Northern and Midwest Bass Fishing Techniques




20160825_200525I’m a pretty successful and experienced fisherman, so I get asked a lot on how I fish for northern or Midwest bass. Fishing for largemouth bass in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan is tons of fun. I enjoy teaching and sharing my techniques, so here is what I do.

New Water
When approaching an unknown body of water, I try to do as much online research as possible and collect as much data before heading out to the lake. Sometimes you find helpful tips, but most of the time you don’t. So mostly, you have to have an approach and technique that works for unknown territory. Most of the online tips are usually useless anyways, because the fishermen are fishing for catfish or really have no idea how to fish.

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I first walk around and survey the area. Look for clues on the water surface, along the shore, and even in the air (birds swooping down feeding on fish or cranes in the water feeding on fish).  Bass like structure, deep structure. Baitfish like hiding from bass in shallow water in and around structure. In Ohio, most baitfish hide in weeds or rip rap (broken rock and concrete) along the shore and in the shallow. Bass will come to these areas to feed. Bass will hang out just close enough to the shore to be able to inhale unsuspecting baitfish as they cruise by. Bass only go to deep water to escape from the hot shallow water in the mid summer.

Weather & Water Conditions
Water temperature will play a huge role in whether bass are feeding. Bass will feed the most when water temperatures are 65-75. When water temperatures are above 80 (2nd week of July through the 1st week of August) bass fishing will slow way down in Ohio and southeast Michigan. Remember that shallower water will be hotter than deeper water. Surface temperature will always be hotter than deeper water. Water further away from shore will always be cooler than the shallower water along shorelines.

If it’s windy or cloudy, bass will feed more. Choppy water decreases light penetration and gives bass an advantage over baitfish, since bass have better low light vision. When it’s sunny and the water is calm, baitfish can see just as well as bass can, and they can escape better. When it’s cloudy or the water is choppy, less light penetrates the surface, and bass can see better than the baitfish.

Fishing Techniques
After surveying the area, I pick a spot where I plan to fish. I first try slow techniques near shore. Slow fished soft plastics anywhere from a few feet out to maybe 10 feet away. I like to use wacky rigged Senkos for this. Then I’ll try top waters a little further away. I use floating cranks, frogs, bugs, and just about anything that’ll stay afloat. A floating crank is most versatile, because you can pop it, jerk it, walk it, then use it later as a swimming and diving bait. And when it’s sitting on the water surface, it isn’t all that different from a frog. I usually start with smaller sized floating cranks like Rapala’s original floating minnow, 1.5 size square bills, and smaller frogs.

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Next I’ll switch to faster moving baits like spinners. I try standard spinners and in-line spinners. Cast out far and reel them back above vegetation. You don’t want them to sink and get stuck in vegetation. Cast in all different directions. These can usually draw a strike in cooler waters and you’ll actually even see fish chasing these. Lipless cranksbaits (and lipped crankbaits) and swim jigs can also be used for this as well.

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Then I’ll try hard baits like cranks and jerk baits. These are by far my favorite baits. A lot of times I may just skip everything and start with crank baits. I start with a smaller one, like the 1.5 KVD silent square bill crank bait from Strike King. I use the Bluegill color and Sexy Shad color most, they seem to work really well. Another color that works really well is anything with chartreuse. You can switch to brighter or darker colors depending on water clarity and weather conditions. There is a yellow and black one that works very well and a green colored one as well. I switch sizes from the 1.5 to the 2.5 to see which one they are going after. I’ve landed some of my biggest fish on these.

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The jerk baits I like are the suspending Strike King KVDs and the Rapala slow sinking ones. Both have incredible action and catch a ton of fish. The Rapalas are nice because they also sink slowly and you can just throw them in the water and wait. They sink in a way that generates bites too, which is nice. If you keep your line slack and jerk, both the KVDs and the Rapalas have incredible jerking action and do not move any closer to you. They stay in place and jerk side to side wildly. They are also very castable due to their weight.

I don’t use Jigs as often as I should. They are very versatile. I like starting out with NuTech Lures chattering jig. Without a doubt, NuTech makes the best weedless jigs. I don’t usually dress them with any trailers. The chattering one gets tons of bites. I use the yellow/chartreuse colored one with a gold colored blade. It works very well. I’ve also tried the black and blue ones. If I can’t get a bite, I’ll dress them with some type of trailer. But I haven’t had that happen very often. I also have a white and blue one that mimics a lot of baitfish nicely. Jigs are versatile because they can be fished on the bottom, just under the surface, jigged up and down, around structure, or anywhere in between.

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Swimbaits
I also like to use a lot of swimbaits. Soft fish with paddle tails or grubs with twister tails. You can dropshot these, put them on jigs, or just swim them undressed and not attached to anything. Most northern and Midwest bass feed on bluegill, so anything that even remotely looks like a bluegill, will get bit. There are plenty of smaller, and larger bluegill swimbaits to try.

Large Worms
Nothing beats a 10-12 inch worm. Just throw it out there and leave it alone. Let it settle on the bottom. Twitch it every once in a while. Just forget about it and fish a different technique with a different rod. Eventually, your worm rod will explode with action. You will have hooked a huge bass. Make sure you are using a larger wide gap hook (like 4/0-6/0), so that the bass will hook itself. Big bass like large worms because they don’t have to chase them around and expend a lot of energy to get a big meal. They are especially lazy like this in colder water.

Tube Baits
Tube baits, like dressed jigs, are very versatile. Largemouth bass love them, they aren’t just for smallmouth bass. The fall rate matters. Use a lead jig with lower weights to make it almost weightless and heavier if you want to get to the bottom more quickly. They can be swam, bounced around cover, jigged up and down. Bass will usually hit it on the pauses. Use it like a jig or swimbait. Very versatile. One trick is to fill the tube with some fish attractant gel or flavor to attract more fish. Bass have great noses and can smell wounded baitfish from a mile away.

Big Baits
Using huge pike/muskie swim baits like Huddlestons, large spinners, large jigs with huge, plump trailers, large, long worms, large cranks will work to catch huge bass. Even up here in the north. These are usually used in large southern reservoirs or northern lakes to catch pike and muskies, but you’ll be surprised that they catch plenty of large bass too. You just have to be more patient and realize that you will not get a bite on every cast. In fact, you may not get a bite at all. A lot of times just letting it sit on the bottom and very occasional twitching will be your best technique. Another big bass technique is to throw a rattling lipless crank and just let it sit on the bottom. Twitch it every 2-3 minutes. See what happens. Same with large worms. Just throw it out there and forget about it (or retrieve very slowly). Swimbaits you’ll have to retrieve, just do it slowly. Spinners and large cranks will have to be retrieved, they will get you a reaction strike. But you may have to do it all day and just get one or two bites. Slow retrieving a large worm on the bottom Texas rigged or Carolina rigged works very well too and can cover a lot of ground.

Plastics Colors
This is pretty simple. If the water is crystal clear and you can see down past 15 feet, use clears, smokes, whites, and translucents. If the water is moderately clear, you can see between 3-15 feet, use browns and greens (more natural colors). If the water is murky and you can see 0-3 feet, use dark blue, blacks, dark purples. It’s that simple. Most lakes fall into the 3-10 or 3-15 feet of visibility, hence most plastic baits are usually green or brown. Chartreuse is the only exception to these rules. Fish can see yellow/green very well and chartreuse works in most conditions, especially murky water. You’ll see a lot of black grubs with chartreuse tails for murky water.

Fancier Techniques
There are a few other techniques I’ll try to get a bite of none of the above are working. Sometimes I’ll try a Carolina rig with a weight and a floating jig head dressed with a curly tail worm or other swimbait. That helps float the worm off the bottom and make it easier to strike. This especially works in fast current like a flowing river. Great for spawning river walleye and river bass.

I’ve also used an Alabama Rig. This has gotten me lots of strikes and is a lot of fun. Rigging up a bunch of swimbaits to look like a school of fish is pretty exciting. I usually throw this on my 60 pound braid rod because it’s very heavy. It definitely works when other more conventional baits haven’t worked. Sometimes you’ll catch two at once.

Sometimes I’ll Texas rig worms and cast them out far and just slowly retrieve them on the bottom. I generally like to power fish, but sometimes a slow presentation works.

Sometimes I’ll try monster sized baits and see if they get any bites. Stuff that pike will bite. Huge eels, huge swim baits, huge in line spinners, huge 8XD and 10XD crank baits. Anything big. Just to see if that’ll work. Large bass will hit these.

Sometimes I’ll switch to even smaller sizes if I’m not getting a bite. Things that bluegill or crappie will bite on. Mainly to see what the bass like. If I’m using a 2.5 crank bait, I’ll downsize to 1.5 and even throw out things that are even smaller. Smaller jigs, smaller tubes, smaller swimbaits, just downsize everything.

Occasionally I’ll try very small top water poppers or even floating flys. I bet I’d get a lot more bites if I started with these. I have a fly fishing rod and an entire fly fishing selection, but I don’t use it that often. Bass and bluegill love hitting small things floating on top of the water. They’ll even jump out of the water to hit it before it lands. Very exciting to watch. You should have at least one small frog type lure.

Those are my usual northern and midwest bass catching techniques. Hopefully, you will find them useful. Feel free to share your techniques. You can use these on almost any body of water. Small farm ponds have tons of bass and will usually strike at anything since there is little to no fishing pressure. During the hottest days of summer though, you will struggle. Fishing for largemouth bass in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan is tons of fun! Enjoy it!