Springtime is always my favorite time of year to go after bass but it’s often overlooked by anglers because they think the water’s too cold. They couldn’t be more wrong. The problem is most anglers don’t know what lures to use and how to use them to their fullest. Luckily I was able to talk with 6-time Bass Angler of the Year, Kevin VanDam, and he shared his favorite springtime baits for pre-spawn bass.
Strike King Menace Grub
One of the simplest lures is Strike King’s Menace Grub. “It’s a great early season lure.” Kevin likes to use a medium-action fast-tip spinning rod spooled with 8-pound fluorocarbon line. In Kevin’s home state of Michigan most of the lakes are clear so the fish are wary. “Casting a long way is important, so I’m not using a short rod. I like a long rod, seven feet or longer.”
The beauty of a grub is its versatility. It can be Texas-rigged, Carolina-rigged, rigged on a jighead, and many other variations. “I’m going to put a grub on a jighead that matches my water depth. If I’m fishing shallow I’ll use a 1/8 or 3/16-ounce jig. If I’m going a little deeper I’ll use a ¼-ounce jig. If I’m fishing in 25 to 30 feet of water I’m going to use a 3/8-ounce jig. You need to use a jig heavy enough to get good bottom contact.”
The tail of the Strike King Menace Grub provides a great deal of swimming action. “I like to snap the rod to give the grub a hopping action that triggers the fish into biting, but you can drag it and do different things until you get a response from them.”
For early season bass few hardbaits get strikes like a lipless crankbait. Kevin prefers Strike King’s Red Eye Shad for many reasons. “It’s a tremendous early-season lure. Like a typical lipless crankbait it has a lot of B-Bs so it makes a lot of noise, but the really unique thing is the flat sides it has that gives them a real tight vibration. There’s something about cold water and lipless crankbaits that have a real tight wobble that bass just can’t resist.”
Most anglers just cast and straight retrieve the lipless crankbait back to the boat, especially when fishing over grass. If the lure gets snagged on some vegetation, a quick sweep of the rod can clear the grass and often trigger a strike. While this can be effective, Kevin has his own system. “I like to rig the Red Eye Shad on a pretty big rod. I use a 7’ 10” KVD Tour Series composite rod by Quantum that’s a combination of fiberglass and graphite so I get the best of both worlds. I get the sensitivity of graphite and it allows me to feel everything that bait is doing, even on a long cast. The fiberglass gives me a nice soft, slow action which allows a crankbait better deflection of rocks, stumps, and timber. I really do get the best of both worlds.”
Another great thing about a long rod is the depth control it provides. “A lipless crankbait sinks, so if I’m fishing shallow I can cast the bait out there and keep the rod tip up to keep the bait high in the water column. If I’m fishing over a deep flat I can lower the rod tip and drive the bait to run deeper.”
Kevin feels using fluorocarbon is a must for crankbaits. “Fluorocarbon line sinks so it allows your baits to run a little deeper. It has minimal stretch so it provides great sensitivity and hook sets, even with a soft rod. Plus it’s very durable and abrasion resistant.” Just changing the line size can cause a bait to run deeper or shallower by a few feet. Lighter line has less water resistance so the bait goes deeper while heavy line causes the bait to run higher.
Some situations demand a different presentation to get the crankbait deeper. On deep rocky banks it’s not possible to reach the bottom by normal casting and reeling. Kevin recommends allowing the bait to sink, to quickly hit the bottom on a slack line. For many lipless crankbaits this creates an un-natural presentation because the crankbait flops over on its side as it falls. Not so with the Strike King Red Eye Shad. “It stays perfectly balanced as it falls and even has a slight wiggle and shimmy swim action. Many times, that’s when the bass will bite it.”
“Many anglers will just cast and rip a lipless crankbait back to the boat, but every time I let that bait fall I have a chance of triggering a bite.” By sweeping the rod tip to the side, the bait will rise and then fall on slack line. “By yo-yoing the bait back to the boat it gives the bait that wounded fish-action that really triggers a strike on a fall.”
Bouncing the bait off structure, then letting it fall often triggers neutral bass into striking. “They don’t even have to be actively feeding. The sound of the BBs, the tight action, and the vibrations matched with a natural color that they’re used to feeding on and they can’t help themselves to bite it!”
click here to check out the KVD Red Eye Shad
Strike King KVD Slashbait
Like any great countdown I’ve saved the best for last. The number one go-to bait for springtime bass is a jerkbait. “I love a jerkbait, but you need to have clear water. For a jerkbait to be effective the fish have to be able to see it. While it has rattles for sound, it’s the side-to-side darting action that really imitates a dying baitfish. The more erratic you can make it the better it’s going to draw strikes, but they have to be able to see it.”
If clarity is a couple of feet or greater, that’s prime jerkbait water. “Jerkbaits are one of the best lures I have to find fish. Bass will come farther to hit a jerkbait than any other lure in my tackle box. Their instincts demand that they come after this bait so it’s a great lure to cover a lot of water.” Kevin prefers a jerkbait of his own design, called the KVD Slashbait by Strike King.
“The most important thing about a jerkbait is the way you retrieve it.” Most anglers cast the jerkbait out and jerk it back to the boat while constantly reeling. That causes the bait to come back to the boat in a straight-line retrieve. While that may get a strike under ideal conditions it isn’t using the lure properly. “I don’t ever want my bait to go the same place twice, so you have to work a jerkbait with some slack in the line to maximize its action.” To properly work a jerkbait an angler needs to start the retrieve with slack in the line, then pop the bait one to three times, and finish by pointing the rod tip back at the lure. The slack will allow the bait to dart around erratically like a dying baitfish. Only reel in slack line as the bait is paused, but leave enough slack to perform the next pop. The key is to use the rod tip to move the lure, never the reel.
Angler should always wear polarized glasses to help seeing into the water. This also allows them to see how bass are reacting to bait. If the fish seem interested but won’t bite, a simple color change is often all that is needed to get a strike.
To get the most action Kevin uses a long, medium-heavy action rod with a fast tip matched with a Quantum EXO high-speed 7.3:1 ratio reel. “Since I’m using the rod tip to move the lure all I have to do is turn the handle on that fast reel a little bit to pick up the slack line.”
“These baits are effective even right after ice out. If the water’s really cold you may need to jerk it a little slower and pause it a little longer, but you always start and end with slack in the line. Since it’s a suspending bait the bass think it’s a dying shad or baitfish and will come up and eat it.”
While Kevin uses these baits heavily in the spring don’t abandon them as summer comes on. “It’s a lure a use all season long, especially for smallmouth bass.”
Now you know Kevin Vandam’s favorite springtime baits, so get out there and fish!