One of the questions I get asked all the time — by clients on the water or when I’m doing a seminar — is this one:
What’s the best lure for Florida bass?
Well, after a lifetime of bass fishing and years of fishing and guiding in the Sunshine State, I finally have the answer.
I’m smiling as I write this, but I’m not trying to be funny. If you’re an experienced bass angler, you know that lure selection is all about conditions, all about timing and all about confidence. Most days it’s more art than science, and some days it can be as much luck as anything else. Anyone who tells you anything different is trying to sell you something.
We’re all looking for answers — the simpler, the better — and as a fishing guide, I’m in the answer business just as much as the fish-catching business. My guided trips are usually more about teaching my clients how to catch bass than they are about making sure my clients catch plenty of bass, though we usually manage to do both.
You know what they say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish ….”
Since I want to answer your questions (even the ones that are nearly impossible to answer), I’m going to tackle this one, too. I just have to start with a few caveats.
First, lures are tools, and you should always choose the right tool for the job. If you’re in heavy lily pads, your favorite crankbait probably isn’t the best choice. Instead, think about a topwater or punch bait.
Second, versatility is the key to consistent success. The more you know about bass and bass fishing, the more you realize that you have to be adept with a variety of lures and presentations to be successful on a regular basis.
Third, conditions should always be your first consideration when choosing a lure. If a cold front has just passed, a buzzbait may not draw many strikes. If the water’s extraordinarily clear, you might want to go with very natural colors. If the cover’s thick, the list of baits you can get through it is going to impact your decision.
Finally, there are few things that impact (or should impact) your lure selection as much as confidence. If you believe in a bait, your chances of catching bass on it are probably better than if you throw the “right” bait without confidence.
With that out of the way, I’m not going to confine myself to just one lure for Florida bass all year long. I’m picking five, and I assure you that all five are in my boat every day of the year. That’s how much confidence I have in them and how strongly I believe they are the right tools for the job.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that each of the five are equal on any given day. They aren’t. There will be days when four of the five will be absolutely useless, and other days when three of them will be fantastic. But I truly believe that at least one of them will be a viable answer all 365 days of the year.
Now, here are my 5 must-have baits for Florida bass:
The “Spook” is over a hundred years old, and its longevity is testament to just how great it is. It’s a terrific choice for topwater fishing when you’re dealing with schooling bass or whenever you have enough open water to keep its treble hooks clear of vegetation. Color probably doesn’t matter all that much since the bass are mostly seeing the bottom of the lure. Once you learn to “walk the dog” with a Spook, you’ll be hooked, too.
There’s something about Florida bass that makes them suckers for prop baits. In other parts of the country, prop baits are good, but here they’re fantastic, and the Devil’s Horse is best of all. There’s even one very successful Florida tournament angler, Charles “Topwater Charlie” Orme, who uses almost nothing else. A real key to success with the Horse is to fish it very slowly. You know the routine — if you think you’re fishing it too slowly, slow down some more.
The Dean Rojas frogs made by SPRO are terrific, but it’s the regular Bronzeye Frog that gets all the attention. I’m here to tell you that I’m an even bigger fan of the Bronzeye Popper. I like to throw it in heavy vegetation — places where you just can’t fish a Zara Spook or Devil’s Horse. The Popper is extremely snag-proof and its concave face lets you give it lots of action without moving it out of the strike zone. It’s deadly.
The Sweet Beaver is my personal favorite, but there are several good creature baits on the market for punching the heavy vegetation that we have down here in Florida. A heavy sinker, stout hook and pool cue of a flipping rod complete the package. The Beaver is so good because it’s streamlined and penetrates the mats easily. Any color is fine, but dark ones are best because they create a better silhouette under the canopy. If someone tells you they like to dye the appendages blue or chartreuse or something else, just laugh to yourself; the bass can’t see those subtleties under there.
These big worms work great weightless, Texas rigged, Carolina rigged or just about any other way you want to throw them. The only thing I don’t do with them is pitch and flip heavy vegetation. The tails have a tendency to wrap about the grass or pad stems and tear off. Dark colors are great. My favorites are black and junebug. And remember that you can’t fish them too slowly, especially after a front.
There you have it. Five baits that will get you through the seasons in the Sunshine State. Of course, I carry a lot more, but those are a few that you’ll never see me without.
Come fishing with me sometime, and I’ll show you how I like to use them.
See you on the water.