Five baits for early spring bass

By on March 30, 2015
A largemouth caught pitching a Nemesis upskirt jig around laydown logs (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

Early spring means cold water and hungry pre-spawn bass. It’s one of my most anticipated times of the year to fish and also the time of year I bring the least amount of tackle along. While I will mix in a few other things as well, keeping it simple with these five baits usually pays off.


Jigs are a consistent bait to catch bass anytime of the year, and cold water is no exception. What really makes it shine is its versatility: The jig is just as comfortable pitched to lily pad stems in a shallow bay as it is slowly dragged off a break in 20 feet. I’m often trying to imitate a bluegill or a crawfish, and the jig matches the profile perfectly. Typically I favor jigs with a slow fall in cold water, and a 3/8 ounce Nemesis Baits Upskirt jig gets the nod most of the time. I usually opt for a “chunk” style trailer that gives off little action.

As far as color goes, I keep it natural. Greens, browns, or possibly black/blue if the water is dirty. My personal favorite is green with a few strands of orange, paired with a green pumpkin trailer. I like to dye the tips of the trailer chartreuse. It gives me a little extra confidence since it matches the look of the small bluegills the bass are often feeding on.


Think SSP — small simple plastic. I have my favorites but you can use your imagination on this one. Something with simple gliding and darting action and no flappy appendages. I pair these with a 3/16 ounce jighead and scoot them fairly quickly along the bottom. I’ve like a 3/16 head for this presentation. It gets to the bottom fairly quickly but is light enough to not get bogged down in the grass. I’ll stick with natural colors on these and also dip the tails in chartreuse to give me a little extra edge. This is best fished on spinning tackle with 6-8 lb fluorocarbon line. I prefer a 7’6″ medium action Dobyns rod to maximize my casting distance with a light bait and also move more line when I go to set the hook.

Blade bait

This simple piece of metal can really catch them at times. One of its greatest strengths is it can be fished fairly fast. While there are other baits that do a great job of this up in the water column, few are designed to target fish relating to the bottom. A simple lift up until you feel the blade vibrate and drop back to the bottom is all it takes to get started. Most bites come on the fall and will be a small tick, or they’ll just be there when you go to lift back up. A 3/8 ounce blade in either gold or silver — gold when cloudy and silver when sunny — is a good starting point. I recommend removing the hooks and adding split rings and quality treble hooks.

From left to right: Poor Boys Erie Darter, Nemesis Baits Bullet Craw (shown rigged on 3/16 ounce jighead), Wave Worms Tiki Craw. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

From left to right: Poor Boys Erie Darter, Nemesis Baits Bullet Craw (shown rigged on 3/16 ounce jighead), Wave Worms Tiki Craw. (Credit: Jeff Elliott)


A suspending jerkbait is one of my favorite ways to target spring smallmouth bass. It’s really effective on largemouths too, but the way smallies crush it on the pause is addicting. I really count on wind to get the jerkbait bite going. Since most fish bite on the pause they usually have a good chance to look the bait over before they bite. But wind breaks up the surface and doesn’t allow them to get such good look. It also seems to position them more predictably and school them up, and anytime you have fish competing for a lure it is a good thing. You’ll notice when bringing a jerkbait fish to the boat there will often be other fish swimming with them, hoping they drop the bait. I’ve actually doubled in this situation by dropping a bait in the water with another rod.

There is no right or wrong cadence to fish these baits, so play around with the number of jerks between pauses and the length of the pause. If you can determine what the bass are feeding on, it’s best to match the hatch with color. One suggestion for dark, cloudy, days: Try a jerkbait with a matte finish. Otherwise, keep an eye on the bait at all times during a retrieve. If you don’t have the right color or right cadence, fish for are notorious for following and not striking. Sometimes it takes a few color switches, so I’ll remove the split rings from my jerkbaits and attach a snap instead so I can make rapid changes.

Lipless Crankbait

As fish move shallow, ripping a lipless crankbait through weed beds is hard to beat. This is a quick way to cover a lot of water. I’m bombing casts out there as far as possible and trying to crash the bait into the weeds. I use braided line to cut through the grass and rip the bait free. That’s often when I’ll get a bite, and since I’m using no-stretch line, a rod with a slow action is important to keep from ripping the bait out of the fish’s mouth. For color, I usually start with red and branch out from there. Since sound is a big part of a lipless crankbait, not all are created equal. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting that worn-in sound. Other times you might have to try several new baits to see which has the sound they like.

These baits are a great starting point for a successful first fishing trip of the year. Check back into the magazine shortly for some clues of where find fish in early spring.

Top image: A largemouth caught pitching a Nemesis upskirt jig around laydown logs (Credit: Jeff Elliott)

About Jeff Elliott

Jeff Elliott is a 2014 Bassmaster Team championship qualifier. He has 75 tournament wins, including the 2012 Detroit Lions/Kevin VanDam Charity tournament. He is a seven-time points champion and a Bust'in Sticks TV show champion.


  1. JT Hensley

    March 7, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    Howdy yall, I do really good here in Tennessee in March and April on a black, yellow, red, and purple crank bait or jig and trailer.

    • Ethan

      April 25, 2018 at 1:45 pm

      Howdy , I do very well with wacky warms and crank baits here in MI

  2. Ben

    March 15, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Its helpful

  3. David Krause

    April 3, 2018 at 11:42 am

    I’ve found that a shakey head with a zoom finesse worm (texas rigged) works well if you just bring it up two times then let it sit

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