By Dr. Mike Bednarski, DWR Fisheries Chief
Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to catch a lot of bass, and sometimes, I’m lucky enough to catch a big bass. As I combed through my notes, a few baits really showed up as “big fish” baits. Here’s what I learned.
The first bait that shows up is a jig and pig—the classic big bass bait. I have caught more six-pound fish on a jig and pig than anything else I have thrown. My best largemouth ever came on a black jig and pig, and the biggest fish I ever caught in my tournament days came on a brown jig and pig. Where and when do you throw this bait? Almost any time and almost any place.
I really like a jig and pig around rocks, docks, or brush. I throw a 3/8 ounce on a 7′ medium heavy or heavy baitcasting setup with 15 lb line when I’m casting the jig at rip rap or rock piles. I let the bait get to the bottom and hop it back to the boat. I throw a ½ ounce on a 7′ heavy baitcasting setup with 17 lb line when I’m pitching a jig—short casts—and I like the extra weight because I can get the bait to go further under a dock. Let the bait drop to the bottom, shake it, pick it up, and throw it back out there. I prefer copolymer line and select types known for strength and abrasion resistance. The best tip for this bait is to always have one ready to throw and pick it up throughout the day.
The next bait that I like to throw for a big bass is a topwater crawler. This is a relatively new addition to my arsenal. They look ridiculous, but they make a tremendous amount of noise. I’ve caught more big bass in recent memory on this bait than a jig, including my best bass out of the Chickahominy River and from Pocahontas State Park. This is a great bait for spring through fall as long as the water is above 60 degrees.
I use 50 lb braided line on a 7′ MH baitcasting setup and throw this lure near targets, hydrilla beds, pad fields, and along water willow lines. Cast it out, let it hit the water, count to five, and reel it back slowly. No bait that I have ever fished gets the violent strikes that I get on a crawler. Mornings, evenings, and night are the best time to throw this, but don’t underestimate the strikes you can get on a hot, flat calm day in mid-summer.
The third bait in my records is one I discovered about two years ago—a rat. These are big baits that run shallow and throw a big wake. I like to use 20 lb copolymer line on an 8′ heavy action graphite composite baitcasting rod. I throw the heavy copolymer because of the shock strength—rats are not cheap and with braid, you can snap the bait off on a cast. I throw this lure in the same places I’d throw the crawler and fish it the same way—let it hit the water, count to five, and wind it slowly.
I like this bait in the summer when the water is over 70 degrees and the fish have an appetite. My biggest Virginia bass came on one of these baits, and I lost another that was even bigger. If you haven’t thrown a rat, it’s worth the investment.
One thing I want to highlight is that these three baits don’t limit you to big fish like some very big baits will—I’ve caught plenty of 15-inch fish on these lures. They are great options for those that want to catch a larger fish but don’t want to commit to a giant lure. You will get enough action to stay engaged as you wait for that big bite!
If you run into me on the water this summer, I promise you’ll find all three of these on the deck of my boat. Good luck fishing and send us photos of all the big bass that you catch!
Dr. Mike Bednarski is the Chief of Fisheries of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and spends all of his spare time at Lake Chesdin trying to catch largemouth bass.