Spring is the best time for most anglers to catch their biggest bass of the year. What, when and where to use a lure is a big part of early bassin’ success, and few anglers have more experience on more bass water than bass pro Peter Thliveros–better known as “Peter T”–of Jacksonville, Florida.
Peter Thliveros began fishing bass tournaments at age 23. He’s 55 now, and while he still actively fishes and guides near Northeast Florida’s famed St. Johns River, for 32 years he fished the biggest and richest bass tournaments in the world.
After cutting his teeth on Florida waters, Peter T fished nationwide on virtually every tournament-worthy body of bass water from New York to California. In that time he pocketed $2.3 million with eight tournament wins, 42 BASS top ten finishes, 10 FLW top ten finishes with 6 FLW championships, and competed in 13 Bassmaster Classics. In 1996 he won the coveted FLW Angler of the Year award.
When it comes to catching big bass just about anywhere, Peter T knows his stuff. The following list of bass fishing lures is what he would want for the ultimate well-stocked spring bass tackle box.
1. Lipless Crankbait
Peter will sometimes let lipless crankbaits bounce of the bottom if there is no debris. Bob McNally
Usually Peter simply casts such plugs and makes a straight, steady retrieve. Though, sometimes he allows lipless crankbaits to sink in deeper water and bounce along the bottom over shell beds and other “clean” structures that don’t have debris.
He uses Lew’s plug tackle and all fluorocarbon line without a leader.
The Luck-E-Strike Rick Clunn STX Jerkbait in the 4.5-inch, 1/2-ounce size is Peter’s favorite. He prefers natural shad and chrome colors in this suspending plug model. He adds, however, that Lucky Craft, Academy, Bomber and some other companies make jerkbaits that are equally productive and almost identical to the Luck-E-Strike plug.
Peter fishes the Luck-E-Strike jerk bait with 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line, imparting an erratic stop-and-go retrieve. Peter prefers the lure for clear water, thus his preference for light or more muted lifelike baitfish colors.
The jerk bait dives 4 to 6 feet deep and is perfect for spring bass. Frequent pauses during a retrieve are a strike trigger for bass when using this suspending jerk bait, Peter contends.
3. Square-Bill Crankbait
The square bill on these crankbaits causes “bounce” and ricochets off of rocks. Bob McNally
A square-bill crankbait used with a steady retrieve is a deadly shallow-water plug for spawning bass. One key to the bait’s effectiveness is its relatively small size, which mimics young-of-the-year baitfish.
The square bill of such plugs is ideal for bouncing off rocks, stumps and other shallow cover. This “bounce” or ricochet causes the plug to make an erratic change of speed and direction that triggers reaction strikes from bass.
His favorite square bills are the Academy H2O (3/8-ounce) series and the Luck-E-Strike Rick Clunn (RC2, 1/4- and 1/2-ounce) in chrome, crawfish and chartreuse colors. But different lure colors work too, such as custom hues that mimic bluegills or other locally abundant baitfish. Darker colors work well in stained or muddy water.
Peter notes that square-bill plugs are remarkably snagless as they carom and bounce their way through shallow, early-season bass cover such as newly-emerging grass.
Slow-rolling an oversized 1/2- to 3/4-ounce spinnerbait in chartreuse and white, or all white is a deadly method of locating and catching pre-spawn largemouths throughout many waterways of America.
The more white in the lure, the better it is for clear water. Spinnerbaits with more color are better for stained water.
Peter T prefers Strike King model spinnerbaits, often with tandem #4, #5 or #6 willow-leaf blades. In deeper water, a heavier single-spin spinnerbait in the 3/4- to 1-ounce size with an Indiana-style blade is excellent.
Slow-rolling grass beds and their edges as well as deep stump and timber waters are productive during early bass season.
As water temperatures rise into the 60s, Peter believes soft plastic swimming baits are productive. His favorite is the Zoom Super Fluke, which he fishes with a 1/8-ounce slip sinker positioned about a foot above a 3/0 River2Sea hook on the lure side of the sinker. This is nicknamed the “Petey Rig” by some anglers, and Peter says it’s somewhat like a finesse Carolina rig.
What makes the rig so versatile is by sliding the “bobber stop” up or down the line between the sinker and lure, you can determine how far off bottom to fish the Super Fluke. Thus it works on grass beds growing a up to two feet or more off bottom.
Peter likes a number of different Zoom Super Fluke colors, including watermelon, watermelon-red and green pumpkin. Lure color choice is dictated chiefly by water color, the more stained the water, the darker the lure used.
6. Speed Worm
Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worms and 5/0 River2Sea hooks. Bob McNally
The Speed Worm is one of Peter’s favorite lures to search for bass when water temperatures are in the high 50s to about 70 degrees. His favorite is the Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm, in 7- to 9-inch lengths, which he rigs weedless standard Texas style with a 3/0 hook. The weight is dictated by the depth of water being fished.
About half the time, Peter uses this lure to look for heavyweight spring bass in vegetation. He employs a slow, deep retrieve, which is a superb system for springtime Southern waters, especially in Florida, where weeds are abundant., He also uses Speed Worms much in the way California bass anglers work swim baits for bass.
This great all-around spring bass lure is a favorite of Peter’s, and the Zoom Swimmer is the one he uses around rocky riprap–a choice spot for early spring bass because it heats up quicker than other areas.
Peter rigs a Swimmer on a simple 1/4-ounce jig head with a non-descript natural lead head color. He uses various colors, but prefers Guntersville shad,shad imitation or clear color with a yellow dot on the side near the eye. The dot mimics a real shad, which the lure is designed to imitate.
Thliveros has had great success working Zoom Swimmers around bridge pilings and at times in standing timber when suspended bass are chasing baitfish.
Peter loves swimbaits for post-spawn bass. He favors several soft plastic models, including the Gambler EZ Swimmer and the larger model Gambler Big EZ. Other swimbaits he uses include the Naked Swimmer by Bitters Bait and Tackle, and the Skinny Dipper by Reaction Innovations.
He rigs them weedless Texas style when working heavy cover fast. He is sure to fit the hook point through the soft plastic swimbait body a la “Texposed” style, so the hook fully penetrates the lure’s stout body when a bass hits. The flared tail of “Swim Baits” make them deadly when prospecting scattered cover for post-spawn fish because the vibration of the lure is an attractant.
Peter uses a wide array of colors depending on water color and cover. He’s had great bass success by rigging them with a flashy spinner head with a wide-gap hook in 1/8- or 3/16-ounce weight.
He also custom-rigs some “swimbaits” with a short length of braided line coming off below a Texas-rigged hook shank. This is tied to a ball-bearing swivel fitted to a willow-leaf spinner blade. A small bullet weight on the line above the spinner adds casting weight and orients the lure upright in the water column during the retrieve.
As spring bass water warms, fish become more active and are willing to take surface plugs. One of Peter T’s favorites is the Lane Changer, made by River2Sea and designed by Bassmaster Classic champion, Chris Lane.
It’s a quiet, three-hook surface plug with a unique whirring sound produced by a pair of soft plastic propellers located at the head and tail of the plug. It’s a good clear water plug for hard pressured bass, according to Peter, offering a very subtle action, a small wake, and a tantalizing finesse approach for heavyweight lunkers.
Peter uses fluorocarbon line, and prefers lighter natural baitfish colors like chrome and off-white, though ones with orange bellies work well, too.
Peter uses this famed, time-tested Smithwick plug in the traditional, very slow twitch-pause-twitch manner. Long pauses in a retrieve are productive in clear water for spring bass. But, “ripping” the lure fast across the surface can be a good way to attract shallow spring bass in off-colored waters, especially in late afternoons when water temperatures rise, baitfish are active, and bass are chasing forage.
Thliveros prefers the larger, cigar-shaped 200 series model in chrome, orange or bluegill type colors. His favorite is the no-longer-available chinquapin hue, which is coveted by bass anglers in the know.
This is a “walk-the-dog” type cigar-shaped surface plug with an action similar to the indefatigable Heddon Zara Spook. Peter likes this large 3/4-ounce, 5-inch plug in chrome or bluegill color, and it produces best for spawning or active post-spawn bass.
Keeping the plug moving in a steady retrieve is imperative for consistent success. An angler must set up an unending retrieve cadence that keeps the lure moving at a single speed, with nose sliding side-to-side. Even when fish are following the plug, or striking at it, the same speed cadence retrieve must be maintained to keep bass turned on and interested in hitting the plug.
Many anglers make the mistake of halting the lure retrieve when fish strike and miss the plug. But a baitfish trying to escape a feeding bass never stops, and such a pause is suspect to predators and usually results in a lure refusal.
Thliveros fishes the Rover with 30-pound braided line, and a 4-foot leader of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon.
No shallow-water spring bass tackle box would be complete without some quality weedless bass jigs, and Peter Thliveros has a favorite in the River2Sea Junkyard Jig, designed by angler Tommy Biffle. The lure has a well-made nylon weed guard, a well-designed stand-up jig head for easily penetrating cover, built-in double rattles and a heavy-gauge, short-shank, wide-gap hook.
When he uses it for flipping heavy cover, he employs stout braided line up to 65-pound-test and ties the line directly to the lure without a leader. This is the way for working heavy weed mats, timber and brushy water for spring bass.
For more open cover like boat docks and rocky banks, he’ll drop down braid test to as light as 25-pound-test and will use a length of 25-pound fluorocarbon leader.
This flippin’-and-pitchin’ lure is preferred in black and blue, brown and green pumpkin, and in lure weights of 3/8- to 3/4-ounce. He fits a Zoom Big Salty Chunk soft plastic trailer on the jig and matches the Big Salty Chunk color to the jig hue.
Bass anglers were making their own creature baits for many years by connecting various parts of soft plastic lures to create unique large, water-displacing “creatures” that many bass had never seen.
Creatures are now available commercially and are death on shallow spring bass; especially fish on or near spawning beds.
Peter T’s favorite “creature” is the Zoom Brush Hog, which can be used much like a soft plastic lizard and fished almost any way an angler desires.
The Brush Hog has a beefy body with many wiggling appendages to displace water so bass can “feel” the bait. It is salt impregnated, and can be rigged Texas style, on a Carolina rig, or simply with a jig and flipped or pitched into and near spring bass cover.
Darker colors generally rule, though Pete also likes watermelon and pumpkin.
The Z-Craw is a versatile soft plastic lure for spring bass that can be used a number of different ways. Peter often fishes it on a flippin’ bass jig working reeds, bushes and sparse cover that he can get a lure through–usually with 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jigs. It’s also good for flipping boat docks, buck brush, reeds, lily pads and similar visible cover using 17- to 20-pound-test braided line with a heavy-duty Lew’s “flipping” stick and a Super Duty 7:1 ratio bait-casting reel.
Z Craws also can be used as jig trailers, or even rigged weedless Texas style.
Their salt impregnated plastic makes bass hold the lure longer, and more aggressively, which is advantageous during the cooler water temperatures of spring fishing.
Darker colors are preferred to closely mimic real crawfish.
This is another flippin’-and-pitchin’ jig adornment that Peter T always wants in his tackle box for spring bassing.
It’s ideal for use with heavy weedless bass jigs, because the lure is compact and streamlined, perfect for penetrating mats of heavy spring bass cover. Yet, it has side and tail appendages that wobble and wiggle, displace water, and mimic crawfish and other shallow critters that bass feed on, or defend their nests against.
It can also be rigged weedless, with up to a 3/0 hook and a bullet weight from light to heavy, depending on the spring bass situation.
For Peter, this oversized 10.5-inch ribbon-tail soft plastic worm takes a heavy toll on roe-swollen bigmouths during spring fishing. He especially likes the lure when trying to fill out a limit with an extra large fish to anchor a weigh-in bag.
While the lure is long, it triggers big fish and avoids yearling bass. Its relatively slender profile also makes for good hook penetration. With thicker diameter worms the plastic can “ball” and even a strong hook set never gets the barb set in a fish. With the Ol’ Monster the thinner diameter plastic aids in hook setting.
Peter fishes the Ol’ Monster with a 4/0 hook, a 3/16-ounce bullet weight often on a Petey Rig. He works it slowly along the bottom, and prefers colors such as june bug, june bug red, and blue fleck.