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Tools of the Spawn
Lizards and jigs aren't the only lures that will take toads during the spring. Here's a list of alternative baits to add to your springtime arsenal.

By ANDY CRAWFORD

Sometimes bedding bass will bite anything, but when the bite gets tough Yum can turn things around.
Sometimes bedding bass will bite anything, but when the bite gets tough Yum can turn things around.

Spawning beds scattered the bottom of the backwater pond, buck bass nervously guarding some and big females locked on others.

The water in the Tenn-Tom Waterway had been fairly soupy, but this far from the main channel it was crystal clear — unlike anything I had ever seen in Louisiana.

As Top Brass Tackle’s Artie Cosby eased the boat to the back of the the pond, I grabbed my big bag of plastic lizards and began threading one on my hook.

Cosby, however, had different plans. He told me to put my lizards away, and tossed me another lure.

It was one with which any South Louisiana angler would be familiar — a black/chartreuse H&H Swamp Frog.

I chuckled, thinking Cosby was trying to pull a fast one on me, but the angler quickly explained that he was serious.

“It’s perfect,” he said. “Big fish can grab the tails of those lizards, but these frogs are so short that when the fish grabs it, they’re hooked.”

Of course, the bait wasn’t rigged like Louisiana anglers rig it. No, Cosby wasn’t using Swamp Frogs to pull fish out of grass beds.

Instead, he put a small, brass Weenie Weight (which his company markets) so the lure would sink to the bottom.

“You want just enough weight to get the bait to the bottom,” Cosby explained.

The frog was then quietly dropped into spawning beds until the fish went nuts and grabbed it.

A couple of fish that went over 7 pounds proved the efficacy of the setup.

So did an 8-pound, 4-ounce bass that now adorns my wall.

That trip back in 1997 proved that there was more to spawn-fishing than plastic lizards, so why does everyone think “lizards” when fish lock onto beds?

Tradition dictates that these are the lures to use — and lizards can be effective. Most anglers figure that a lure that has as much mystique as the springtime lizard has to be the best lure to use.

But there are times and situations when other baits are needed, so we compiled this list of lures to include in your springtime arsenal.

Tube Jig

This is a lure that has really turned on during the past few seasons, but it’s most thought of as summertime equipment.

Arkansas’ Scott Rook used these over-sized crappie baits to pull enough bass out of the Bayou Black area to finish second during the BASS Masters Classic in New Orleans last summer.

But veteran professional angler and spawn-fishing fanatic Shaw Grigsby said tube jigs are what he catches most of his big bedding bass.

“That’s just always been my go-to bait,” Grigsby said.

He said the lure is extremely versatile, resembling a shad or a crawfish, depending upon how it’s used. Swimming the plastic bait makes it look like a baitfish, while hopping it along the bottom gives it the look of a crawfish.

The latter approach is what spawn anglers like Grigsby use when the bass are protecting spawning beds.

“It’s one of those baits they don’t like coming around their beds,” Grigsby said.

Strike King Wild Thang
Strike King Wild Thang

The model he uses is a 4 1/2-inch Strike King Denny Brauer Flip-n-Tube, although the newly released Strike King Craw Tube is probably going to find a place in his tackle box. “It a tube with pincers. That’s going to be even better (than traditional tubes),” Grigsby said.

Kentucky pro Mark Menendez said he also likes tubes, such as the 4 1/2-inch Riverside Vibra King Tube.

Menendez said the important thing to remember when fishing this and other plastic baits is that spawn fish don’t care about color — the fish are trying to get rid of a threat.

“Color is not that important to me. That bait simply becomes an intruder to the fish,” Menendez said. “It’s all aggression; it’s all protection of the nest.”

So he simply chooses a color that contrasts with the water so he can see the lure. That way he can see when the bait disappears into the maw of a spawner.

Creature Baits

Grigsby said this genre of plastic lures is what he favors when he’s forced to fish stained or muddy water.

His favored creature bait is the Strike King Wild Thang.

“It’s just a big, bulky thing,” Grigsby said.

Of course, there are other creature baits like ReAction Gator Dogs and Zoom Brush Hogs that will also serve the purpose.

When using these types of lures, Grigsby’s not actually sight fishing because of the reduced visibility of the water column.

“You flip in the places you know they’re going to bed,” Grigsby said. “You want to be around some type of cover. If you have a bush, they’re going to go right to the base of it.”

Drop-shot

This is one of the deadliest spawning-bass rigs Menendez has found.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “You can get a fish to bite with a lure that’s on the bottom, but it may take 30 minutes. You do this (drop shot) and you won’t stay five minutes.”

A drop-shot rig is composed of a hook attached to the main line above the weight, almost like a reverse Carolina rig.

For use on spawning beds, Menendez likes to put the hook 6 to 8 inches above the weight so it dangles tantalizingly just above the bed.

That’s why it’s so effective.

“The bass can’t stand to have anything suspending above them,” Menendez explained.

This professional angler uses a 3 1/2-inch Riverside Vibra King Tube or a 2 1/2-inch Riverside Wooly Hawgtail.

Rogues

This bait can put bedded bass in the boat when dropping a lizard in the nest produces no reaction.

Louisiana Sportsman Editor Todd Masson and I discovered that on a spring trip to Lake Concordia.

Just because the traditional baits aren’t producing bites doesn’t mean the day is a wash. Try switching to other baits that spawners don’t see very often.
Just because the traditional baits aren’t producing bites doesn’t mean the day is a wash. Try switching to other baits that spawners don’t see very often.

While he hopped first a lizard and then a plastic worm all over the beds, the fish simply ignored the lures.

However, twitching a Rogue up to the beds, and then tapping the fish with it, produced bites.

We still had to work fish hard, but we got bites.

Menendez, however, said the best way to work the lures is as surface twitch baits.

“Twitch it, let it sit, twitch it, let it sit, and let it pop to the surface between twitches,” he explained.

This bait is especially suited for this technique because it will twitch seductively while sitting in one spot.

Menendez said the bass go ballistic watching the lure flash around above their heads.

Rogues continue to be useful after the spawn, but he goes back to a “twitch, twitch, jerk” retrieve.

Pop’N Image

This Excalibur bait is “basically a big Pop R,” and works basically for the same reason as does a Rogue.

But Menendez utilizes it to get to spawning fish that are hiding under overhangs.

“It’s a cover bait,” he said.

What Menendez likes to do is use his 6-foot Ugly Stik to make short but extremely accurate casts to send the lure under tree limbs, into brush or under over-hanging banks.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that this bait will walk the dog, just like a Spook,” he said. “That bait will actually work side to side and won’t come back to the boat much.”

In other words, it will flash side to side almost in one spot.

The lure also has a loud, single rattle that adds more noise to the retrieve.

“It makes so much racket over the nest that fish can’t stand it,” Menendez said.

He said fish will often rise behind the lure, flaring fins before sinking again.

“When you move it again, that fish will come back and nail it,” Menendez said.

With this lure, the angler does think color can matter. He likes to use the bullfrog pattern, which is “school-bus yellow with a green back.”

“It looks like a sunfish, which is a natural enemy,” Menendez explained.

Floating Worm

This is a little-used lure for spawning bass, but Menendez said it can be very effective, particularly in grassy situations that make using Rogues or Pop’N Images impossible.

“It has the sexiest motion in the water,” he said of the 7-inch Riverside Jitter Worm.

The key, Menendez has found, is to let the bait sink until it is just out of his sight. He then twitches it back up in the water column and lets it sink again.

When the lure gets over a nest, the fish devour it.

As with tubes or creature baits, Menendez doesn’t believe color really matters to the fish. So he chooses a nice, bright color that allows him to see the trick worm.

Crankbaits

Lipped crankbaits certainly aren’t on the top of most anglers’ list of spring lures, but they can be effective when fished around cypress trees where bass make their beds.

Excalibur Pop’N Image
Excalibur Pop’N Image

Lutcher angler Eric Williamson said Blind River anglers have great success during the spawn by casting into the shallows of the sloughs and canals where fish spawn.

The trick is to put the bait near the bank and retrieve it until it bumps a root.

“Reel it so that it bumps the tree and stop,” Williamson said. “After a quick pause, you start reeling it again.”

The strike usually comes during the pause, and the lure is slowly rising through the water column above the hidden spawning bed.

Williamson said he and others use shallow-running (2- to 4-foot) lures, like those produced by Strike King, Mann’s or Bandit.

The only caveat is that you have to be ready to go through a few baits — banging plastic-lipped crankbaits into trees will result in some broken lures.

YUM

OK, so this isn’t a lure, but Menendez said the attractant scent can make a difference when fish are locked up after a front and refuse to bite regular lures.

He discovered this pretty much by accident while fishing with his then-girlfriend, who was reading a book in the back of the boat.

“I couldn’t get the fish to move,” Menendez said.

Without looking up from her book, she recommended he squirt some YUM on the lure.

“I finally sprayed some on, and the fish came to life. I caught that fish on the second cast,” Menendez said.

The rest of the day was spent testing the theory, with YUM-scented lures far outpacing unscented lures.