do you narrow down which ones are the best? Well, the top lure can vary from lake to lake, day to day and season to season, so it’s hard to single out just a few…but these 5 will cover just about any situation you’re likey to encounter.
If you are just starting out, load your box up with these basics and then you can add new styles, sizes and colors as necessary.
By the way, when you purchase lures from the links provided below, it helps support this website (and there’s no additional cost to you). A win-win! Thanks!
This is a very broad category, but if I had to pick just one style of bait with which to fish bass the rest of my days, it would be some sort of soft plastic. Right up there at the top of the list would be the Yamamoto SENKO.
Extremely versatile, these stubby looking worms can be rigged weightless, wacky style or even drop-shotted or Texas style. Again, many lakes have specific color schemes that work best there, but some good all-around patterns include: Green Pumpkin/red flake, Natural Shad, Oxblood and Watermelon Red Magic.
It’s never a bad idea to have some drop shot worms on hand, either. When the chips are down and the fish are playing hard to get, drop-shotting will produce when all other techniques fail.
My go-to baits are the 4.4″ and 6″ Roboworm Straight Tails Aaron’s Magic, Aaron’s Morning Dawn and Margarita Mutilator would be my three main colors with with to start.
While there are a million other plastic baits that are really effective, in the interest of trying to keep it simple here, I’ll just throw one other style and there and that’s the Tube. Tube baits are extremely versatile and can match forage from baitfish to crawfish, deepening on the color and size you use.
Fish ’em on a jig head and they can be bounced along the bottom or flip them in and around cover. You can also drop shot them in finesse situations. A good all-around bait is the 4″ Z-Man Tubez in green pumpkin when crawfish are present.
The Yum Tube in the White Silver Flake pattern is good when shad are the preferred forage.
Jigs also fall into the “don’t leave home without them” category and are incredible bass producers in a wide variety of conditions. Of course, not all jigs are created equal, let’s take a little closer look at a few styles you should consider having in your box…
Flipping Jigs: Designed to be flipped and pitched and around very tight structure, flipping jigs can get you into places no other lures can reach. There are lots of good choices out there. Check out the War Eagle Flipping Jig in Phantom Brown Craw or California 420.
Casting or “Dragging” Jigs: When you are casting out and slow crawling jigs along the bottom or rocky shores ( a great winter technique!), go with a football style jig. Bass Patrol makes a really quality football jig for a reasonable price. Black, Brown, and Brown/Orange should cover you in most situations.
Swim Jigs: Another style of jig head for casting and retrieving near cover is the swim jig. Most of these feature an aerodynamic shaped head that allows for a straight swimming action when the lure is retrieved. There are plenty of models out there — take a look at the Strike King Tour Grade Swim Jig in Bluegill, Sexy Shad or Green Pumpkin.
Jig Trailers: While you can fish a jig “naked,” you’re usually better off adding a plastic bait to it. In most cases, some sort of crawfish-looking trailer like Z Man’s Palmetto Bugz in Green Pumpkin, Watermelon Red or Junebug. For swim jigs, try a minnow-shaped body like the Bass Assassin Turbo Shad Swimbait in the Electric Shad or Hammertime patterns.
Jerk baits are awesome year-round searching lures that bass have a hard time resisting! Fish ’em slow in the winter or rip and slash them in the spring and fall! They allow you to cover lots of water in a short time when you are trying to locate the fish– my favorite time to fish them is on windy days when the bass are up and moving around.
The recognized king of the heap of jerkbaits on bass tours everywhere is the Megabass Ito Vision 110 FX Tour Premium Jerkbait At around $25 they are spendy but these babies really produce! If I had to pick one color I’d probably go with GP Sexy Shad.
A close second for me is the Lucky Craft Pointer 100 in Ghost Tennessee Shad. There are tons of colors in both lineups and the best advice I can give is to try to pick a bait that best matches the forage fish in your local lakes.
No bass kit would be complete without some spinnerbaits in it. Of course, there’s a dizzying array of colors, shapes and styles available out there — and this whole thing can get confusing in a hurry! So let’s try to simplify things here. There are a few basic tried and true styles that are pretty essential…Ones with Colorado blades, willow blades and combinations of the two.
Double Colorado Blade: Due to their rounded shape, Colorado blades don’t require a lot of speed to produce flash. They also deliver the most vibration when retrieved. Because they are “loud” in the water, spinnerbaits with this style of blade are a great choice when the water is dirty. And since you can fish them slowly, they also the way to go when fishing cold water. There are a lot of good choices out there. The Terminator P1 Pro Series is a good place to start. Chartreuse/white is always a good color!
Double Willow Blades: These thin, elongated blades throw off a ton of flash but not as much vibration as do the Colorados. You can fish these things really fast, which is great for covering a lot of water when the temps are up. The blades also have a baitfish-like appearance so they work well when bass are feeding on schools of bait like threadfin shad. Again, there are plenty of makes and models from which you can choose. Take a look at the Blade Runner Double Willow in chartreuse/white or craw color.
Colorado/Willow Combination: Spinnerbaits that feature one of each blade style are probably the most versatile models around and can be fished in a wide variety of conditions. The Googan Squad Zinger is a good one. Try Sunrise Craw or Sexy Shad.
Swimbaits have taken the bass world by storm in the past decade and now you’ll see anglers on just about any lake tossing trout-sized lures for monster largemouth. I could literally do several articles on swimbaits and never scratch the surface — but the idea here is to keep things simple, so let’s look at a couple basic styles…
Hard Baits: Generally more durable (and expensive), hard style swimbaits are great clear water options when you have big bass on the brain In most cases, you have to fish them in reasonably shallow water because most are designed to be neutrally buoyant or slow sinking.
There are lots of different styles of hard swimbaits from one-piece to multi-segmented. I have found (for me at least), the models with one joint (two segments) seem to work best. Also known as “glide baits,” lures like the Deps Slide Swimmer 250 are big bass producers. Though super effective, the $170 price tag is pretty intimidating.
A more affordable way to get into the swimbait game is to try the Storm Arashi Glide Bait which retails for under 40 bucks.
Rainbow trout is a really popular pattern in lakes where trout are stocked, while shad is always a good all-around “flavor.”
Soft Swimbaits: Soft models typically feature a lead head or weighted keel hook, which allows them to be fished deeper. As with most bass lures, there’s a dizzying array of sizes, shapes and styles of soft swimbaits.
To keep things less intimidating, let’s talk about paddle-tail models here. To further break it down, there are two main tail sizes: Square tail and boot tail. Square tails give off more “thump” and less side-to-side body movement. The rounded boot tails give off less vibration and more “shimy” to the body. You also have solid body and hollow body swimbaits. The solid types are much more durable but I think the fish hang onto the hollow ones longer.
I still think Bruce Porter’s BassTrix Paddle Tail Swimbait (the original hollow body swimbait), is the best of the bunch and the come in sizes from 3.5 to 8 inches. Check out the Chartreuse Shad, Threadfin Shad and Hitch patterns.
At risk of overwhelming you with too much info, there’s also the big rubber trout-style swimbaits such as the ever popular Huddleston Deluxe baits. Trophy bass hunters made these popular especially on lakes where hatchery trout are planted. These are specialized baits — but if you want to go for the homerun, by all means give them a try.
Another important lure style you should have in your arsenal is the crank bait. These handy baits are great for covering lots of ground and figuring out at which depth the fish are holding.
Here again we have a category of lures that can be absolutely mind-melting when you are just getting started — there are just so many styles out there…where do you start?
Well, lets break crankbaits down into more manageable chunks. First off you have models with a diving bill and then you have the lipless variety. Within the diving category, there are shallow-runners, medium divers and deep diving ones. Within those three styles, you have fat and thin bodied baits.
Okay…so as far as the body shape goes, the fatter the body, the wider the plug will wobble (and the slower you can crank it), making it the right style for cold or off-colored water. Whereas, the slimmer profile models can be cranked at much higher speeds and won’t give off as much vibration in the water. They are good for warmer temps and cleaner water.
Now that that’s settled, let’s dig into the diving depths of crankbaits…
Shallow Divers: You’ll typically find male bass running the shallows along the banks in the springtime before the spawn and shallow-diving crankbaits are excellent choices when that’s happening. When the bluegill spawn is on in the shallows — that’s another time to turn to them.
They’re also good when shad and other baitfish ball up in the warmer shallows as the water starts to cool off in the fall. Square bill models are great for throwing around rocks and wood as they’ll deflect off debris and give off flash — just like a real baitfish. Tons of good choices out there — try the LIVETARGET Bluegill Squarebill or the Megabass S Crank in shad or craw colors, depending on the forage in your area.
Medium Divers: There’s no exact definition of what medium depth is, but for me I think of the 7- to about 12-foot range. Medium diver plugs tend to imitate a couple different types of forage: Crawfish and baitfish. Skinnier-bodied plugs usually look more like forage fish like shad, while the fatter models usually better imitate crawdads.
As with all plugs, the wider the body, the wider the wiggle and more vibration the lure will produce. Again, as a general rule of thumb, the wider the plug body, the slower you fish it — so the fatter plugs are better craw replicas. Thin bodies can be worked faster and give off more of a “fishy” vibe.
I feel that medium divers are best when you are fishing breaks and transitions — those areas where shallow water drops off into deeper depths. For that reason, pre-spawn is one of the top times to throw these plugs. Bass typically spend the colder months down deep and then start working their way up the breaks as spring comes along.
The Bomber 7A has been a staple in tournament basser’s boxes for a long time. For craw situations, look at the Apple Red finish or try the Foxy Shad when theadfin or gizzard shad are around.
Deep-Divers: These plugs will dive, depending on the make, model, speed of retrieve and line diameter, from 15 to 25 feet. They’re obviously the go-to lure when the fish are hanging out in deep water like before the spawn and in the heat of the summer. On highly pressured lakes, big bass will also slink off into the depths to avoid the commotion up the shallows.
Megabass’s Deep-Six Crankbaits will get you down to 20+ feet without much trouble and are real killers on big bass. The Gizzard Shad and Shadow Craw are too good colors to get you going.
At $20 apiece, though they can be a bit cost prohibitive. For a less expensive option, look at the Bomber BD8 Fat Free Shad in Foxy Lady or Rayburn Gold.
Lipless Cranks: Lipless cranks are really versatile baits that lend themselves to lots of different situations and retrieves. Probably the most popular time to throw them is in the spring and fall when the bass are up in the shallows. They are excellent choices when fished near and above grass — and lots of anglers throw lipless cranks into the grass and aggressively rip them out of the weeds.
Winter bass will also react to lipless baits and usually the technique involves making long casts over deep structure, letting the lure fall to the bottom and then working the bait slowly down in the zone.
When you think lipless cranks, it’s hard not to talk about the original: The Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap These things have been catching bass for decades. Rat-L-Traps are hard to beat but there are plenty of other brands of lipless cranks you may want to consider as well, including the Rapala Rippin Rap Another good one is the Lucky Craft LV 500. In any case, match the color of the bait to the forage the bass are feeding on.
Throwing topwater lures for bass is perhaps the most fun way to catch fish — but it’s not just a novelty. There are times when surface baits are absolutely the way to go.
It’s an absolute blast to cast topwater plugs to bass that are boiling on baitfish on the surface, but surface baits can be good searching lures as well. Of course, warmer conditions are best because the fish need to be active — so post spawn, the dead of summer and fall are the go-to seasons for topwater.
As with all of the lures we’ve been discussing, there are plenty of sub categories in the topwater world but we’re gonna simplify things here and break it down to four: “walk the dog” style, “popping” style, buzz baits and frogs.
Walk the Dog: The side to side (zig-zag) action of a topwater plug like the iconic Heddon Zara Spook has been driving bass nuts for over 70 years. I find that these work best in clear water lakes on days when the surface is relatively calm.
You can fish them fast or slow — or a combination of both with pauses mixed in. There’s no one way that works all the time so you’ll have to mix things up and figure out what the fish want on a given day.
While the ‘Spook has been catching fish since you’re grandpa was a kid, there are lots of other more modern baits out there to check out as well. Check out the Rapala Skitter Walk or the Jenko Flea Bag.
Poppers: Popper style topwater plugs have a more straight-ahead action and, because of their cupped face, produce a splashing action when retrieved. These baits are great when the fish are busting the surface — or for targeting stumps, logs and docks. Poppers also work well when the water has a little riffle to it.
As far as colors go — and this goes for walking baits too — try to match the forage fish that the bass are keyed in on. The River2Sea Bubble Popper works well and the Strike King KVD Splash Popper is another good choice.
Frogs: When the summer weed mats get thick, it’s time to bust out the weedless frogs. With these soft plastic baits, you can go where no other lure dares to go and pull lurkers out from the heavy vegetation.
When it’s hot, bass love to hang under weed mats. Of course, frogs are common in these areas as well and big bass have a real “sweet tooth” for amphibians. Cast a weedless Kermit out onto the salad and hop it across and wait for the explosion! Concentrate on little open patches and lanes in the moss as well.
You can also toss frogs in shallow open water — like stretches between weed banks.
Within the frog category, there are (of course!) a zillion different makes and models. Popping frogs, regular frogs, kicking frogs, pre-rigged frogs, rig your own frogs and on and on.
The elite bass pros have specific baits for every situation but for us mere mortals, just a basic frog or two will keep us covered. As far as rigged frogs go, Booyah’s Pad Crashers are cool. The Snag Proof Bobby’s Perfect Frog has been a staple for years with topwater anglers as well.
Unrigged frogs like Zoom’s Horny Toad are extremely versatile and can be rigged in a variety of ways and also catch plenty of fish. Just be sure to buy the appropriate sized frog hooks to go with them.
Well, it’s finally here! After 2+ years of work, I’m excited to officially announce that my new online course, CATCH MORE STEELHEAD, is available!
I really wish I had something like this when I was starting my steelhead fishing journey. I’ve distilled my decades of steelhead fishing experience into this course.
Catch More Steelhead is packed with everything that beginner to intermediate steelhead anglers need to know to start catching fish on a consistent basis: tons of graphics on rigging, and over 6 hours of how-to lectures and on-the-river instruction… it’s all in here!
When you aren’t getting bit while salmon fishing with roe, it could be that you have bad eggs…but maybe not! There are some things you can try before you toss your bait into the garbage!