Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats, Russ Bassdozer

Shop @ Bassdozer Store | Lures, Rods, Reels | Boats, Motors, Electronics | Expert Articles | Reports | States | News | Forums | Tournaments | Clubs | Federations | Guides | Links | Books | Magazines | Surf Fishing | About Us  | Terms of Use

Lure versus Live?
Frogs, Dads & Shiners...Oh My!

By Russ Bassdozer

Greetings fellow bass lovers. This article was prompted by a couple of friendly discussions with other knowledgeable anglers on a few of the great bass fishing forums on the web! I originally joined into a discussion...a little tete a tete shall we say...on the Northern California Bass Fishing Forum a while was mostly about bigmouths (in the water NOT on the forum). A while later, on the Bronzeback Forum, everyone was discussing bait versus lures for smallmouth BUT I think the comments that I made on NCBF and Bronzeback apply equally well to either black or brown I wanted to share my comments about live versus lure with you here in this article, in case you missed them on the forums. By the way, have you ever been to NCBF or Bronzeback? Why not click on the links above to check them out, maybe just read along a bit to get the gist of how things work. If/when you get comfortable, then why not join in on some of the informative discussion thread along with everyone else!

Some people were saying on NCBF that bass are so "non-selective" and "opportunistic" that they will hit anything that moves. Of course, they ARE opportunistic feeders, and they CAN seem very non-selective when they eat something which doesn't even remotely resemble any food - like a big white Snagproof Tournament Frog for instance. Have you ever seen one of these? The only possible food I can ever imagine it resembles is a huge marshmallow plopping around on top of a heavily-matted grass bed!

Whatever a Snagproof Frog looks like to bass, they scoff it down way good! Even still, my point is I have NEVER known them to eat a Snagproof as good as they would eat a live frog - IF - you could have a live frog sit and kick its legs out there without getting itself into all kinds of tangled trouble in the weeds.

Also, I don't think they would hit an artificial jig intended to resemble a crawdad as easily as they would hit a live softshell crawdad either. However, the jig fisherman often has the advantage of a more controlled PRESENTATION over the more awkward live bait presentation, just like the Snagproof frog is more CONTROLLABLE and PRESENTABLE than the live one.

I rarely fish with live bait. I only use the example of live baits to try to show that although it's true - they are opportunistic - they are also DEFINITELY selective. I have gone into thick grass mats with live frogs during the heat of the summer when we just couldn't raise any bass at all on fake plastic "mat rats". So, here we are in mats where we hadn't raised too many bass for a week on artificial. So the next day we get desperate for a hit.

What to do? We go out there with some live frogs. And all hell breaks loose. Difficult to CONTROL the frogs? You betcha the smart ones immediately dove under the mats...well they could run but they couldn't hide...but even the ones that stayed right on top got blasted muy pronto. Long story short, we went through two dozen frogs as quickly as we could plop them out there! After that, back to lures - end of action!

I think they knew what was up there. They totally ignored our "mat rats" the day before and right after! That's extremely selective my friend. I think bass don't exactly need to SEE clearly to know what's up there. Why? Because I think they use their eyes, ears AND lateral lines as a SINGLE sensory system (not as three separate senses) to detect direction, speed, size, shape, displacement, living motion, possibly even color or light reflection flashing off the prey can be picked up as it reflects off the mirrored sides of a bass. So, although mats (or murky water) may block the eyes, they don't block the lateral lines or the ears detecting live frogs versus plastic ones. A little side note here is that people always say bass use more sight in clear water and use more hearing in murky water...that's what you & I would do, not bass. Bass do not distinguish or even know they have eyes and ears. A stimulation is the same to them...sight, sound,'s all good, clear or's only one sensation to them in their little pea brains. Up close and personal? Their faces contain a second sensory system for taste, touch, feeling, smell and biochemical recognition.

Anyway, back to live versus point here is that they will ALWAYS choose a live frog over a hollow soft plastic Snagproof Tournament Frog, or a mushy softshell craw over a crawdad-imitating jig. All this is based on the case that the live bait can be PRESENTED as precisely as the lures, which is not always the case, and sometimes poor presentation is a disadvantage in using live bait.

Even though we have gotten very advanced with ways to rig lures, we still use extremely primitive live bait rigs in the US (not so in Europe where live bait rigs are extremely complex). So the first problem with live bait is that, the US anglers basic hook/leader/sinker is very awkward to cast very far or with any degree of accuracy. The second problem with live bait is that even though we have lure-fishing tactics (Texas rig for instance) to make lures extremely weedless and snagless, the basic hook/leader/sinker for live bait is wide-open to getting weeded up and stuck. So, I can rig a small soft plastic crawdad imitator pegged on a Texas rig and lure all kinds of bass out of weedy, snaggy places where live baiters just cannot go...I can precisely CAST it better than a live baiter, get it in and out of the choicest bass cover better than a live baiter - and because of my better presentation, I can catch more bass than a live baiter. But is my plastic more tempting to the palate than live bait? I think not. Why? Because I have a friend, Pelo, from Massachusetts who is a live craw and live worm expert on smallmouth bass. He rigs up exactly as I rig a plastic craw or plastic worm, except HIS are live - you know, pegged bullet weight, offset hook. He rigs a short section of a firm, thin 4" worm (like a Kalin's Weenie) on the offset hook, merely as a weedguard, and he impales the live craw or worm so it centers on the hook bend. Still a little fragile, but he gets it into the thick stuff almost as good as I do with lures. He casts a live craw into cover just as precisely as I can cast a fake one, he penetrates weeds with a live worm just as precisely as I do with a fake one, and he gets his rig back out of cover with as few (or as many) snags as I do. That's where the equality between us ends, you see, he always outfishes me as I always stick with lures!

An interesting side note is that Pelo likes smaller 2" to 3" craws the best...and it seems like the bass he catches like them a lot better than bigger craws too! My frogging expereince also concurs with that...bass prefer the smaller 2" frogs (although I have taken huge bass on equally huge frogs).

Pelo is an exceptional live baiter. For most of us, the advantage of live bait is of course that they are ALIVE and act naturally. But there is one awesome advantage to a well-designed bass lure that you can't get with a live bait. The lure's advantage is PRESENTATION CONTROL. An angler has better "placement" control with a lure. A lure angler can haul off a powerful cast without risk of losing his fragile bait, and hit the "X" better on the cast. You can vary the size, shape, weight of the lure to more precisely match the wind, depth, any tide or other conditions. An expert can take action with the rod/reel to steer and manipulate a lure in order to more precisely control the path it will take through the water, and to position the lure so it will kiss a "sweet spot" at the exact place, depth, speed which you want.

Sure. Some experts can argue that they can semi-do all these CONTROL things with a live bait too. But bottom line, you just can't control a live bait as easily as a lure, especially around wood, weed or rock cover. You often have to baby the cast with a live bait, and although some live baits cast fair enough, it's probably not the most precise casting you'll ever do, especially into a stiff wind. Even casting a weighty free-lined live baitfish (like a big shiner) is kind of awkward and imprecise. Finally, you can nudge live bait every once in a while to keep 'em out of their hidey holes, and you can use small movements of the rod/reel to finesse the live bait's travel path so it saunters down the shady side of a laydown log, but an energetic, stubborn bait often gets different ideas as to what it should do (like hide inside weed balls, wrap your line around tree stumps and NEVER saunter down the shady side where big laydown loghawgs are lurking!). So with live bait, you get the ultimate in authenticity, but sacrifice control. With lures, you get excellence of execution in lure placement and control. Many times when bass are feeding well, excellence of execution can count more than authenticity. At other times, live bait (like my frog in the pads story) may get the nod.

I have seen many individual bass become "conditioned" to avoid lures. Trust me it is true. Lures like 4" tubes and 6" curly-tailed worms, spider grubs and many other things. I am inclined to think avoidance can happen with ANY artificial bait. Some people espouse to a theory that a diminutive natural-colored plastic worm really has no identifying feature for a bass to "remember" and therefore "recognize" it, thereby avoiding it in the future. I disagree about the "featureless" worm theory, but let me stick to what I have seen, in my opinion, which are particular individual fish that I got to study closely because they lived in the same cover-infested spots in a lake for years. After catching one of these fish on the lures I mentioned (4" tubes, 6" curly-tailed worms, spider grubs, others), they clearly avoided these lures again for a few months, but they could easily be attracted to bite totally different sizes/shapes/colors of lures while avoiding the ones that stung them. Heck, my partner Eto and I once conditioned the entire shallow cover population of a 25 acre lake to stop hitting our fiberguard jigs laced with smoke spider grubs after about one month of catching them 3-4 afternoons a week. After that, we switched to dark-backed/white-bellied tubes on wireguard jigs and caught all the same fish all over again for about another month, after which we switched to Texas-rigged 7" red shad twister worms with renewed success! After that, we gave this body of water a rest for a few months, and upon returning, the fish bit like they had "forgotten" about their bad experiences with particular lures that caught them a few months earlier.

I think it would be harder to condition bass to STOP eating live crayfish. Why? Cause they have a lifetime of positive reinforcement of eating live crayfish with no apparent problems. But I do not think it would be impossible to condition them "off" live craws. It has been done in labs - with immature small fish that have never seen a live crayfish before and will avoid any further attempt to eat another live crayfish after a bad encounter...and avoid them right up to the brink of death by starvation. Alright, it really is hard for me to accept that a fish that's been eating shiners all its life will stop eating them after an encounter with a shiner fisherman. But not so with lures....cause the fish has little or no prior experience with THAT size/make/model of lure...and just one bad encounter with a lure will imprint on its instinct to avoid any further harmful encounters with least for a few months in my opinion...especially if you keep tossing the same one back at 'em every weekend.

What was this article all about? Oh, yeah...they are opportunistic, but's never as easy to catch a bass on a lure as it is with a live frog, dad, or shiner, is it? But then again, it doesn't take as much skill to bait a bass as to lure it.

Live versus lure. Viva la difference!

Shop at Bassdozer's Store
Bassdozer Store
Men's Clothing at
Bass Pro Shops

May I ask you for a favor please? Please start here first whenever you shop online. Click on any store logo above or book below. Bassdozer gets a small sales commission if you begin shopping at these stores from here. You always get the same low price you would pay anyway. Thank you kindly for shopping at Bassdozer.

Kevin Vandam's Bass Strategies
Kevin Vandam

Secrets of a Champion
Kevin VanDam

Fishing on the Edge
Mike Iaconelli

Big Bass Zone
Bill Siemantel

Denny Brauer's Jig Fishing Secrets

Denny Brauer

Denny Brauer's Winning Tournament Tactics

Denny Bauer

Monte Burke

Thank you for visiting. Please enjoy!
Bass fishing lures, bass boats
Worldwide Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats