Harbor Baits and Presentations

This article is the second installment on targeting bass in our bays and harbors. So, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading the first article which can be found here. Once you’ve figured out likely areas to fish inside the harbor, you’re going to want to find the presentations that will maximize your chances of catching fish.

The photo above shows what I’d consider a harbor starter pack. From left to right you have a creature bait on a leadhead, an Owner Sled Head ready for a Gulp! 6-inch jerk shad and a 5-inch swimbait on a weedless leadhead. All three of these are rigged on 200 sized bait cast reels, in this case an Abu Garcia Revo Premier and two Revo Inshores. The reels are all rigged with 50# spectra to a short 30# or 40# fluorocarbon leader and match with medium and medium heavy bass rods. These rods belong to my friend Chris Lilis, who likes high end gear, but you don’t need anything this fancy to fish bass in the harbor. Just make sure your rod and reel can cast 1/2 to 1-1/2 ounce baits and has enough backbone to pull a good sized bass away from the rocks. You can get by without spectra but fishing it will make your life a whole lot easier.

Regarding presentations, all three of these baits can be fished around a variety of structure types but each have their strengths.

Starting with the creature bait, this bait is best fished perpendicular to the rip rap walls in the harbor. With your boat positioned a cast length from the exposed rocks, cast the jig to where the water meets the rock and hop it down the rocks. This hopping motion is made by starting with your rod tip at  about a 15-degree angle to the water and raising it to approximately 45-degrees. Make sure not to lift any higher or your going to have a difficult time setting the hook if you get bit at the top of your lift. After lifting you can let the bait fall down to the next rock and land before repeating. As you get deeper on the rip rap this will require free spooling your bait on the sink. The bites can sometimes just be a tick or some slack when there shouldn’t be any. Other times they’ll just about jerk the rod out of your hand, it’s different from fish to fish, so be ready for a variety of bites.

Next up is the Sled Head and jerk shad. This bait can be fished parallel to the rip rap when there is kelp or eel grass that would foul up a normal swimbait. Make a long parallel cast, sink the bait to the bottom and begin your retrieve with your rod held at a 45-degree angle to the water. In this case you will move the bait with the reel while the rod remains stationery. Take four or five quick winds and let the bait sink back to the bottom before repeating. The swimbait is fished much the same way but is best used in situations free of kelp or grass.

The crankbait is another deadly bait in the harbor but you’re going to need a specialized rod and reel to fish it properly. I use a Rainshadow JDGCB710H-CG rod matched with a Revo Winch reel filled with 50# spectra and tied to a short 40# fluorocarbon leader. The low gear ratio on the winch allows me to fish deep diving crankbaits all day with less fatigue and the rods soft tip and parabolic action keeps lightly hooked fish from tearing off during the battle. There are a lot of great crankbaits on the market but my favorites are the Strike King Series 6XD and the Norman DD22. Both of these come in a wide variety of colors so take your pick. The only advice I’d give is get some bright colors for when the water is dirty and some natural patterns for when its clear. The crankbait presentation is simple. Cast it out, wind it hard for a few turns to get it to dive down and once it makes contact with the rock, use a stop and go retrieve.

Just try different cadences until the fish tell you what they want that day.

Rip baits are another great way to catch harbor bass, especially those associating with kelp along stretches of rip rap. The two basic types are shallow runners and deep runners. On a recent trip, my friend Chris Oakes was absolutely lighting the calicos up on a Lucky Craft DD100 Pointer when they wouldn’t bite anything else. For specific rip bait retrieves, I highly recommend looking around for some youtube videos of Kevin Van Dam fishing them. You’ll understand why I can’t explain it well in writing.

Spinnerbaits are an often overlooked way to target bass around rip rap. They’re fairly snag-proof and can call fish in from a distance even in dirty water. My advice is to buy some saltwater grade spinner baits, like these from Bladerunner Tackle, they come in sizes from 1-ounce up to 2-1/2 and are best slow rolled along the base of rip rap. Other than the fact that you let them sink, rather than wind them down, spinner baits fish very similar to crankbaits in the harbor.

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