What I saw instead were several groups of bass sitting just off the shoreline in 1 to 2 feet of water, apparently making beds for the upcoming spawn in the sun-warmed shallows. Among the groups were several surprisingly big females filled with eggs. I say “surprisingly big” because the pond has a bit of a stunted bass population despite typically producing some nice crappie and bluegills. I had a pretty chunky little bass the last time I came out, as well, which I caught through the ice on a HALI Sukkula Jig tipped with a wax worm.
I started out tossing a Z-Man CrosseyeZ Power Finesse bass jig with a Googan Baits Krackin’ Craw as a trailer in the southeast corner of the pond, working the weed edges. I hooked into a nice one that got off mid-fight, which indicated to me it was likely more of a defensive strike than a feeding strike. When bass are in spawning mode, they become more territorial and will often attack anything that comes into their bedding area. Bluegills will try to steal a quick meal during the spawn by invading bass nests, which is why baits and colors that imitate gills during the spawn are great at drawing strikes.
The drawback is the bass often aren’t biting down on lures when they make these defensive strikes as they would when feeding. This is why territorial strikes are less likely to give you a good hookup than predatory strikes. In fact, the reason bass typically feed so heavily just before the spawn is because they don’t eat at all during the spawn, much like a bear fattening up before winter hibernation.
I decided to downsize in the hopes of drawing more of a predatory bite from the bass, and the decision paid off in dividends.
I switched to a TRD CrawZ on a Finesse BulletZjighead, a combination unveiled in the past year or so by Z-Man Fishing Products to help finesse anglers fish a smaller-profile crawdad bait — the perfect scrumptious-looking little snack for a hungry bass.
The BulletZ is a bullet-shaped jighead with a heavy-duty, No. 1 wide-gap hook that has a molded bait keeper. When paired with the super-buoyant, 2.5-inch TRD CrawZ, it offers a compact weedless presentation where the claws of the plastic float almost straight up in the typical defensive stance you see from crayfish when they are threatened by predators. It’s easy to see why the pre-spawn bass found this combination so enticing, as it’s one of the most natural-looking crawdad presentations I’ve seen and is a non-threatening, bite-sized morsel.
Almost immediately after casting near a bass, I could see the fish dart straight at it into the deeper water and instantly felt the weight of the fish on the end of my braided mainline. Braid is much more sensitive thanks to its lack of stretch, so I could actually feel the fish pick the lure up and start to carry it off.
In addition to my finesse rod, I also recently purchased a 7-foot, 6-inch ultra-light Shakespeare Micro Spinning Rod to replace a broken rod. I tried fishing the TRD CrawZ on it with a traditional Ned Rig mushroom jighead on 6-pound Mr. Crappie monofilament line. With that setup, I relied less on feeling the bite and more on visual cues, as the high-visibility line made it easy to detect when a fish had a bait and the extremely fast tip on the rod actually twitched with even the lighter bites.
I used different colors on each rod, but found the results to be about the same. The one downside to fishing the BulletZ hook was that the sticky ElaZtech plastic got caught a few times on the hook tip, which may have caused me to lose a couple fish that bit on it. In areas where there aren’t any rocks or stumps to catch on, I think I might still slightly prefer the exposed hook of the Ned Rig to the weedless presentation.
In all, I caught about seven bass on the TRD CrawZ, mostly by sight fishing. The biggest bass of the day was caught on a Beetle Spin, however. I spotted the big female sitting in a group with three smaller bass. I tossed the Beetle Spin near the group, and while the smaller fish scattered, the bigger one chased it down and hit it. The bass dove into some thick weeds to try to escape and briefly got caught up, but eventually it worked its way out and I got it on shore.
It wasn’t an incredibly long bass, probably about 15 inches or so, but it was loaded with eggs that made it feel extra heavy. It had a fairly big mouth for its size, which is a good sign that it can continue to grow. Just based on the size of its mouth alone, I wondered if it wasn’t the same bass I caught last summer on a live bluegill.
Speaking of bluegills, I was disappointed I couldn’t coax a bite from some nice bulls yet on jigs. That pond has always been a hot spot for bluegills, but the last three or four times I’ve went I haven’t caught any. Next time I’ll be sure to bring some wax worms, a favorite treat for bluegills and other panfish, or some nightcrawlers to try to elicit a strike from the hard-fighting little boogers.
I did, however, hook into my best crappie of the year so far while throwing the jig and bobber, so I was happy about that. It was only about 9.5 inches long, which is fairly average and even a bit small for that pond, but it also had a nice belly full of eggs that made it feel like more of a lunker during the fight. She went back in the pond, as did all of the bass, to produce some future keepers.
Looking forward to some great spring fishing in the weeks ahead.