Best Spring Lure
Crawfish are to bass what peanuts and popcorn are to humans — a snack too tasty to pass up. It’s no wonder that savvy bass anglers for decades have relied on lures that mimic these crustaceans.
Crawfish lures will work anytime, though they’re especially deadly in the spring. When the shallows warm, crawfish emerge from their hidey-holes and become sushi for bass (as well as most other game fish). Knowing why, how and where crawfish-imitating artificials work can help make this spring your best bass-fishing season ever.
CRAWFISH BASICS: Some basic information about the natural history of the crawfish will shed light on this important bass forage and, in turn, help you become more proficient with crawfish-imitating lures. Crawfish are secretive aquatic invertebrates that are abundant in most lakes, rivers and streams. They’re such an important bass forage that many biologists theorize that the gaping mouth of the largemouth was evolved so the bass could feed on crawfish more easily. In nature, crawfish spend much of their time hiding beneath rocks or bottom debris, in vegetation or buried in mud. They’re scavengers, feeding on whatever small living tilings such as worms, insect larvae, even tiny fish. They also feed on decaying organic matter and aquatic vegetation.
Crawfish survive by use of camouflage and concealment, and are most vulnerable when they’re scurrying about hunting a meal. They are so well camouflaged, they virtually disappear unless they’re moving. Their long legs and pincers and the scalloped edges of their tails serve to break up their form, making them very hard for predators to spot when they’re sitting on the bottom.
The curious propulsion method a crawfish uses is familiar to any angler who has tried to grab one in a brook. Crawfish don’t flee by swimming, but in a shoot-and-stop manner. When alarmed, a craw will kick its muscular tail and shoot backwards a short distance before crawling under a rock or settling to the bottom. This reverse movement puts the craw’s pinchers in the most effective position for warding off potential predators. The best crawfish-imitating bass lures aren’t exact imitations of the real thing. But they are convincing suggestions of reality. To fool bass, a crawfish-imitating lure should have roughly the same size, profile, sound and movements of a live craw. And, with the popular Carolina rig kicks up silt like a live craw rooting on the bottom, and gives any floating lure a highly erratic action. Try soft-plastic craws tube jigs on the end of your leader. And don’t overlook shallow-diving crankbaits. A bottom-bumping jig or rattling crankbait imitates the clicking sounds that a live craw makes as it scurries over a rocky bottom, but remember that bass feed mainly by sight. Sound is multidirectional under water. It comes from everywhere. Thus, a bass has a hard time locating its food through sound alone. It’s more important that your lure captures the erratic, bottom-rooting movements of a live craw than to sound like one. Craws go through color phases, seasonally or when they shed their skins. They may display bright orange or green patches on their bodies, even hot red claws. So while brown and olive green are convincing lure colors, so are red, orange, even fire tiger. But for the ultimate change-up when these popular crawfish colors aren’t working, switch to blue. Crawfish often occur in a blue form, similar to that of the blue crab. Blue craws are so visible, however, that they’re easily spotted by predators, which explains why we seldom see them. Many bass anglers rely on a blue jig, but try a blue crankbait, too.
FISHING CRAWFISH LURES: First, lure size is critical when fishing any crawfish imitator. Bass in many waters seem to have a definite preference for live craws in a certain size range. Check under shoreline rocks to see what size craws are most common. Then match the hatch. Bass may show seasonal color preferences in crawfish lures. In spring, when water is murky, June bug (purplish blue with green flake) might be productive. But in summer and fall, more realistic colors like pumpkin and drab green may work better. You can credit this to seasonal changes in water clarity. As a rule, try the brighter colors in low visibility and the more subdued hues in clear water. Crawfish lures are naturals for lakes with dense cover. In the spring, bass will bed in pockets in shallow grassbeds. You can flip a heavy jig with a pork or plastic craw trailer. Or you can take the finesse route and use a small plastic craw rigged on a 1/16-ounce sinker, fished on a medium-action spinning rod. Pitch the craw into the hole, shake the rod tip and watch the bass suck in the bait.
MORE TIPS FOR FISHING CRAWFISH LURES:
• Unless bass are suspended in open water, avoid chrome or metallic-finish crankbaits and use crawfish colors (brown/orange, red, blue, fire tiger). Root these lures on the bottom, or bump them off rocks and stumps for maximum crawfish appeal.
• Tiny tube baits in pumpkin and June bug colors are effective mimics of small crawfish. They are especially deadly when sight-fished in open pockets in grassbeds for spawning bass.
• Many anglers find lure scents most effective in cold water. Try them in early spring on your jigs and other slow-moving crawfish lures.
• Don’t use a stiff rod when fishing any crawfish lure. Bass often inhale live crawfish. Using a rod that’s too stiff may cause you to overreact and pull the lure away from the bass. Unless you’re flipping dense cover, use a medium-action rod.
• Balance the triggering and attracting qualities of your crawfish lures. Drab colors are more natural and therefore more convincing to wary bass. Bright colors can trigger strikes, however, especially in muddy water. Start with a lure that’s two-thirds natural colored and one-third bright colored (for example, a brown crankbait with an orange belly or a black jig with a chartreuse pork frog). If you’re not getting strikes, perhaps it’s because the bass can’t see the lure. Shift the balance to the triggering side with brighter colors.
Having trouble with bass pecking or short-striking the lure? This may be a signal that they’re reacting negatively to its bright colors once they’ve moved close enough to grab the lure. Switch to the same lure in a more subdued color.
Crawfish lures are potent medicine for big bass. Keep them in contact with the bottom, bump them around cover, fish them patiently. Then hang on! Chances are you’re about to tangle with the lunker of a lifetime.