Dial in lure retrieval for bass by Babe Winkelman
Dial in lure retrieval for bass
By Babe Winkelman
I’m sure everyone reading this has had this happen: you’re in a boat fishing with someone else and the other guys is killing the bass while you can’t buy a bite. So you switch to the exact same lure as the hot shot. You fish the same weight line, cast to the same exact spots, but can’t seem to get bit. What gives?
More often than not, the answer lies in the retrieve. The angler catching all the fish just happens to be imparting the exact pace, hop, hesitation, or whatever to the lure and is giving the fish what they want to see. And because the “magic” retrieve can be so subtle in its uniqueness, it’s sometimes very difficult for others to duplicate.
Leading professional bass anglers prove this week in and week out. At many tournaments, every fisherman in the field knows exactly what the “bite” is on the water they’re fishing. Every competitor out there might be throwing virtually the same exact thing. But guys like Kevin Van Dam will come to the weigh-in with a nice bag while the rest of the field scratch their collective heads and wonder ‘how in the heck did he do that?’ The world’s best fishermen know how to dial in the perfect retrieve and bait presentation. They just know how to feed fish.
Like anything worth working for, perfecting effective retrieves means you have to practice and experiment. Here’s a great example. While filming a pike show in Ontario, I came into a shallow bay that was literally loaded with huge pike. They looked like sunken logs strewn all about. I figured I was in hog heaven and started throwing a five-of-diamonds spoon… a go-to bait for pike. On a steady retrieve, they wouldn’t budge for it. So I began to pause and flutter the spoon. That got them to make a few half-hearted charges, but no bites. Clearly slower was better, and nothing beats a jig for a slow-motion retrieve. So I switched to a big Banjo Minnow and swam it back slowly in a gentle up-and-down way. Still no takers. It wasn’t until I let the bait fall to the bottom and just sit there that I got the pike excited. They’d rush in, poise above the motionless bait, and wait. Then, after a good 20 seconds of doing nothing to the lure, I would give it the slightest twitch and WHAM! They would hammer it! I read the fish and dialed in the right lure and retrieve they wanted. And that’s what it takes to master the perfect retrieve.
There are so many lures in the world and so many ways to bring them back to the boat. Covering the gamut would fill an entire bible-sized book and then some. So instead, I’ll cover the four most-used bass baits and their fundamental retrieves. From the surface to the bottom of the water column, they are topwater plugs, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs/soft plastics. I’ll present the most effective retrieves that I’ve experienced for each lure, and encourage you to try variations of those when you find that fish simply aren’t responding.
For topwater baits, I start out with a long cast to fishy structure. With an exposed-hook popper or dog-walking plug, it’s just a regular cast. With weedless topwaters in heavy cover, I’ll often “skip” the bait in so that when it lands at its final destination it comes to rest quietly instead of “plopping” down. This can decrease the likelihood of spooking bass in shallow cover.
After the bait lands, I let it sit for several seconds (typically the amount of time it takes the ripples to subside) before I begin the retrieve. Sometimes bass see the initial landing and come close to investigate… waiting. Then, when that initial twitch happens, they pounce. As I begin fishing the plug, I’ll start with a slow tempo first and if I don’t get any strikes after several casts, then I’ll up the tempo. When the first fish hits, I make the preliminary assumption that that’s the speed they’re looking for.
The same applies to spinnerbait and crankbait retrieves. I start by slow-rolling the baits and if the bites don’t come, I keep speeding up until I’m really ripping the lure in. High-speed retrieves are most effective with single-blade spinnerbaits (versus tandem blade) and tight-wobble lipless crankbaits (versus wide-wobble lipped baits). Again, experimentation is the key when determining what the ideal speed is for a particular day, the weather conditions or the time of year.
Finally, with jigs and soft plastics, the art of retrieval gets even more tricky. That’s because these baits can be fished vertically, dragged on long lines, snap-jigged, swum in at any depth, hopped off the bottom, flipped into cover pockets… the list goes on and on. But when push comes to shove, jigs and soft plastics are the bass-catchingest baits on the planet. So all I can do is inspire you to get out there and try every conceivable jig/soft plastic retrieve imaginable. Make it a personal challenge to experiment and develop jigging and finesse skills that you’ve never tried before. While you do it, pay close attention to feel and watch your fishing line for that telltale “hop” that can happen when a bass bites. I promise you, it will help you catch more fish and hone angling skills that will make you the guy in the boat who’s getting bit instead of wishing you were.
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