Bait Modifications to maximize your catching potential

Have you ever been fishing and wondered how many fish your baits have gone past with the fish not even batting an eye at it?  When you really think about it, I’m sure that number is far greater than we think.  Have you ever been fishing with your buddy, and he or she is catching fish when throwing the same type of bait as you and you are sitting empty handed?  I can count multiple times in my life that has happened to me or whomever I’m fishing with.  Have you ever wondered why that is, when you know you or that other person is asking themselves “I’m throwing the same type of bait, why are they catching fish and I’m not?”  Well, there are reasons and subtle things you can do with your baits without altering your presentation to change your fortunes while fishing.  Generally, when chucking and winding baits such as spinnerbaits, crank baits (both billed and lipless), vibrating jigs, or swim jigs are the most common baits used and can easily be altered slightly to make a difference.  We will look at some slight alterations to spinnerbaits that can make the difference in a day of fishing along with an example that reminded me how beneficial this can be. 

In the first picture is a standard out of the package Castaic Atlas spinnerbait in White with all silver blades

bait mofications
swim baits

In the second picture, is the same bait, but with the smaller willow leaf blade changed from Silver to gold.

The next picture is the two side by side.

Castaic Atlas spinnerbait

If you are fishing in an area that is loaded with shad and small fry, initially all silver blade combination would be the first choice if all the shad and fry are completely white/silver.  When fishing a river system such as the Mississippi River with dingy water or stained water, those same shad could have a yellowish tint to them which makes the option with the gold blade more appealing to the bass.  I had a recent experience with this exact scenario the 2nd weekend of Sept.  Fishing with a buddy of mine, we had gone to an area that I always like to start at first thing in the morning because it’s a rip-rap bank, at the opening of a cut that goes back into a lake, but that opening is right at a river bend were the channel swings to that same bank further down creating a back current in one spot.  This bank is full of small rock, a couple isolated little points and as you go further up into the cut, you get laydowns on one side, and rip wrap and laydowns on the other along a railroad track

Mississippi River

This section for the last 30+yrs has always held fish at various times of the day.  Baitfish were all over, guys were in there fishing for crappies while we were bass fishing spinnerbaits.  My buddy was throwing a different brand, but similar color except for his had a small gold blade for the 2nd willow and larger silver blade.  While fishing I started throwing buzz baits, a few different types, vibrating jigs while he was throwing the spinnerbait.  He caught the first 3 fish out of the back of the boat on the spinnerbait, so I switched to the Atlas with all silver blades, still no fish, but he had caught 2 more at this point.  I asked him if I could look at his bait and that’s when I noticed the one difference.  So, I dug into my box of spinnerbaits, grabbed another one that had the small gold blade on it, took that blade off, changed out the small willow on the Atlas and the first cast I made I caught a fish, then the 2nd cast, then the 3rd cast.  We got down to where the current hit the bank from the main river and turned around and idled back up to do another pass.  We proceeded to catch another 18 fish on two more passes.  Once the fish moved or spooked, we tried a few other areas on the river, on our way to another area going back this direction, we stopped in that spot but started up the cut a little further this time and for the next 2hrs or so, we proceeded to catch another 27 bass between the two of us, for the day I ended up with 28 and he ended up with 21 all on this color combination.  Was one of the best days on the Mississippi I have had, and his best day ever fishing with me on the water.  All the fish ranged from 1.25lbs up to the largest being 3.02lbs.  Very healthy and a lot of fun to catch. Here are some pictures from that day.

Small little changes like this, can make the difference in a day’s fishing, but you do not need to limit it to just spinnerbaits or blades, you can add a trailer to a buzz bait like a swimbait or frog like the following

The one on the left is a standard Castaic Atlas Buzz Bait, the one on the right is the same bait, but with a 3.5” Swimbait added for extra attraction.  A little change like this can make a huge difference and should be something you try at various times.  I usually will have two tied on, one without a trailer and one with and I’ll alternate between the two until I determine what the fish want.  I do the same thing with spinnerbaits, I always have two tied on, sometimes different colors, but if the same color, with different blade combinations.  Some fishermen always alter baits in some way as soon as they take them out of the package. Others, leave them as is until the fish tell them otherwise.  There is no wrong answer here and it’s all about personal preference.  The key is paying attention to the bait, the body of water and in my case the difference my buddy had with his bait vs mine and how much that difference can make.

Another bait that I’ve altered and made some slight changes to are crank baits.  I carry a plano 3600 box of sharpe’s with all various colors in in it, along with scent pens and so on in the boat at all times.  Reason I do that is if an eye on a crankbait is falling off or comes off, I’ll usually color it in with black marker to make it look like an eye.  I’ve found over the years, and it could be just me, but when a bait is missing one eye and the other one is still there, it’s not as productive because it doesn’t look as real, could be just me but I believe in it.  The other thing I’ve done is draw stripes on crankbaits, like taking a pearl white bait with a chartreuse back and drawing a black stripe down the back. If you look at a shad close, the very top of its back black, threadfin have more of a bluish color, but a shad/shiner will have a black spot at the very top.  Gizzard shad has more of a greenish tint.  See the following pictures. In order, American shad (most common in the north), Threadfin, and then Gizzard Shad.

In the area’s I fish the most, especially on the Illinois river in the fall of the year, fishing white bass and hybrid bass, altering a bait can be deadly when following schools of bait being chased by white bass and hybrids.  You can see the black line going down the back of this bait.  Discovered this trick with this bait a few years back when I snagged a shad while fishing and although I had caught a few fish, nothing like I would have expected.  I saw the shad, looked at it closely and drew a line down the back of my bait, that was the trick and had a great day on the water.  That bait combo has held true for several years.

Another trick that I’ve done is when fishing an area with a heavy bluegill population, if fishing a shad-colored bait and do not have anything that mimics a bluegill, adding red or orange to the belly, adds more color to mimic a bluegill and we know how much bass love eating bluegills. 

Some other ways you can alter baits especially soft plastics, is by taking the Spike-It color dyes and dipping swimbait tails in them, crawfish claws, or a tip on a sinko style bait to add a slight variation to what they see all the time.  Those little tricks are things you can do to help you bring more fish in the boat regardless of what species.  Like I mentioned earlier, I always have a 3600 box of Sharpe’s in the boat, a box of spinnerbait blades, and color dyes.  You never know when a slight change may be the difference from getting skunked to loading the boat.  Here are pictures of my go to boxes for making some alterations.

I hope these tips help give you ideas on how slight alterations can make a huge difference in a day on the water, good luck!