One of the questions I get asked most often is, “Which lead head should I use when fishing for (insert bass species here)?” While that may seem like a simple enough question, it’s actually pretty tough to answer without giving a bunch of situational exceptions.
Rather than focusing on choosing the right lead head for a particular species or situation, I’ve put together a tackle box that will cover all species and situations.
Going into that tackle box will be three main styles of lead heads in 4 different sizes that will cover the bulk of your standard swimbaiting needs. Starting at the top we have the weedless heads. These are made by Blade Runner Tackle and from left to right weigh 1 1/2-oz, 1-oz, 3/4-oz and 1/2-oz. These baits are designed to be fished around kelp or eel grass without hanging up. The features that make them work is the hook eye being at the very tip of the bait, which will make the lure tend to slide over things and the brush guard that will keep the hook from getting stuck on kelp stalks or blades of eel grass.
The middle row is standard lead heads. These are also made by Blade Runner Tackle and from left to right are 2-oz, 1 1/2-oz, 1-oz and 3/4-oz. These heads offer a more bait fish like silhouette but are prone to snagging both kelp and rocks so they are best used in relatively open water. These are my go-to heads for fishing sand bass around hard bottom areas or off artificial reefs.
The bottom row has VMC Boxer Heads. From left to right they are sized 1-oz, 3/4-oz, 1/2-oz and 1/4-oz. The forward hook eye position and rounded nose keeps these heads from getting hung up in the rocks. This makes them an excellent choice when fishing around heavy structure like reefs or rip rap.
While any one of these heads can fish all three situations, each of them has advantages and disadvantages.
For example, the weedless swimbait head can be used when fishing rip rap, but the brush guard can deflect bites and cause you to miss fish. On the same token, the Boxer head can be used for fishing sand bass in open water, but if the fish are picky a realistic looking shad head might get more bites.
The colors in the picture is basically all you’ll need. Red with any dark colored swimbaits and sardine or yellow colored heads with any bait fish colored swimbaits. The fish don’t seem to care all that much about specific head colors in most cases.
Next up are the specialty heads. The top row from left to right is an Owner Sled Head, the next two are Blade Runner Tackle long shank Alabama Rig Heads, last is a Cotee Head. The Sled Head is a good choice when fishing a Gulp! Jerkshad or other fluke type bait around heavy cover. Be it rocks, kelp or eel grass, this bait is pretty much weedless. I usually carry both 3/8 and 1/2-oz heads. The Alabama Rig heads combine a long shank, strong hook and a light head. If you’re fishing regular lead heads on your A-rig, I suggest giving these a try. Finally, the Cotee head is an old standard that works very well when fishing small swimbaits in a variety of situations. The 3/8-oz head will allow your bait to sink slowly enough to entice suspended fish in harbors or around inshore structure.
The bottom row consists of a Trokar Kelp Trick Hook and a 1/2-oz style 9 shad head. The 9/0 Kelp Trick comes in both 1/2-oz and 3/4-oz sizes but I usually only fish the 3/4-oz. The style 9 shad head has been the staple of most west coast bass fishermen for years and comes in everything from 1/4-oz to 4-oz. I recommend looking up “style 9 shad head” on ebay. You’ll be able to buy them in bulk directly from the manufacturer. These heads are great for most open water applications, but like all shad heads, they do tend to snag in structure.
When stocking up on lead heads, I like to follow the theory, “having two is like having one and having one is like having none”. Running out of a particular size or color of lead head can cause the end of a hot bite, so I try to avoid that situation. A good rule of thumb is to carry at least five or six of every head.
In case you didn’t do the math, six each of 12 heads in several colors makes for a lot of heads, so you’ll need a big box to store them. I like the Plano 3700 tray because it has deep and adjustable trays. When storing lead heads or any other metal lures you’re going to want something to keep them from getting rusty. Flambeau makes a product called Zerust that works wonders.