From topwaters to crankbaits to tube jigs, here's everything you'll ever need to haul in monster bucketmouths

Stocking a tacklebox for largemouth bass can be a fairly daunting task because there are so many lures and associated techniques to consider. In fact, more baits and presentations have been developed to catch bucketmouths than any other sportfish. But if you were to pick only the best, here are the lures you shouldn't leave home without—along with tips on when, where and how best to fish them.

Plastic worms and lizards

Pyzer's picks

Berkley PowerBaits, Yamamoto, YUM Zellamander and Houdini Worm.

When to fish 'em

More largemouth bass have probably been caught on plastic worms and lizards than any other bait. And today's soft-plastic worms and lizards look, feel, taste and smell so much like the real thing that bass don't become conditioned to them. That makes them ideal when fishing conditions are at their worst, such as the hottest days of summer.

Where and how

When you're fishing in and around weeds, reeds, logs and docks, Texas-rig a worm or lizard on a 1/O to 4/O hook (use smaller hooks for shorter, thinner baits and larger hooks for longer, fatter ones); with the hook point hidden inside, the bait is snag-proof. And together with a screw-in or free-sliding 3/8-ounce to 3/4-ounce bullet weight, a Texas-rigged worm or lizard can be pitched and flipped into tiny openings and pockets. Once it hits bottom, lift it up and down a couple of times and shake it. If you don't get a bite, flip or pitch it into the next opening.

Of course, the original method of casting worms into lily pads, weedbeds and along shoreline shallows still works, too. Here, retrieve your lure in a lift-drag-pull-pause sequence. And don't forget that the strike from even a big bass can often feel like a perch, so reel up slack quickly until you feel the weight of the fish, then cross his eyes.

You can also use plastic worms or lizards when the bass are on the flats. Carolina rigging excels in this situation. Use a bullet, barrel or egg-shaped sinker (depending on the cover and bottom composition), add a small bead and a swivel, then tie on a two- to five-foot leader with a single hook and plastic worm or lizard. (You'll likely catch more bass with worms, but the biggest fish using lizards.) For Carolina rigging, most anglers favour seven- to 7 1/2-foot-long baitcasting outfits spooled with at least 15-pound-test mainlines and leaders. Cast out the lure and with your rod tip pointed up, drag the bait across the bottom. Pause regularly, particularly when you feel the sinker nudge up against some cover.

Finally, you can use a drop-shot rig tipped with a delicate three- or four-inch plastic worm to catch deep, often suspended bass that are heavily pressured. Drop-shotting is the ultimate in depth control, and anglers use six- to eight-pound-test mono with spinning gear to sense strikes. You can also power drop-shot. This involves flipping, pitching or casting much bigger worms or lizards on stouter hooks into the meanest cover using the same baitcasting equipment you'd use for Carolina rigging.

Crankbaits

Pyzer's picks

Bomber A, Cotton Cordell Spot, Berkley Frenzy Rattl'r, Rapala Fat Rap, Cotton Cordell Super Spot, Berkley Frenzy Diver, Rattlin' Rapala, Cotton Cordell Wiggle O, Excalibur Fat Free Shad, Rapala Shad Rap.

When to fish 'em

With an array of crankbaits—including lipless models, big-billed deep divers, wide wobblers and tight shimmiers—you can cover every water depth and speed option. This makes the crank the perfect tool for covering water quickly when you're searching for bucketmouths. The key, however, is to know exactly how deep your lure will run.

Where and how

Crankbaits are contact lures that are meant to be banged into rocks, logs, timber and brush. When a crankbait hits an object (this is called “bumping the stump”), it changes direction, makes noise and appears injured, triggering strikes. One of the best ways to contact bottom is by choosing a crank that runs deeper than the depth you're fishing. For example, if you're fishing in 10 feet of water, select a crankbait that runs at 12 to 15 feet deep. When you feel it bounce off something, pause for a second and let it hover. If you don't get a hit, try again.

Retrieving a lipless crankbait (Spot, Super Spot, Frenzy Rattl'r, Rattlin' Rapala) just under the surface over top of weeds is also a popular technique, particularly in the early-summer post-spawn period. This is what you call “burning a spot.” Lipless cranks wobble wildly and most have noisy rattles, so there's nothing finesse about this approach. While largemouth bass anglers normally fish a 6 1/2- or seven-foot baitcasting or spinning rod, a seven-foot baitcaster with a soft tip and high-speed reel spooled with 17- to 20-pound-test monofilament is best for lipless cranks. This way there's some give when a fish first hits-and don't worry, you won't mistake a bite. If there's a knock against lipless cranks, it's that bass tend to spit the hooks. To remedy this, replace the factory trebles with chemically or hand-sharpened treblehooks one size larger.

Topwaters

Pyzer's picks

Rapala Skitter Prop, Heddon Tiny Torpedo, Storm Chug Bug, Arbogast Hula Popper, Yamamoto Sugoi Splash, Rebel Pop R, Zara Spook, Rapala Skitter Walk, Yamamoto Buzzbait, Stanley Buzzbait.

When to fish 'em

Topwater lures are undeniably the most exciting baits to fish. Nothing gets a largemouth's attention faster than a tantalizing topwater lure. Generally, they're most productive in warm summertime waters, early in the morning, late in the afternoon and under overcast conditions. Prop baits (Skitter Prop, Tiny Torpedo), in particular, are ideal when there's a chop on the water. Walkers (Zara Spook, Skitter Walk), meanwhile, can help attract fish from great distances. Poppers (Pop R, Chug Bug, Sugoi Splash, Hula Popper) are ideal for shallow water, and buzzbaits (Yamamoto, Stanley) are great when the water is murky.

Where and how

Cast a prop bait close to cover, such as a dock, boulder or fallen tree, or along a weedline, and let it rest. Then rip it two or three feet using a series of erratic twitches and pauses, as though it's imitating a dying baitfish struggling on the surface. If a bass misses a prop bait, continue your retrieve with occasional short pauses and the fish will likely inhale it on a second pass.

Walkers, the cigar-shaped legendary big-bass baits, have no built-in action, so you must impart it. Cast one out in deeper, open water areas and let it rest on the surface. Then point your rod tip down at a 45-degree angle and use your wrist to snap slack out of the line. Develop a rhythm, moving the lure in the distinctive side-to-side motion (known as walk-the-dog) for which walkers are famous. Don't overreact to the splash of a bass, though. Wait until you feel the fish before setting the hook.

Target edges, transitions and calm pockets with poppers. When fishing poppers, most anglers fail to capitalize on the initial touch-down phase by retrieving too soon; there's no such thing as letting a topwater sit too long on the surface. And with poppers, the “spit” (the sound made during the retrieve when the cupped mouth pushes the water) is more important than the “bloop” (a noise that usually indicates you've tied your line to the nose without a split-ring and you're pulling the face underwater). In fact, you don't want the bloop. As for the proper retrieve, vary it, using everything from long spits and longer pauses, to fast walk-the-dog retrieves.

With buzzbaits, in murky water the key is to not retrieve them too quickly. Slower is better, as long as the lure is buzzing. And don't set the hook when a fish strikes. Instead, keep your rod tip pointed up and keep reeling when it explodes on your lure. It will essentially hook itself.

Spinnerbaits

Pyzer's picks

Yamamoto, Stanley Platinum, Terminator Titanium Series, Booyah Blade.

When to fish 'em

You could write an entire feature about the versatile spinnerbait. Its unique design makes it snag-proof, so it's excellent around weeds and wood. And spinnerbaits will produce all season long if you adjust your presentation.

Where and how

When the water is warm and the bass are active, you can “bulge” a spinnerbait just under the surface. (This works especially well over weeds.) To bulge a spinnerbait, simply retrieve it so that the water swells up above it. You'll actually see the bass inhale the lure.

When the water is colder and largemouth are lethargic and relating to stumps, rocks and the bottoms of weeds, try “slow rolling” a spinnerbait. Use a heavy lure (3/8 ounce to one ounce, depending on depth) that will sink quickly and stay near the bottom (you can help keep it down by putting on smaller blades). Once it sinks, reel in just fast enough that the lure follows the contour of the bottom, remaining an inch or two above it. Then hold on.

Soft stick worms

Pyzer's picks

Yum Dinger, Yamamoto Cut-Tail, Yamamoto Senko, Gulp Sinking Minnow.

When to fish 'em

Anytime. There doesn't seem to be a time, place or situation when these things won't work.

Where and how

Deadsticking is the technique of choice for most anglers fishing soft stick worms. Cast Texas-rigged soft stick worms without any additional weight around the edges of cover. Stick worms wiggle as they fall, and once they're on the bottom, you wait. Then you wait some more. Carefully watch the spot where your line enters the water. If you see it twitch, a largemouth has inhaled your lure. Tighten your line quickly and set the hook.

An alternative presentation, which is gaining popularity, is to screw a light 1/16- to 1/8-ounce bullet-shaped Florida weight into the nose of a stick worm. Rigged weedless, cast it into cover and retrieve it slowly, just under the surface, so it looks like a weaving snake.

Jerkbaits

Pyzer's picks

Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue, Rapala Husky Jerk, Bomber Long A, Storm Thunderstick, Yum Houdini Shad, Black Mamba, Berkley Power Jerk Shad.

When to fish 'em

Although suspending hard jerkbaits produce throughout the open-water season, they're most effective in the cold-water periods of spring and fall, and when the water is clear. Overcast and windy days are best. Soft jerkbaits can be rigged weedless and are ideal when the bass want a minnowbait, but the cover is too thick to throw one.

Where and how

While jerkbaits excel around structure and cover, they're also great search baits for covering the flats and open water. When the water is cold and the largemouth aren't highly active, cast a suspending jerkbait (Rattlin' Rogue, Husky Jerk, Long A, Thunderstick) as far as possible, then point your rod tip toward the lure and sweep your rod down as though you are using a broom. Let your rod tip drift back toward the lure so there's slack in your line, pause, then repeat until you've retrieved the lure back to the boat. And remember, he who pauses the longest catches the most bass.

When the water is warmer and the bass are more aggressive, make a long cast, then keep your rod tip low. Rip the bait hard two or three times in rapid succession by jerking your rod tip down, then pause to create slack in the line. Experiment with the length of the pauses until you develop a productive rhythm.

Finally, try Texas-rigging a soft-plastic jerkbait (Power Jerk Shad, Black Mamba, Houdini Shad) and fish the thickest cover you can find. When the largemouth are along the shore, throw a soft plastic onto the bank and drag it into the water. Another favourite technique is to pitch a soft jerkbait into  eed pockets or the openings between branches of a submerged tree. Twitch the lure to make it circle, imitating the appearance of a dying baitfish.

Tube jigs and grubs

Pyzer's picks

Mr. Twister, Berkley PowerBaits, Yamamoto, Yum Mega Tube.

When to fish 'em

Tube jigs and grubs are the ultimate largemouth bass finesse lures for the heat of summer and the cold of autumn. They're most effective under tough conditions.

Where and how

When the cover is sparse, insert a jig head inside a tube and fish it with the hook exposed. In thicker cover, use a worm weight, single hook and rig the tube weedless. One of the attractions of a tube is the way it spirals down through the water as it sinks. After casting, keep your bail open and let the lure twirl its magic under controlled slack. Once it hits bottom, you can crawl, hop, pop or swim it back to the boat.

You can also try a technique called “one-tonning,” which involves stuffing a one-ounce (or heavier) jig head inside a standard tube bait, or tipping a similar weight football jig with a single curly tail or twin-tail Hula grub. Retreived down moderate or steep banks, the lure mimics a panicking crayfish and forces a reaction strike. The heavy weight of this set-up lets you cover water quickly.

Jig-and-pig

Pyzer's picks

Terminator Top Secret Jig, Booyah Boo Bug, Stanely Jig, Uncle Josh Pork Rind, Berkley Power Frog Trailer, Yum Chunk.

When to fish 'em

You may catch more largemouth with other lures, but nothing catches big bass better than a jig-and-pig. Indeed, the strategy of many top tournament pros is to catch a limit quickly using a topwater lure, worm or spinnerbait, and then go hunting for a “kicker” with a jig-and-pig. It works in every season, although it's at its best in the fall.

Where and how

Flipping and pitching a jig dressed with a pork or plastic chunk is a slow and meticulous process. Move quietly through a weed, reed or lily pad bed, or park your boat beside a fallen tree, boathouse or submerged log and systematically drop the lure into every opening. The jig-and-pig looks like a crawfish scurrying to the bottom as it falls. You'll want it to fall straight to the bottom and not pendulum back toward the boat. Accomplish this by letting the lure fall under slack line. Because the jig has a weed guard and thick hook, you need to retrieve line quickly and haul back hard when you feel a bite. Don't get into a handshaking contest with a big bass. Set the hook whenever you feel anything out of the ordinary.

Also, because of the cover, flipping and pitching a jig-and-pig demands stout tackle—usually a meaty seven- to 7 1/2-foot-long flipping or pitching stick and a baitcasting reel spooled with 17- to 30-pound-test abrasion-resistant monofilament or braided line.

Accessories

Tackle bag: The best way to organize your gear is in waterproof plastic trays that can be easily stored in a soft-sided bag.

Razor-sharp scissors: These are indispensable if you fish with braided line; clippers are fine for monofilament, but they fray braids.

Precision catching: This is an essential resource if you fish with crankbaits. The guide provides the precise depth curves for more than 100 of the most popular crankbaits, so you'll know exactly how deep your lure is running.

Scent: Dr. Juice, Berkley Power Scent, YUM LPT and Yamamoto bass scents all work. Largemouth bass hold onto scented lures longer if they smell and taste good enough to eat.

Polarized sunglasses: When fishing for largemouth bass, you're always looking for weedlines, sunken cover and even the bass themselves. A good pair of polarized sunglasses is essential.

Telescopic lure retriever: The places largemouth bass love to hide are also places that eat lures. Invest in a good lure retriever. This one from Frabill telescopes to 15 feet, is simple to use and will pay for itself after saving a couple of pricey baits.

Digital scale: This is a great device for quickly measuring the weight of those lunker largemouth.

Jig buster: This is a helpful tool for popping the paint out of jig eyes.

Nail clippers: These are handy for cutting non-braided line.

Hook sharpener: Hooks on largemouth lures take a beating as they scrape against rocks and wood. Keep a small file on hand to sharpen larger hooks and a pencil file for touch-up work.

Landing net: Frabill's Pro-Tech catch-and-release net was specifically designed for netting (and releasing) bass. It features knotless mesh that won't harm your catch, plus a special design that supports the entire fish so that the fins and gill plates don't get snagged. It also folds up for easy storage.