Pro-Bait Court

By Pete Robbins

Pro anglers give their tips on using three hot lures: Alabama Rig, Jerkbaits and Square-Billed Crankbaits.

Alabama Rug

Photo of Skeet Reese

Skeet Reese

Six B.A.S.S. wins, including 2009 title, 1 Angler of the Year

We've really only gone through the fall and winter seasons with this thing, so we don't know what the full potential is yet. I think it is going to be lethal on lakes during the shad spawn.

It's very effective on suspended fish, just letting it pendulum swing through the water column. You can also cast it 45 degrees across a point and slow-roll it deep like you would a spinnerbait.

When fish are suspended, look at your graph to see what depth the fish are in, then count down as the Alabama rig drops, so you can keep it in the strike zone. The longer you can cast it, the longer you'll be able to keep it in the strike zone.

You want to make sure you've got a heavy rod — 7-foot-6 or 7-foot-10 - either a flipping stick or a swimbait rod. I use 65-pound-test braided line. Any kind of swimbaits or grubs with a swimming tail action will work on the Alabama rig.

You need to use a heavy-wire hook, almost a flipping style hook. Light-wire hooks will bend, especially when you've got two fish fighting against each other.

Photo of Russ Lane

Russ Lane

One victory in 90 B.A.S.S. tournaments, 4 Classics

The two situations where I've really had success with the Alabama rig are in current and when targeting suspended fish. It's perfect for mimicking a school of baitfish.

You need to spend a lot of time idling, looking at your graph, looking for balls of baitfish with arches under them. When you find that, stop and start throwing. It’s an awesome technique.

Quarter-ounce swimbait jigs are a good all-around size for an Alabama rig. I use 60-pound-test braided line, an 8-foot flipping stick and a 6.4-to-1 reel. You want to make long casts, then count down to get the right depth. Most of the time I just use a slow, steady retrieve. Sometimes I'l stop it and raise it up or buzz it just under the surface.

In current, you need to adjust the jig heads to the strength of the current. If it's strong, I'll go up to a three-quarter-ounce size. Throw it in the same places you'd cast a crankbait. Throw it upstream and let the current take the Alabama rig where the fish are. You don't want to allow too much slack in the line.

Photo of Paul Elias

Paul Elias

Six B.A.S.S. wins including 1982 Classic

I use a sturdy 7- to 8-foot rod, nothing less than 65-pound-test braid and three different weights of jig heads — 1/8th, quarter-ounce and 3/8ths. Most of the time, 3/8ths is the best all-around. Mix it up according to the depth you need. Four- and five-inch swimbaits seem to work the best, anything in a shad color.

It's definitely better in current areas, like around bridge pilings, points and riprap, and on suspended fish. Find out what depth the fish are holding at. But you can also throw it under docks and on shallow points.

You can use 6/0 and 7/0 weighted hooks with the screw-in keepers and Texas-rig the swimbaits to work an Alabama rig along the bottom or through trees. You'll miss a few strikes, but you won't get hung up.


Photo of Brent Chapman

Brent Chapman

Two wins in 189 B.A.S.S. events, 11 Classics

Most of the time I use 8- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon line. Rarely will I ever go over 12-pound-test. I think 8-pound-test is the best. The smaller the diameter of the line, the deeper you can get that jerkbait.

A jerkbait is primarily a visual bait; it's not one that gives off a lot of vibration. So you've got to have at least one foot of visibility. From one-foot to clear, it's very effective.

You can get overwhelmed with all the colors. I use blue-and-chrome when it's sunny and black-and-gold on cloudy days. It's better to use two or three colors and learn how to fish the bait to build your confidence. One of my favorite colors is a purple back with chartreuse sides. It's a color that is real popular on Table Rock Lake. The first time I saw it, I thought it was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen, but I've caught some of my biggest fish on that color.

One of the biggest dilemmas with jerkbaits is how long to pause them in cold water. You talk about a mental game. I have to look at the second-hand on my watch. When the water is in the mid 40s, give it 30 seconds to a minute. Sometimes I'll eat a bag of chips between twitches.

Photo of Chris Lane

Chris Lane

Bassmaster Classic champion with 4 B.A.S.S. titles

Let the fish tell you what they are feeding on. Don’t be locked in to chrome. They might be feeding on shad or bluegill or glass minnows.

Line size will determine the action and the depth of the bait. I use 8- to 14-pound-test fluorocarbon. Look at your graph to determine the depth of the fish. You want to keep the bait right in front of their face, maybe a little above them, but no below.

In warmer water, you want to keep the bait moving. If it's real cold, jerk it down and let it sit there for a couple of minutes, until you see your line move.

Photo of Kevin Short

Kevin Short

Five B.A.S.S. wins with 2 Classics

No. 1 — you've got to be able to weight your bait correctly for the water you are fishing. In cold water — 50 degrees or less — I want a bait that suspends. For 50 degrees and up, I want a bait that floats. The warmer it is, the faster you want it to float up.

Add bigger hooks or add round lead wire to the hook shanks to make a bait suspend.

You've got to have the right rod. I use a 6-foot-8 medium power with extra-fast action. You want a short rod because the tip is going to be pointed down at the water, so you want one that you can twitch without slapping the water. You want medium power so you're not putting a lot of pressure on the fish and ripping the hooks out.

An extra-fast rod tip allows you to put a lot of action on the bait. With a suspending jerkbait, you can make it walk under the water. Some baits rock back and forth. You can make them do that — walk side-to-side or rock back-and-forth — while the bait stays in one place. Bass can't stand that.

Use the correct line. Eighty-percent of the time, I'll use fluorocarbon; the other 20 percent I'll use monofilament. If I feel like the line is pulling the bait down, I'll change to monofilament. I'll have reels loaded with both. On the floating jerkbaits, it's mono all the time.

Photo of Mike McClelland

Mike McClelland

Six B.A.S.S. wins with 8 Classics

The most important thing about being successful with a jerkbait in cold water is awareness of what it's doing in the water column. If a jerkbait is meant to suspend, you can't assume that when you take it out of the package. I never want it to rise at all. If it falls a foot every 15 or 20 seconds, that's OK. But I never want it to rise.

After you reel it down, the longer you can let it sit there the better chance you have of getting a bite in cold water.

When the water warms up to 60 degrees, you speed up the cadence. I wait only four or five seconds between twitches.

On sunny, windy days, with more turbulence in the water, the more flash you want in a bait. When it's cloudy, I'll go to the dark-back/gold colors.

If I lived up north, I'd catch them on a jerkbait from ice-out to ice-in. The northern lakes never get that warm, and they've got a lot of grass and aquatic vegetation. Smallmouth can't stand a jerkbait, more so than largemouth, and they'll come a long way to get it.

Square-Billed Crankbait

Photo of Rick Clunn

Rick Clunn

Won record four Classics in his 32 appearances, 1 Angler of the Year

Never miss the bank with a square-bill. Always throw it right on the bank. If you miss the bank in muddy water, you will miss 80 percent of the bites.

Fish it where you would fish a spinnerbait. Don't be afraid to get it through cover. Just use heavy line and pull it through if you get hung up.

Reel it fast. I was fortunate to be paired with Fred Young (inventor of the Big O) in the late '70s. He said, "Son, do you want me to show you how to throw that bait?" He put the reel down by his side and cranked it as fast as he could. That was the most valuable thing he ever showed me about a square-bill.

Photo of Kevin Vandam

Kevin Vandam

Four Classic titles, 20 wins and 7 Angler of the Year titles

Square-bills used to be a summer/fall thing. But I use them in every season.

Retrieve speed can make a big difference. You want one with a good wobble that you can retrieve with an erratic action. Especially when the water is warmer, even in late spring, a fast, erratic retrieve can really trigger the strikes.

I fish it with a lot of stops and starts. And I want to bounce it off the cover around it — rocks, stumps, logs, whatever.

Photo of Chris Lane

Chris Lane

Bassmaster Classic champion with 4 B.A.S.S. titles

Choose your colors based on water clarity. Chartreuse and red are fantastic colors in murky water. In clear water, the more translucent shad colors are best.

The size of the lure and the wobble it has are important factors. The standard is the RC 2.5, since Rick Clunn is the best square-bill fisherman of my time.

Photo of Stephen Browning

Stephen Browning

One B.A.S.S. win in 183 events, 8 Classics

I like a low-speed reel 6.3- or 6.4-to-1. The more erratic you can make the bait, the more strikes you'll get. I like to crank it six or eight times, stop it, twitch the rod. The key to a square-bill is that erratic action.

I never want a rod longer than 7 feet. You're not looking for distance like you are with a deep-diving crankbait. You're throwing at targets, and you want to be extremely accurate.

You want a rod with medium action and medium power. Most of the strikes will be close to you. You need that medium power to absorb the shock of a close strike.

I'll very seldom use less than 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line. You want that square-bill banging around stuff. Sometimes I might go down to 16-pound-test, but 90 percent of the time it's going to be 20. End of story hook

— Published: Spring 2012

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