Best Bait For Largemouth Bass

Largemouth bass are America’s favorite game fish by a mile, and it’s no surprise that new anglers are introduced to the sport every day. 

And with the array of options you can find on shelves at Bass Pro or your local tackle shop, bait choice can be overwhelming. It’s hard to know what to throw and how to throw it until you’ve spent considerable time on the water, often under the tutelage of more experienced fishermen.

Today, we’re going to demystify bait choice, offering you the best live and artificial options to get you off to a good start. We’ll focus specifically on “bait,” meaning things you can add to a hook.

We’ve written quite a bit about these alternatives, so if you'd like a closer look, check out these articles:

Best Live Bait for Largemouth Bass

Live bait doesn’t get much attention in the bass angling world, and you can chalk that up to one simple reason: live bait can’t be used in tournaments.

Fishermen looking to improve their skills focus on lures and artificial baits of all kinds, ignoring live bait altogether. But truth be told, live bait is remarkably effective, offering the real thing that lures try to imitate.

Let’s take a closer look at your best options.

Crawfish

Winter sends bass deep, where they find the warmest holes they can. This cold-induced torpor slows their metabolism considerably, and they’ll feed sporadically - and less aggressively. 

But as spring begins in earnest, and the water warms to about 50 degrees, female bass will regain their energy in preparation for the spawn. Driven by instinct, they’ll look to gain weight aggressively, and they’re hunting for nutrient-rich prey items.

That puts crawfish at the top of the list.

crawfish for bass

Crawfish are the best pre-spawn live bait, hands down.

Prior to the spawn, crawfish are the most effective live bait option for largemouth bass, hands down.

And whether you source them yourself with a crawfish trap, or pick up a couple dozen at the bait shop, you’ll find that big females just can’t get enough of them.

Rigging crawfish

There are many ways to rig a crawfish, but I haven't found one I like better than Richard Gene’s ingenious take.

He uses a rubber band to hold a rearward facing hook against the back of a crawfish:

This does several things right.

First, it keeps the crawfish un-injured, allowing it to do its thing pretty much unimpeded on the bottom. And while dead and injured crawfish will catch bass, live, healthy crawfish catch more.

Second, it points the hook toward the tail. That’s critical. Bass don’t want a mouth full of mean pincers, so they take crawfish tail first. You want your hook high on the bait, and you want the bass to take it point first.

You’ll find lots of bass hooks out there, but steer clear of EWG (extra-wide gap) and other designs built for worm fishing. Instead, I recommend an in-line Gamakatsu circle hook in size 2/0.

These hooks are sharp, and they’ll do the work for you. Unlike other hook styles, there’s no need to “set” the hook violently. When you feel a bass take your crawfish, just start reeling, and the hook will slide into place and catch perfectly.

Fishing crawfish

Live crawfish are easy to fish.

They already weigh enough to cast pretty well, and they’ll sink quickly to the bottom where bass are actively searching for them. 

One technique I like is “pop and glide.” With a gentle pop of your rod tip, lift the crawfish up off the bottom, give your reel a crank or two, and let the crawfish settle to the bottom again. That will alert bass to your bait, and draw them in for a strike.

Another technique that works, especially on colder days, is the “crawl.” Just slowly - very slowly - drag that crawfish across the bottom, pausing every few seconds. When the bass are too cold to really nail prey, this slow approach can entice a strike.

Minnows

Post-spawn, and pretty much throughout the year, bass prey on minnows of all kinds. 

There’s no need to “match the hatch,” vary your color and presentation until you get hit, or rethink your lure choice: minnows are what’s for dinner, and bass will naturally be attracted to strike them.

using fathead minnows for bass

Bait shops stock minnows pretty much everywhere I’ve ever been, and you’ll typically be offered two choices: golden shiners and fatheads.

Fatheads are the better choice overall, as they’re more robust. They’ll remain alive longer on your hook, swimming for all their worth, and that’s exactly what you want.

Just look for healthy minnows that are tightly schooled near the bottom of the bait tank. They should be shiny, bright-eyed, and sport full, undamaged tails.

Rigging minnows

While rigging minnows isn’t rocket science, there are better and worse ways to do so.

  • Tail hooking - By running your hook through the tail, about a ¼ inch off the fins, you allow the minnow to kick and swim without doing it serious injury. They’ll be lively and long-lived that way, and it’s one of our favorite options.
    But to make it work, you need to remember to pause, as Ivo Coia explains in the video below.
  • Dorsal hooking - By running your hook through the back, directly below the dorsal fin, you also miss the minnow’s vital organs, allowing it to twitch both head and tail.
  • Lip hooking - With this technique, you run the hook from under the minnow’s chin, through both lips. Obviously, this leaves the tail kicking furiously, but it does kill the minnow more quickly than the alternatives.
  • Snout hooking - Essentially a modified lip hook, in this case, you run the hook down through the front of the head and out through its mouth. Like lip hooking, this lets the minnow move freely, but it doesn’t kill it as quickly.

Hook selection for live minnows follows my advice for crawfish: slip the “bass” hooks and use a 1/0 or 2/0 Gamakatsu circle hook

To rig my minnows, I prefer one of two methods.

My preferred method when I’m fishing high in the water column or in relatively shallow water is to use a slip float like those offered by Thill. These floats are easy to cast, simple to set to your desired depth, and they’ll alert you to the gentle hit your minnow will take from a bass.

To rig a slip float, follow these steps:

  1. Slide the float stop onto your line.
  2. Run your line through the slip float.
  3. Attach your hook with a Palomar knot.
  4. Add just enough split shot to allow you to cast. Space the shot out, and place it no closer than 6 to 8 inches from your hook.

If you follow these steps carefully, you’ll end up with a minnow that you can cast well, and you’ll be able to precisely set the depth at which it swims.

My choice for rigging minnows deep is a slip sinker rig. Common among catfishermen, it’s an awesome choice to fish near the bottom, and it’ll cast well and sink fast.

sliding sinker rig

A modified slip sinker rig is deadly on bass when fishing with live minnows.

For bass, here’s how I assemble this rig:

  1. Slide a ½-ounce egg sinker onto your main line. 
  2. Follow the sinker with a bead.
  3. Attach a heavy-duty barrel swivel with a Uni Knot, wet it, and tighten it down, trimming the tag end.
  4. Cut approximately 18 inches of leader. This is especially important if you’re using braided main line.
  5. Attach the leader to your barrel swivel using a Uni Knot. Wet it, tighten it down, and trim the tag end.
  6. Using a Palomar Knot, attach your hook to the end of your leader. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.

How to fish with minnows

Live minnows are amazingly effective, and whether you suspend them beneath a slip float or run them above a modified slip sinker rig, you’re going to get plenty of attention.

But as Keith 'Catfish' Sutton warns, “Explosive strikes are rare. Instead, you’ll feel gentle tugs as the bass inhales the minnow, then turns it tail first to swallow it.”

Don’t expect a hard strike. And that’s one reason why circle hooks are a great idea for minnows: they don’t require that you feel the strike and react instantly. Instead, keep a tight line and just start reeling when you feel a bass take your minnow for a ride.

Shad

Shad are a primary food source for bass, and you’ll find that lures imitating them are as common as full shopping carts on Black Friday.

The real thing is far more deadly, especially when you’re chasing really big bass. If you just want a live minnow on your hook, there’s no reason to rig a shad. Instead, large shad - in excess of 4 inches - are prime bait for big bass, especially in the fall when they’re looking to fatten up ahead of winter.

big shad

Big shad are going to attract massive bass, so don’t be shy about throwing large bait!

Shad are relatively easy to catch with a cast net. Wait till just after sundown and toss your net into the shallows. Chances are you’ll snag more than you need.

Just be sure to only use shad in the lake where they were caught. 

Check out our guide on the Types of Shad

Rigging shad

I rig shad just as I would minnows. 

For slip float rigs, you’ll need a much more buoyant float than a Thill. My choice is a South Bend Catfish Pole Float, as it will stay above the water with a big shad beneath it.

South Bend Catfish Pole Float

You’ll need a big, buoyant float for slip float rigging large shad.

For fishing deep, I run exactly the same slip sinker rig as I would for minnows.

My hook choice is also identical, and rest assured, you don’t need (or want) a massive hook to catch monster bass.

Fishing Shad

You’re not throwing shad as live bait to tempt a 1-pound bass to strike, though smaller bass will sometimes hit a big bait. Instead, you’re really looking for a bruiser of a fish.

I like to throw shad that are about the length of my hand, say 8 to 10 inches. They’re going to swim like mad, and it can be tough to tell when a largemouth has taken them.

That’s one reason I really like circle hooks for this presentation: the bass are going to hook themselves. And when you see that big float disappear or rocket to the side, you’ll know a fat female has taken your bait and is well and truly hooked!

If you find that a ½-ounce sinker isn’t sufficient for your slip sinker rigs, because the shad can move too easily, simply add more weight. Nailing a frantically swimming shad to 12 to 18 inches of leader is far from the worst approach to attracting a big bass.

Best Artificial Bait for Largemouth Bass

If we turn our attention to artificial bait options, three standouts are common choices for both amateurs and pros: soft-plastic swimbaits, worms, and creature baits.

Let’s take a close look at each.

Soft-plastic swimbaits

Deadly. 

That’s the best way to describe a good paddle-tailed swimbait when rigged and fished properly.

A paddle-tailed, soft-plastic swimbait is nearly ideal for attracting the attention of hungry bass.

First, it has the general shape that they’re looking for, a fishy-profile that screams “food!” That brings bass in from quite a distance, as they use sight as their primary hunting sense.

Second, it has a color that either allows it to stand out in murky or stained water, or a hue that matches natural prey items (like crawfish, minnows, and shad) in clear water.

Third, it has a wriggling tail that creates subtle vibrations that confirm to the bass that it’s dinner.

Those three attributes work together to generate an instinctive predatory response.

My two favorite soft-plastic swimbaits are the Keitech Fat Swing Impact and the 6th Sense Divine Swimbait. These are straight-running soft-plastics that wriggle like your wife when a spider runs down her shirt.

Keitech Fat Swing ImpactAvailable at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

6th Sense Divine Swimbait

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

These are the choices of tournament winners, and with a bit of knowledge about which size and color to pick, and how to rig and fish them, you’ll be amazed at how effective they can be.

Size

As a general rule, the more pressured the bass are, or the more timid the bite, the smaller the swimbait.

That means that cold water torpor, mid-summer heat stress, fishing pressure, or just a slow day where the bite is finicky all call for downsized baits.

For me, that means 2.8” to 3.3” in the Keitech or 3.2” in the 6th Sense.

But on an unpressured lake, pre- or post-spawn, and when the water begins to cool in the fall, I’ll throw 4.8” and 6.8” Fat Swing Impacts and 4.4” Divines.

Color

Water depth and clarity have a lot to do with color choice.

As you can see from the following image, red and orange are the first colors to disappear with depth as those wavelengths of light are the first to be absorbed. The last are the dark blues, purples, and blacks.

If you’re fishing deep, steer toward those darker hues.

use darker hues when fishing deep

Dark colors like black and blue fleck are excellent for deep water.

Bait Color At Depths

But in muddy or stained water, those colors will be all but invisible. Instead, you want to choose bright, neon colors for low-visibility water conditions. You need bass to see your bait, pick it up through the murk, and move in for a closer look.

use white or neon colors for murky or muddy water

White is always a good choice when the water is stained, muddy, or murky.

But bass, being sight predators, reach their largest sizes and heaviest weights in crystal clear water as it allows them to hunt most effectively. When the water is very clear, choose natural colors that mimic the prey items at the top of the menu.

Pre-spawn, that might mean reds and oranges, but mid-summer and fall, you might throw colors common to shad and minnows.

pre spawn color lures for bass

fall color baits for bass

Rigging soft-plastic swimbaits

Since we’re focusing on baits themselves, rather than using soft plastics as trailers, let’s discuss bare hooks and jig heads.

Both are amazingly effective ways to fish soft-plastic swimbaits.

Weightless rigging a soft-plastic swimbait

Pair a good paddle-tail with a 4/0 EWG hook like the Gamakatsu. This hook is designed to allow the swimbait to remain straight and run true, and there’s simply no substitute for an EWG hook for this presentation.

To rig your swimbait properly, follow these steps:

  1. Attach a 4/0 EWG hook to your line with a Palomar knot.
  2. Hold your hook against your swimbait to judge where the point needs to exit its body to get a straight, natural presentation.
  3. Run the point of the hook through the head of the swimbait.
  4. Push the point out of the body of the swimbait.
  5. Rotate the hook 180 degrees and push the point back through the soft plastic so that it just pierces the other side, exposing the point.

You want it to look like this, and it should lay flat and straight:

weightless rigged softbait

Fishing a weightless paddle tail

One effective way to fish a weightless paddle tail is to allow it to slowly fall through the water to the depth where the bass are holding. Then, slowly retrieve it, giving it a pop-pop-pause cadence.

With practice, you’ll have that soft-plastic fluttering slowly downward, executing a few quick pumps, and then gliding forward.

That motion really gets the bass excited.

You can also try a steady retrieve, varying your speed until you find what works. That paddle tail will thump for all its worth, and the body will wriggle like a prey item.

Finally, you can let it settle to the bottom, and with a lift of your rod tip, get it to rise into the water column. Pick up the slack and let it settle again.

Bass will often hit your paddle tail on the fall, so be ready!

Rigging a paddle tail on a jig head

Any number of jig head options work well with a soft-plastic swimbait, but I’d like to focus on the simple round head jig. I like to start with a 1/4-ounce jig, but I’ll move lighter when the bass are pressured or the bite is slow.

Owner’s ¼-ounce round jig heads sport a 3/0 hook, which is about perfect for this presentation.

To rig a soft-plastic swimbait on a round jig head, follow these steps:

  1. Run the point into the head of the soft plastic.
  2. Try to have the point exit so that the swimbait lays flat and straight.

That’s it!

Check out this video at 2:45 to see how it’s done:

How to fish a paddle-tail swimbait on a jig head

One thing round jig heads do really well is allow you to creep a small paddle-tail across the bottom. That may not sound like much, but when the water’s too cold for aggressive hunting or the bass are really feeling the heat, a small, slow-moving paddle tail that’s sticking close to the bottom is money.

This technique is simple: cast your jig near a live weed bed or rip rap and slowly crank your reel, pausing every few turns and waiting a second or two. You want to maintain constant contact with the bottom, and if you accidentally lift your jig, let it fall to the bottom and pick up any slack in your line.

Nathan Quince gives a master class on this technique, and you can see that he’s just hammering bass:

For me, this is one of the best possible techniques to catch bass in the fall when the water’s cooling quickly and the big fish are slowing down.

Soft-plastic worms

Nothing says bass fishing like a worm rigged Texas or Carolina style, and we’ve covered these techniques in depth in previous articles:

Soft plastic worms come in a variety of styles, sizes, and colors, and for our purposes today, we’re going to throw Senkos into the mix as well.

The good news is that pretty much every style of worm catches bass, and there are really few truly bad options out there. That said, there are some proven performers worth a close look.

Let’s review some of these.

The Yamamoto Senko isn’t truly a “worm,” but let’s not be stickers for terminology at the moment. 

Gary Yamamoto 5 inch Senko

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

The 5-inch Senko - the size I recommend for most applications - is just a ribbed soft-bait with undeniably awesome action pretty much no matter how it's rigged up. Not my first choice for Texas or Carolina rigs, I reserve my Senkos for wacky rigging or weightless presentations, which I’ll discuss more below.

Revered by anglers from California to Florida, these are a must have bait for bass.

Strike King’s Finesse Worms are available in a wide range of colors in both 4” and 7” options. I use the shorter length when the bite is slow or the fish are pressured by tournaments, cold, or heat, and run the larger when the bite is on fire.

Strike King’s Super Finesse Worms

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

Thicker and heavier at the front, the tail on the Finesse Work waggles with almost no work on your part, making it an enticing choice for Texas and Carolina rigs, as well as round jig heads.

A final worm you should be familiar with is the Culprit Original. 7 ½ inches of curly tailed madness, these are an excellent choice for aggressive bass, working just as well on a aTexas or Carolina rig as they do on a jig head.

Culprit Original 10" Worm

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

Color selection

Color selection for soft plastic worms follows what we said above for swimbaits.

Use dark colors when you’re fishing deep, bright colors when the water’s murky or stained, and life-like colors when the water is clear.

Rigging soft-plastic worms

Let’s discuss three effective options, though obviously, there are dozens of others.

Weightless Senkos

Weightless Senkos are nothing short of murder when fished properly, and they’re very easy to rig.

To rig a Senko weightlessly, follow these steps: 

  1. Attach a 4/0 EWG hook to your line with a Palomar knot.
  2. Hold your hook against your Senko to judge where the point needs to exit its body to get a straight, natural presentation.
  3. Run the point of the hook through the head of the Senko.
  4. Pull the Senko down to cover the shank of the hook and the eye.
  5. Push the point out of the body of the Senko.
  6. Rotate the hook 180 degrees and push the point back through the soft plastic so that it just pierces the other side, exposing the point.

You want it to look like this, and it should lay flat and straight:

weightless senko worm for bass fishing

Fishing weightless Senkos

When fishing pressure has the bass shy, a weightless Senko is among your best options.

Simply cast it to a likely spot and let it slowly fall to the bottom. That slow flutter is going to ring the dinner bell, and bass are going to take a closer look. When you feel your Senko on the bottom, pop your rod tip a few times, and it’ll send the Senko dancing higher into the water column. Let it fall again, and repeat until you feel a strike.

It won’t take long!

Texas-rigged worms

Nothing punches heavy weed mats or fishes thick grass and cover like a Texas-rigged worm. Among - if the not the - most popular bass fishing techniques, the Texas rig is simple to set up and fish.

To set up a Texas Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide a bullet sinker, tip first, onto your main line.
  2. Using a Palomar Knot, attach an offset shank hook. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  3. Pass the point of an offset hook through the tip of the worm’s head. You want to run the hook about an inch into the worm.
  4. Push the worm up and over the eye of your hook. You want to get the worm to lay straight, using that offset to your advantage.
  5. Rotate the point back toward the worm. Stretch the worm out along the hook.
  6. Measure the bottom of the curve of the hook on the worm’s body. That’s where you want to bury the point in the next step.
  7. Push the point back into the worm’s body, bringing the tip through to the opposite side. 
  8. Push just a bit of your worm onto the hook, creating a weedless rig.
Fishing a Texas rig

Texas rigs are easy to fish, and they cast accurately, allowing you to put them right where you need them.

One technique I like is to throw my Texas-rigged worm into the grass or other aquatic vegetation. Then, I’ll pop my rod tip and lift the worm up and out of the salad, letting it flutter back down. In a series of short gliding hops, I’ll cover a lot of water and get a lot of attention.

On hard bottoms where mud isn’t an issue, I’ll drag my Texas rig, using sweeping sideways motions of my rod tip. I want to maintain contact with the bottom at all times, and I want the worm moving slowly - creeping, not swimming. The weighted head and buoyant tail will create a tail-up, wriggling motion that dries bass wild.

The idea is to keep my rig on the bottom, using sweeping motions with my rod to drag the worm a few feet at a time.

Carolina-rigged worms

The Carolina rig is at its best when the bottom is relatively clear of vegetation. And since you can use a heavy sinker with a Carolina rig without deadening the action of your worm, it’s ideal for deep water.

To assemble a Carolina Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide a bullet or barrel sinker onto your main line.
  2. Follow this with an 8mm plastic bead to protect your knot.
  3. Attach a barrel swivel using an Improved Palomar. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  4. Cut approximately 18 to 24 inches of leader, but adjust this length to float your soft plastic above the available cover.
  5. Using a Uni Knot, attach your leader to the barrel swivel. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  6. Using an Improved Palomar Knot, attach an offset shank hook to the end of your leader. Wet your knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  7. Pass the point of an offset hook through the tip of the worm’s head. You want to run the hook about an inch into the worm.
  8. Push the worm up and over the eye of your hook. You want to get the worm to lay straight, using that offset to your advantage.
  9. Rotate the point back toward the worm. Stretch the worm out along the hook.
  10. Measure the bottom of the curve of the hook on the worm’s body. That’s where you want to bury the point in the next step.
  11. Push the point back into the worm’s body, bringing the tip through to the opposite side. 
  12. Push just a bit of your worm onto the hook, creating a weedless rig.
Fishing a Carolina Rig

My favorite way to fish a Carolina rig is to let it fall to the bottom and then use my rod tip - not my reel - to drag it across the bottom. I’ll just use my reel to take up slack and keep a tight line: all the work and motion happens with the rod.

This is particularly deadly because the worm is free to wriggle, dance, and swim, while the weight stays anchored to the bottom. The effect is that you’ll have a wriggling worm lifting and falling, swimming and dancing near the bottom, unencumbered by a weight.

Check out 2:45 in this video to see what I mean:

Soft-plastic Creature Baits

Soft-plastic creatures are among my favorite options for Texas and Carolina rigs, especially pre-spawn when crawfish are a primary prey item. But I’ll use lizards, Brush Hogs, and others throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

Let’s take a look at some of my favorites.

Strike King’s Rage Tail Craw is probably the only bait I’m throwing pre-spawn. Designed to look and move like a crawfish, it’s simply unbeatable on a Texas or Carolina rig when that’s what bass are hunting.

Strike King Rage Tail Craw

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

I’m not sure what bass think a Zoom Brush Hog is; I just know that they like these 6-inch soft-plastic baits and can’t resist them when they flutter to the bottom.

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

And when I want to punch grass or lilies and have a fluttering, fat bait falling toward the bottom, I reach for YUM Wooly Bug in either 3 ¼-inch or 4 ¼-inch. They can also be fantastic rigged Carolina-style, as their size works wonders when the bite is slow.

YUM Wooly Bug

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

Color selection

Like all lures and soft plastics, you should choose your colors carefully.

Go with dark hues when you’re in deep water, leaning toward blues, purples, and blacks.

purple Zoom Brush Hog

Select bright colors in murky or stained water to really stand-out against the background and let bass see what you’re throwing.

white Strike King’s Rage Tail Craw

But in clear water, choose natural colors and patterns.

yum wooly bug natural color

Rigging and fishing creature baits

Creature baits are rigged and fished identically to soft-plastic worms, and both the Texas and Carolina rigs are perfect vehicles for the fluttering, irresistible action.

Final Thoughts

The best baits for largemouth bass include a variety of both live and artificial options. And with a bit of know-how, you can maximize the chances of your success and tilt the odds in your favor.

Remember though: picking the right bait is just the start. You need to know how to rig and fish it, and that’s what sets anglers with full live wells apart from those who come to the weigh-in really light.

We hope you’ve learned something today, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz