Choosing the Best Bass Lures: A Beginner’s Guide

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In terms of the sheer number of active participants each year, Americans arguably participate in recreational sport fishing in greater numbers than any other sport.

An article released by the American Sportfishing Association really puts some staggering numbers into perspective, however.

  • Each year, roughly one (1) in seven (7) Americans will fish a body of water using a rod and reel
  • Anglers spend close to fifty (50) billion dollars per year on fishing-related retail sales annually — that’s nearly one billion dollars per state each year
  • Using the data above, that equates to roughly one-hundred fifty (150) dollars per year for all Americans, and a little over one thousand (1,000) dollars per year for everyone who actually fishes

If you fall into that category of angler who is spending at least three figures on fishing every year, there’s a good chance you’ve picked up some bass lures at some point.

If you’re reading this article, though, maybe you are either just getting started with bass fishing or returning after some time away. It’s certainly safe to say bass fishing, and the fishing world in general, has changed considerably even over the past decade.

Either way, one thing is for sure: it Is very easy to spent a lot of money in a very short period of time on bass fishing lures. This can be especially daunting or crippling for beginners who might not have a firm grasp on the differences between crankbaits, spinners, soft plastics, topwaters, and jigs.

Below, we have compiled a basic, beginner’s guide to bass lures with simple explanations of the various types of lures you might find, when to use them, and some additional resources that may be helpful when making your selections.

Looking at the Various Types of Bass Fishing Lures

If you’re just getting started with bass fishing, maybe you’ve spent some time scouring internet forums or social media groups to find some beginner tips for bass fishing. You might have even checked out YouTube for advice on what you should throw and when.

What can happen very quickly, though, is that it becomes overwhelming to figure out what types of bass lures you should use, when you should use them, and even how you should use them. There is also a lot of discussion about what colors to use, what modifications should be made, and what brands produce the best bass fishing products.

Seeing as this is an introductory look at choosing the best bass lures for your particular situation, we are going to keep this relatively simple and offer a general overview rather than any advice that is super in-depth or involves a considerable amount of alteration.

Spinnerbaits

So, let’s start with spinner baits…

If you don’t have much exposure to the myriad of bass fishing lures on the market — or if your experience with fishing in general has been a basic hook, worm, and bobber — then the spinnerbait probably doesn’t make a whole lot sense. You might even be asking yourself a few questions:

It doesn’t look like a fish.

The “body” is just a big hook?

And what’s up with that wire? And the beads? And the stringy things? And those medal discs?

Jig Body

The main “body,” or perhaps more accurately the “skeleton” of a spinnerbait is a jighead. The style of heads can vary, but are almost always made of either a lead or tungsten “head,” which gives the lure its weight. A long hook is connected to the base of the head.

Many anglers will attach a trailer — usually a short, plastic worm — that covers the hook and adds motion to the jig during the retrieval.

Some popular trailer bodies include the following:

Skirt

Almost all spinnerbaits you see on the market will have a “skirt” — a layered, segmented covering usually made of either rubber or silicone strips — that both covers the hook and adds color and consistency to the overall presentation.

Skirts can be found in a variety of different lengths, colors, and compositions. Sometimes, you will find a multi-layer skirt which essentially takes the place of a trailer.

As anglers become more comfortable making modifications to their tackle, some will replace the skirts based on water clarity and temperature, location, season, and bite patterns.

Wire, Beads and Blades

What confuses many novice anglers about the spinnerbait is the long, thin wire that extends from the top of the jighead and connects to a series of small, round metal beads — usually two for retail spinners — and either one or two blades of varying sizes and shapes.

The two most popular variations of blades — the Colorado blade and the willow blade — serve similar but different purposes. As the general purpose of the spinnerbait is to emulate prey fish in a variety of settings, the blade you choose will serve a specific purpose.

  • Colorado Blades: These tend to be rounded and “fatter” blades with a more pronounced “cup” than the willow blade. The Colorado blade is great for cold-water fishing as it displaces a considerable amount of water and is meant to be retrieved slowly. This is also the preferred blade in lower-visibility waters.
  • Willow Blades: These tend to be longer and leaner than the Colorado blade, with a shallower cup. Instead of relying on vibrations and water displacement, the willow blade creates a “flash,” which projects the appearance of a bait fish in warmer/clearer water situations.

Spinnerbait Modification (video)

Related: Premier Angler correspondent Chase Sansom shares some of his modification tips when fishing muddy water, including blade and skirt selection, and how to slow his spinnerbait down by adjusting the number of beads.

Bass Jigs

Strike King KVD Heavy Cover Swim Jigs

In some ways, jigs used for bass fishing are pretty similar to spinnerbaits: they both rely on a jighead, a long and sturdy hook, and a skirt. Many anglers also attach a plastic trailer to better emulate a bait fish.

That is where the similarities — at least visually — come to an end.

Unlike the spinnerbait, bass jigs do not generally make use of a wire, beads, or blades. They also tend to have a “weed guard” — a bristly extension that extends from the jig head.

Because of the design, this style of jig is tremendously popular for fishing in heavy cover across a variety of water conditions. This gives the bass jigs the ability to be fished in areas where a spinnerbait or even a traditional crankbait may struggle.

While the term “bass jig” is a bit of a catch-all, there are numerous popular products that fall under the umbrella, including:

Soft Plastics

Soft Plastic Bass Lures
Assortment of soft plastic bass fishing lures (photo via Aaron Schultz/Premier Angler)

When it comes to soft plastic bass lures, the most common choice for most anglers is the plastic worm.

With that said, “plastic worm” covers a lot of ground — they come in an extensive array of shapes, sizes, patterns, colors, presentations, and flourishes.

When you add in additional soft plastic lures such as frogs, spiders, minnows, and “creature baits” (which are essentially meant to mimic insects, small crustaceans, or other living meals that are a regular staple of a bass’ diet), the category becomes pretty broad and expansive.

At its core, a soft plastic bass lure is usually set up with a specific style, or “rig.” Some popular rig variations include the Texas Rig, Carolina Rig, Ned Rig, Wacky Rig, Tokyo Rig, Drop Shot Rig, Damiki Rig, and Shaky Head Rig. The soft plastic, whether it is a worm, creature, minnow, etc., is connected to either an appropriate hook for a particular rig, or to a particular jig head.

Some rigs also make use of terminal tackle such as sinkers, swivels, and beads.

When, where, and why do we use soft plastic bass lures?

As we said above, these worms, spiders, crayfish, insects, and frogs are all meant to trick bass into thinking they will be getting a familiar meal. Most top-quality products have authentic swim motion and, in some cases, could almost pass for the real thing — even when out of the water. Soft plastics can also be used as trailers for spinnerbaits, jigs, and other setups.

Another reason soft plastics are popular among bass anglers is that they are relatively inexpensive. Most plastic worms come in packs of six, eight, or ten. You can also get frogs and other creatures in similar counts. Conversely, for higher-end, stand-alone products (which could just as easily fall into some of the other categories as well), you could be paying as much (or more) than you do for traditional hard-plastic lures.

Since there is essentially an endless array of colors, styles, and possible rigging combinations available, soft plastics really can be used on almost any freshwater lake in the country. While the soft plastics often require a bit more finesse and elaborate setup than their hard plastic counterpart, there is a reason so many anglers use them: because they work.

Perhaps the biggest criticism of soft plastics is that, because of their composition, they tend to wear easily and may need replaced even after one catch.

Some Popular Soft Plastic Worms for Bass Fishing

Other Popular Soft Plastic Bass Lures

Topwater Bass Lures

Topwater Bass Lures
An assortment of bass fishing lures, including several topwater bass lures (photo via Aaron Schultz/Premier Angler)

Now this might be a point of personal preference, but topwater bass lures are some of the most fun to fish with.

With a little experience, they are also some of the easiest.

As the name suggests, a topwater bass lure is designed so to be fished at the — you guessed it — top of the water. This not only allows the angler to see his lure in action, but also comes with the added benefit of sometimes being able to see a bass crack the lure.

As many delicious live baits (and sometimes injured fish) are located on or near the water’s surface, the goal of these lures is to attract bass through a combination of reflections, water displacement, rattling, and splashing noises.

Novice anglers should keep in mind that a bass doesn’t always strike a lure because it is hungry. Often, a ball with lunge at a disruptive, intrusive lure to either protect his spawn, or because he is annoyed. This leads some anglers to believe that a topwater lure might not get deep enough into a bass’ territory to be effective, but evidence shows that this is not at all the case.

When to Use a Topwater Bass Lure

Conventional wisdom on the “perfect” time of day or season differs, largely stemming from experiences with topwaters being different between anglers.

That said, the majority of anglers agree that topwater lures are not going to be your most effective choice during the coldest months or the year. Bass will retreat to warmer water during this time of year, and tend to be less aggressive feeders, so they are less likely to be enticed be a tasty topwater meal.

Early mornings and dusk, with clear visibility, however, seem to be the prime times to throw a topwater bass lure. Topwaters can also be effective in Spring, Summer, and Fall. Hitting the water when it is overcast, and especially if there is a slight breeze, could also produce some desirable results.

Some the Most Popular Topwater Bass Lures

  • Whopper Plopper 75: This is one of the most popular topwaters on the market, and some anglers absolutely swear by them. Unlike traditional, cove-faced “poppers,” the Whopper Plopper makes a steady “plopping,” or bubbling sound during the retrieval.
  • Whopper Plopper 90: A slightly longer, thinner variation of the 75 (3 inches for the 75, compared to 3 1/2 inches for the 90), it has a similar swimming and “plopping” function.
  • Rebel Pop-R: There are dozens (if not more) topwater bass lures that essentially resemble the presentation and functionality of the Rebel Pop-R. Some of these similar lures — like the Rapala Ultra Light Pop and the Bass Pro Shops XPS Professional Series Topwater Hard Baits Popper — are popular choices, but there are some cheaper “knock-offs” that are not well reviewed. Sticking with a trusted and established name for your poppers is typically a safe bet.
  • Tyrant Tackle Spinjack Topwater Hard Baits: A topwater lure that seems to be garnering more popularity recently is the Spinjack Topwater from Tyrant Tackle. The lure combines a rotating “front” body with a bucktail in the back that pulsates.
  • Strike King KVD Sexy Dawg Jr. Topwater Hard Bait: Of all the lures on this list, The KVD Sexy Dawg Jr. has the most “conventional” design, but remains consistent with the other topwaters by creating rattling and splashing that will bring bass to the surface.
  • Storm Arashi Cover Pop (1/2 Ounce): Arashi’s half ounce popper is essentially a larger-profile, heavier version of the poppers mentioned above. The size difference is not guaranteed to produce larger bass, but it may dissuade smaller bass if you are targeting heavier catches.

Crankbaits

crankbait-bass-lure

When it comes to crankbaits, these are probably the most “traditional” style bass lure, especially on this list. When people historically think of bass fishing — especially if they began fishing in the 1980s, 90s, or before — then this type of lure has been the standard for quite some time.

Conversely, crankbaits might be the most difficult to accurately and adequately describe in a short-form article because there are so many options available. This variety allows anglers to cover particular any condition and water depth, but often creates a lack of uniformity and, when getting into more advanced techniques, can cause some confusion for anglers who are just starting out.

To keep things relatively simple, we will be looking at the three most commons constructions of crankbaits: round bill, square bill, and lipless.

Round Bill Crankbaits: For anglers looking to fish at a variety of depths, the round bill crankbait might be the best option. That said, just because a crankbait has a round bill, it does not necessarily mean the bait will be a deep diver. When choosing a round bill, the packaging should suggest the depths to which the lure will dive.

Generally, round bill crankbaits will have a fuller-bodied, thick-breasted profile. Also, depending on the design, these baits could be expected to dive anywhere between around eight (8) and thirty (30) feet. There are some round bills that are intended to float, however.

The bill, which can vary in sizes, will often protrude straight out from the mouth, or at between a fifteen (15) and forty-five (45) degree downward angle.

Some popular Round Bill Crankbaits include: Berkley Digger Crankbait, Bomber Model A Crankbait, Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Eye Hard Baits Deep Crank, Livingston Lures Howeller Dream Master Classic, STORM Original Wiggle Wart, and the Berkley Flicker Shad.

Square Bill Crankbaits: Like the round bill, the square bill crankbait also has a plastic bill that protrudes from the face. Usually, this bill drops at a considerable downward angle. As the name suggests, as you have probably figured out by now, the bill is also square.

These crankbaits are not meant to dive to the same depth as some of the larger round bills. You will normally fish a square bill in between four and six feet of water. They are known to be especially good at deflecting cover (wood, metal, other “structures”) and their buoyancy allows them to rise back to the surface if encountering a potential snag that might steal another type of lure.

Some popular Square Bill Crankbaits include: Strike King KVD Square Bill Silent Crankbait, Luck-E-Strike Rick Clunn RC2 Square Bill Crankbait, LIVETARGET Pumpkinseed Square Bill Crankbait, ima Square Bill Crankbait, and the Rebel Bluegill Squarebill.

Lipless Crankbaits: If the round bill crankbaits have round bills and the square bill crankbaits have square bills, well…

When it comes to lipless crankbaits, these are probably the most commonly seen lures on the market. There are variations in profile, but these popular bass lures will usually have a leaner, aerodynamic body and, at times, a pronounced breast.

They are also thought to be the most versatile of the crankbaits. The lipless variation can be retrieved quickly or left to drop to shallower water on a slower retrieval.

Some popular Lipless Crankbaits include: Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap Mini, Cotton Cordell Super Spot Lipless Crankbait, Strike King Red Eye Shad Crankbait, Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe Mini, Berkley Warpig Crankbait, Rapala Freshwater Rattlin’ Rapala, and the Storm Arashi Vibe Lipless Crankbait.

Other Types of Bass Lures

While we have discussed five of the most popular types of bass fishing lures — crankbaits, topwater lures, soft plastics, jigs, and spinnerbaits — it is worth noting that there are plenty of other types of bass fishing lures that you will encounter as an angler.

Some of those include swimbaits, jerkbaits, spoons, and even a variety of (often creative) novelty baits.

At the end of the day, pretty much any bass lure on the market can catch fish — that’s why they are on the market to begin with. As you hit the water more often, you will begin to find a personal preference for different seasons, temperatures, coverage, depth, and water conditions.

Do you have a favorite bass fishing lure? Any tips or resources that might be helpful for those just starting out? Let us know in the comments below.

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