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The Right Retrieve | Suggested Retreives for Bass Baits

One of the biggest fishing frustrations occurs when that one person is catching fish cast after cast and you’re still waiting for that first hit. You peek over and tied to your nemesis’ rod is the bass catchingest bait ever and so you quickly affix the identical lure to your line. While your “former” friend continues to catch so many that it ought to be illegal you’re still getting “skunked”. How can this be possible? Same rod and reel, same line, same bait set up and yet you’re getting beat like a borrowed mule. Simple. It’s retrieve speed.

I contend that retrieve speed is the most misunderstood aspect of fishing. There are certain days when it doesn’t seem to matter (these days are rare), other days when it’s the key to the catch. You can apply science to the equation, bass for example can swim in bursts of 12-15 miles per hour. It’s highly unlikely that you can take a bait away from a fish that really wants it. But, based off a few variables it might be to your advantage to consider the rate of your retrieve.

a bass with a bait in its mouth
Ever thrown out a bait and become distracted, or pick out a backlash and let the lure sit and as soon as you pick up the slack in your line you feel a fish? The scenario probably plays out this way, your bait enters the water, the area is a territory familiar to the fish, it spots the “intruder” and watches it descend to the bottom, it follows the bait down and watches it to determine if it’s edible and as it sits it shows no clue as to being harmful, the fish swims over to check it out and sucks it in. I’ve experienced this dozens of times.

In order to fool a fish with an artificial bait you have to make it look alive, look injured or make it appear like it’s trying to get away. When you get it right …you get the bite. This is exactly why live bait is so effective, it moves like a real food source, the color is natural and normal, the smell is correct, and the taste is right. The trick is to make an artificial bait mimic the movements of the natural food sources. A frightened baitfish darts around in small burst of speed. An injured or dying shad flops and falls toward the bottom. A snake slithers across the surface and a frog hops between lily pads. All of the actions can be duplicated by the angler.

critter baits

As a rule of thumb the years have taught me in the toughest of fishing conditions smaller lures and low retrieves will generally get you a hit or two. The smaller lure gives off less visual clues as to being bogus aka fake and the slower escape makes the bait look easier to catch. If your swinging for the fences looking for a trophy size fish, you may have to upsize your bait and spend a great deal of time experimenting with speeds. Keep in mind BIG fish don’t get (or stay) big by chasing forage long distances. They are the most efficient predators and the longer a bait stays in the strike zone the more likely they are to eat it.

Basic Bait Retrieves: These are suggested retrieves to try with basic bass baits.

  • Jigs and Soft Plastics – when the bait enters the water maintain contact and begin an arc back by merely raising the rod tip, keeping contact with the lure give it a few small twitches or hops. Crawfish are notorious for two or three small backwards burst this is why using a craw as a jig trailer makes sense, it is moving backwards on the return trip. Pause, repeat and be ready. Slow down and when you think you have it right…slow down more.
  • Crankbaits – A confusing bait, you can cast it out and just crank it back a catch a few fish. But when fish are schooled up offshore you can load up on them with the right presentation. In a school of fish, they are competitive, and they can be fired up to hit repeatedly. A start and stop retrieve is one option, most cranks rise at rest, fish follow and with the next movement often hit, intentionally running the bait into cover and getting a deflection bite works well for fish hugging cover, “burning” lipless crankbaits over aquatic vegetation is highly effective.
  • Buzzbaits – a BIG bass, go for broke type lure I run my buzzers at two speeds, fast and faster. Big aggressive fish will try to destroy this bait as it zooms through their home area. I never use a pause and I always throw past the spot that I think holds the fish. The fast retrieve gives them less time to look at the noisy surface intruder and I never pause this bait it’s a straight consistent retrieve. In my experience this is rarely a numbers deal but can produce genuine giants.
  • Conventional Surface Lures – True topwaters made of wood, plastic or soft plastic stay on the waters surface. Visually this is the most fun type of fishing. Old timers advocated tossing the bait out and waiting for all the ripples to disappear, then give the bait a twitch and wait. I’m personally not patient enough to use this presentation. Establishing a cadence and a retrieve speed can be tricky. Weather influences change the bait visibility of the fish. Clear water and bright skies call for faster retrieves and dirty water and dark skies, slow methodical returns. In windy conditions I go with bigger baits and brighter colors.
  • Spinnerbaits – This gets confusing because much like cranking lures spinners cab be tossed out and brought back and fool fish. Possibilities include a stop-and-go retrieve to make a lure look injured or in an effort to escape, there’s a stop and drop which makes the blade helicopter down and appear to be dying, you can again run the spinner into cover or pull it through moss and get the deflection type bite. This is why spinners are favored by fishermen in most geographic locations. It’s hard to fish one wrong but there’s always a best way for that day.

spinner baits

Various lures for bass and other fresh and saltwater species require a little experimentation. Things like surface water temperature, moon phase and other variables also come into play but the right retrieve speed will absolutely add fish to you trip.