In the bass world, Florida is universally known as soft plastic central. Almost every style or technique to catch bass involves some sort of soft plastic bait. But that’s not true all the time. Sometimes leaving the soft plastics in the box is a good idea.
We were pre-fishing a tournament, and the lake we were on was deep and clear. It had some grass islands and edges near deep water, as well as areas that had lily pads scattered all over. For a while, my go-to bait has been the swimbait. I absolutely love throwing them into thick pads in deeper water. During practice, this was a great way to catch quality bass. Flipping the grass edges was also working.
Both of these methods are best when the sun is out, the wind is down, and bass are relating to cover. But when we went back to fish for the tournament, the conditions had changed. We very seldom ever saw the sun and the wind was blowing a bit more than it was during pre-fishing. Because of the weather, there was nothing to draw those bass to thicker cover. We had to make a change on the fly.
The first thing we did was move to the deepest grass edges and islands we could find and proceeded to throw Carolina rigs near the grass. We caught our first bass on the third cast. We managed to pick up two more keepers as we explored the deeper edge of the grass. The setup was nothing special: A Zoom 7.5-inch junebug worm behind a 3/4-ounce brass bullet weight, with a couple of glass beads between the weight and the leader to the hook. We were retrieving very slowly when we got our bites.
As we moved along, I noticed some better bass feeding on shad along the deepest edges of the grass. I put the Carolina rig down and picked up a small white Rapala X-Rap. This bait was the closest I could find to mimic the size and color of the bait that the bass were feeding on. My fifth cast coming back through the same water that we just fished with the Carolina rig produced a bass of nearly four pounds.
Fishing this bait in clear water was pretty cool. Because of the wind, I was making shorter casts. This allowed me to see my bait as I retrieved it. When that bass hit the bait, all I saw was a flash and the bait was gone. It ended up wedged crossways in the bass’s mouth. That indicated how aggressively they were feeding.
I worked this bait for the remainder of the day and managed to boat four or five more bass. Not all of them were keeper size but a couple were, which allowed us to cull out some of the smaller fish we had caught on the Carolina rig. If you have never tried a hard jerkbait, you owe it to yourself to fish this bait. I find that the two smaller sizes of the X-Rap and the Husky Jerk work best in Florida waters. Both baits are made by Rapala.
Why do they call it a jerkbait? Because the best way to retrieve this bait is with jerks of your rodtip. Snap the rod a few times to get it down to the depth you want it. Rapala makes three sizes in each of these baits. Small ones run shallower; big ones get deeper. Once your bait gets to the desired depth, you can simply twitch the bait with your rodtip as you slowly crank in line. The lure will dart side to side under the water. Never allow the reel to retrieve the bait, only the rod twitches should move that bait. The reel is there to pick up slack line and haul your bass home once it bites.
Remember to vary up the twitches. Short twitches give the bait movement but will allow it to stay in place longer. Longer, harder twitches will cause the bait to move more. If the bass are aggressive, make the bait move quicker. If the bite is slow and they need time to process what they are seeing, keep your twitches short and slow. If you go too slow, the lure will float back up to the top.
I have not used a Carolina rig or a hard jerkbait for some time. On a day when we needed to make a change, we went to the right baits. We ended up finishing third in the tournament and catching the second biggest bass of the day.
Soft plastics are excellent baits, but don’t stay stuck in a rut when they’re not producing. If you find yourself struggling to catch bass, try these two techniques. Sometimes a change of pace is all that’s needed to get the bite going again.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.