If you have been around the fishing scene for even a limited time, you have likely heard the saying, “Big bait, big fish!” The jury is out on the moniker with some. True, a big bass or rockfish rarely pass up a big easy meal. Yet, I can recall several big fish that were enticed and landed on diminutive lures. While that is not the norm, small baits can and do catch big fish.
There are several reasons why an angler would want to use small lures. Matching the size of the prevalent food source would be first. Next, consider the size for the fish you are trying to catch. A smaller class of fish is going to key on smaller forage. When bass feel pressured they often shy away from large lures. This could be pressure from changes in the natural environment or from fishermen themselves. I have been accused for many years of conjuring up the toughest high pressure atmospheric conditions just by stepping aboard a boat. In this month’s box, you will see a large or average size lure to the left in the section and a smaller version to the right.
A spinnerbait (section 1) is a lure for all seasons. Most anglers cast them in sizes from ¼ to ¾-ounce. However, there are times when casting a 1/8-ounce size is appropriate. Late spring and early summer when newly spawned fry are leaving the bedding areas, the tiny spinnerbait is hard to beat. When dock talk is all about that, “½-ounce spinnerbait tearin’ ‘em up,” that’s when you want the smaller bait. When the majority of anglers are casting the same thing, bass will get tuned to it. Cast them the same type of bait, yet a smaller version.
Most topwater gurus love a big buzzbait (section 2). If they could put the prop from their outboard on the back for the lure they would. The big buzzer forces you to crank if at a brisk pace to keep it churning the surface. Sometimes bass will short strike at the lure. By downsizing to a 1/8-ounce bait, you can wind a little slower so the bass that missed the bigger one will get the hook.
Banging crankbaits (section 3) off of rocks and sunken wood catches plenty of bass. Big square bills are preferred for shallow water. But as with spinnerbaits, cranking a tiny version works better when the food source is small. You can also repeatedly scream the tiny bait through a likely area. It’s like that pesky mosquito that buzzes us in the back yard. A bass can’t help but swat at it.
Admittedly, I am a popper (section 4) fanatic when it comes to surface plugs. I love to see that cupped face spit water as I twitch it back to the boat. With poppers, I tend to match the size of baitfish that the predator is feeding on. The small popper will work well in that late spring/early summer timeframe. Last summer I ran into another scenario of the tiny bait. I was fishing a point in Middle River with a tree overhanging it. Bass, sunfish, and carp were rising to the surface. Why? Bugs were falling off of the leaves of the tree. I flung a 2 ¼-inch popper under the limbs and it was immediately taken under by a 3-pound bass.
To liken a bass to a human, a big jig (section 5) is equal to a porterhouse steak dinner. If you have had your fill of said prime cuts, you, or the bass, are not going to immediately want another. However, you may have saved enough room for a cookie or small piece of pie. That would be what the smaller finesse jig represents.
Here’s where the big bait/big fish prophesy does come into play. A large jig will definitely appeal to lunker size bass. However, some tournament anglers take a different approach and start the day looking for numbers of bass versus big ones. Bass of all sizes will strike the smaller jig. Once they’ve filled the live well, they may choose to fish the larger jig to catch bigger bass and cull smaller ones out of the tank. If you find yourself as the guy on the back deck in a tournament, the finesse jig is a great tool to pick up the scraps from the angler at the bow, no matter what they may be fishing.
A small jig is a good choice on high pressure days. It is not as intrusive when bass are stymied by the high barometer. A finesse jig is my go-to lure anytime I am fishing for smallmouth bass. They seem put off by large jigs but will readily eat the small version.
There is no doubt that a stick worm (section 6) is one of the most simplistic lures ever designed. The 5-inch (top) is the most common used. Even though the bait is subtle in its own right, switching to the smaller 4-inch size (middle) may get you a few extra bites when bass feel pressured, either by the elements or angler abundance. The 3-inch size (bottom) is great for small waters. I’ve had great success catching largemouth bass in community ponds, and smallmouth bass in freshwater sections of the Gunpowder and Patapsco Rivers.
Casting smaller lures also means downsizing the rest of your gear. There is no need for a heavy flipping stick like you would use for working the larger jig. Lighter line is also required. I will go as light as 6-pound-test with stick worms and finesse jigs in small waters. There is also no need to set the hook like a home run hitter swings at a hanging curve ball. You may wind up breaking off the fish.
There are plenty of reasons to choose a smaller version of your favorite lure. Give them a try when the standard or large versions fail to produce a bite.