2 Favorite Lures for Spring Largemouth Bass

Spring largemouth bass fishing can be feast for famine, but these two lures will stack the odds in your favor.

2 Favorite Lures for Spring Largemouth Bass

Spring is an ideal time to target hungry, shallow-water largemouth bass.

In my home state of Minnesota, the season for largemouth bass fishing is closed during March, April, and a week or two (depending on the year) in early May. It then opens with a two-week catch-and-release only period, followed immediately with the regular season.

I’m thankful for the catch-and-release only period because it didn’t exist until a few years ago. For the vast majority of my fishing career, I couldn’t target largemouth bass until the regular season opened sometime during the third week of May.

The reason for the catch-and-release only period, and waiting until the third week of May for the regular largemouth bass season, is to protect spawning fish. Of course, fisheries biologists in other states don’t share Minnesota’s view on whether a closed largemouth bass season is necessary, but that’s a topic for a future article.

Catching largemouth bass during spring can be feast or famine. Of course, the biggest factor in the fish-catching equation this time of the year is water temperature. Initially bass will move shallow to feed, not spawn, as waters warm. This first push shallow can be the hottest bite of the year — a classic prespawn hammer session where bass are biting anything and everything. Yes, most of these fish are smaller males, but as the water continues to warm, some big females will join the party.

In time, the water temps will reach the low 60s and largemouth will start bedding. Not all bass spawn at exactly the same time, however, so you’ll still find prespawn fish cruising the shallows, too. (Note: You don’t need a fancy fish finder to determine water temp and when bass are moving onto their beds to spawn. When you see lilacs blooming, bass are usually on beds.)

If you’ve spent much time on the water in pursuit of largemouths, you know from experience that the degree of difficulty goes up tremendously when trying to entice strikes from prespawn vs. spawning bass. Do the same baits work for both? Yes and no. Here are my two favorite lures with an explanation of when, why and how.

Northland Reed-Runner: White Shad, left; Whitetreuse, right.
Northland Reed-Runner: White Shad, left; Whitetreuse, right.

Northland Reed-Runner Spinnerbait

Specs: 1/4 or 3/8 ounce; favorite colors: white or white/chartreuse skirt, single nickel Colorado blade

Before Minnesota had a catch-and-release only period for largemouth bass, I’d cast for northern pike along the shoreline with a spinnerbait. (In Minnesota, pike and walleye season opens in early May.) And you guessed it: I caught just as many bass as pike. Now that I can target largemouths specifically in early May, I often start my searching with a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Northland Reed-Runner spinnerbait. I like the single Colorado blade matched with a white skirt; Northland calls this color scheme White Shad. In slightly stained water, I like a white/chartreuse skirt, which Northland calls Whitetreuse. If bass are on the small size, I’ll toss the 1/4-ounce version. If bigger fish have moved in, too, or if wind is a problem, I’ll switch to a 3/8-ounce version.

One feature I like about the Northland Reed-Runner is the closed loop on the wire. I can quickly switch colors by attaching the lure to my line with a small Berkley Cross-Lok Snap, and if a lot of pike are present, which is common in Minnesota, I can add a 6-inch wire leader and it doesn’t seem to reduce the number of bass strikes. I’m not burning or bulging the spinnerbait. I control lure depth by raising or lower my rod tip. I like to retrieve it just fast enough to keep it off the bottom.

A spinnerbait works well during prespawn, but its effectiveness diminishes as bass begin bedding. For me, it’s the lure I first try when entering a back bay to search for active bass. If they don’t want a spinnerbait, then I slow down and try soft plastics such as the one described below.

The author with a Minnesota spring largemouth caught on a main lake shoreline. The prespawn bass smoked a Northland Reed-Runner spinnerbait in color Whitetreuse.
The author with a Minnesota spring largemouth caught on a main lake shoreline. The prespawn bass smoked a Northland Reed-Runner spinnerbait in color Whitetreuse.

Z-Man ZinkerZ Soft Stick Bait

Specs: 5-inch; favorite colors: Junebug, Green Pumpkin, Pearl

Soft plastics are deadly on largemouth bass during the entire fishing season, but they really shine in spring. While just about any soft plastic can catch shallow-water spring bass, I prefer the salt-impregnated Z-Man ZinkerZ soft stick bait because it’s made from ElaZtech. This material is tough beyond description, which is a huge time and money saver when bass are chomping. During early season, I like to Texas-rig the ZinkerZ, with the hook pushed fully through the plastic and lying flat on the side of the bait. The cover is sparse in the shallows during early spring, so getting hung on weeds isn’t an issue with this rigging style. I prefer a 2/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Hybrid Worm Hook for Texas-rigging a ZinkerZ.

Z-Man ZinkerZ: Junebug, top; Green Pumpkin, middle; Pearl, bottom.
Z-Man ZinkerZ: Junebug, top; Green Pumpkin, middle; Pearl, bottom.

When the wind is 5 mph or less, or I’m able to get out of the wind, I’ll fish the ZinkerZ weightless. It sinks slowly, which is perfect for water of 3 feet and less. If wind is an issue, or I want to penetrate depths of 4 to 6 feet, I’ll pinch on a removeable split-shot on the line so it touches the worm. Bass often hit the stick worm the moment it lands near the bank, and if not, I’ll slowly crawl it back to the boat in a start/stop fashion. Sometimes if fish are active, I’ll retrieve it with a faster twitch/twitch/twitch/pause motion like you would Slug-Go or Zoom Fluke. Experiment to find what works best. When sky and water conditions allow me to see the lure easily, I’ll go with Green Pumpkin or Junebug. When it’s overcast or the water is stained, I’ll switch to Pearl. Ideally, I want to see the lure during the entire retrieve.  

Of course, to give the bass something a bit different in terms of presentation, I can rig the ZinkerZ wacky-style, too. When wacky rigging, I prefer a size 1 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap Hook, used with a Wacky Saddle from Frenzy Baits. Deadly!

The great thing about spring largemouth fishing is typically if you can find fish, you can get them to bite. Prespawn bass will be more aggressive than spawning fish, so I don’t mess with trying to catch bedded fish. Once the far back bays are filled with spawners, then I move out to main lake spots to again target prespawn largemouths that in another week or so will spawn along main lake shorelines. I also just don’t feel good about catching bedded largemouths. If it’s legal to do in your area, then go for it if you wish, but I’d rather leave the bass alone during this time.

One more comment regarding fish conservation: Any online search for “top spring bass lures” will reveal numerous articles and videos mentioning crankbaits and jerkbaits. Do these lures work? Absolutely. But just as I’m not interested in catching bedded bass, I don’t like putting six hooks (two trebles) or nine hooks (three trebles) into a soon-to-spawn largemouth. The chance of a 14-inch male bass getting one of its eyes destroyed by a treble from a 4- or 5-inch jerkbait is too high in my opinion to risk tossing one of these lures.

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