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Don’t Overlook Lizards for Spring Bass

Simple lizards sometimes get forgotten for modern plastic shapes, but to overlook the sheer bass-catching power of a lizard can be a major mistake.

Bass anglers began fishing with soft rubber worms about 70 years ago, before technology, design and innovation spurred new materials and creations. Softer plastics soon made their way into the market as did replicas of crayfish, minnows and the plain but popular lizard.

Spring bass fishing with lizards is a combination akin to peas and carrots. They’re a natural pair. Spring is when lizards and salamanders get active, with the latter most prominent around inlets, creeks and shallow areas, where bass like to spawn, which makes salamanders top enemies of bass.

Fish a lizard in spring around shallow cover, and chances are good you’ll draw some savage strikes. Fish it on a Texas- or Carolina-rig in post-spawn or later in summer, and those hard strikes probably won’t disappear. Lizards are good to have tied on almost year-round and virtually anywhere in the country.

“It’s a forgotten bait amid the existence of all the current baits,” said Frank Scalish, a longtime tournament and recreational angler from Ohio. “Lizards were popular for years but then went to wayside. It’s such a fish-catching bait, though. I mean, it just hammers bass. I still flip and pitch them. It’s still my No. 1 flipping bait, and on the greedy side, I don’t mind not seeing guys throwing them.”

Lizards and Salamanders

YUM lizard sizesYUM lizard sizes

Lizards are found throughout the world, with more than 6,000 known species. They range in size from tiny to gigantic. The Komodo dragon and Tegu reach lengths of several feet, but we don’t have to worry about those!

Most of the lizards we see in the Southeast are green anoles. We see skinks in the forests, which may be dark and scamper as quickly as lizards. Around lakes, creeks and other wet areas we’ll often find salamanders. They’re most active during the daytime, and need sunlight to warm their bodies. That’s one reason we don’t see lizards and salamanders in winter; less sunlight and cold temperatures put them into a type of hibernation for a few months. When spring rolls around, they emerge and begin feeding and breeding again.

Lizards in the Southeast are as varied as can be. Some species are found in multiple states, but others are unique to a state or area thanks to specific habitat and terrain. You’ll find different info about them in the Southeast in this comprehensive book. Should you be interested in learning about the lizard’s cousin — salamanders — they’re explained in this comprehensive book for the Southeast states. Both books have hundreds of pages and color photos with specific details and distribution maps.

Why should we study books about lizards and salamanders? For the same reasons we should study and learn about crayfish, threadfin shad, gizzard shad, bluegills and other things bass eat. With books or online work, you can study colors and details about specific states or areas to possibly hone your fishing tactics.

A black or watermelon-seed lizard may work on Lake ABC in a state you’re visiting, but what if you knew that area’s predominant lizards were tan with orange bellies? Quick work with an orange dye pen on a bag of Watermelon Seed lizards might tip the odds in your favor. Knowing that a lizard has a blackish-red hue might be the intel you need to pick up some Junebug YUM Lizards and go to work.

Scalish said having several dye pens in your tackle bag is a great tactic. “You can take a few basic colors and add something if you want it,” he said.

Scalish keeps colors simple, with basic colors like Watermelon Seed, Green Pumpkin and Junebug.”

How to Fish Lizards

Texas rigged YUM LizardTexas rigged YUM Lizard

Adding this classic lure that has such a great history of catching fish to your tackle bag should be an easy consideration. Lizards work on largemouth bass, and smallmouth will eat them, too. Spotted bass eat them. Rock bass, shoal bass and other bass eat them. Big bass, little bass, river bass, creek bass… They eat lizards. But only if you’re using them.

Here are four ways to use a lizard to catch more bass.

Carolina Rig

Carolina rigging is a great tactic for pre-spawn bass before they move shallow and later in summer when they’ve returned to deeper water. The great thing about a Carolina rig is you can use a light weight in spring when bass are shallow to about 10 feet deep and a heavier weight in summer for plying depths greater than 10 feet. This setup shines on deeper shell beds, ledges and humps during summer, too, when bass will suspend to the side or on top.

Lure options abound for the Carolina rig, but Scalish sticks with the lizard because it has worked for more than half a century.

“I’ve never not thrown it on a Carolina rig. Still throw it and probably always will,” he said. “Because it’s perceived by bass to be a threat, no matter what, they’ll hit it.”

An egg- or bullet-shaped sinker works. A glass bead between the sinker and knot on a swivel helps protect the knot from being banged up by the sinker and lends some “clink” when you drag your rig. Use a longer leader in clear water and shorter in stained to dirty water. A light-wire offset worm hook helps with penetration. It also gives the lizard more realism during the retrieve. Heavier hooks cause the lizard to sink.

Texas Rig

This is another classic tactic sometimes overshadowed by modern rigs. Nothing wrong with those, but the Texas rig is about as simple and effective as it gets. Thanks to a lizard’s slender profile, you can use this tactic to pinpoint targets such as a stump, rock or dock post. It can slide in and through brushy cover or thicker vegetation. You also can swim a Texas-rigged lizard over vegetation or tickle the top as if the lizard is feeding.

The lizard is like a souped-up, bulky worm. The body shape gives it definition and visibility to a fish. The curly legs and tail ripple.

If you enjoy sight-fishing, a large lizard is easy for bass to move off the bed. If they nip the tail and swim away, they won’t get the hook. To counter, I like to downsize to a 4-inch lizard and use a 1/8- or ¼-ounce sinker and the largest light-wire hook I can get. This setup puts the hook closer to the tail and makes it more difficult for a bass to just nip the tail.

Split-Shot Rig

This under-the-radar setup is like a mini-Carolina rig. It works especially well in clear water or tough, pressured situations when extra finesse setup is needed.

My father used the split-shot rig in a few tournaments back in the 1990s when the bite was tough. Other anglers were pounding docks and shallow cover with big jigs, spinnerbaits and tubes. His split-shot rig was less “in their face.” Lizards work great for this tactic, with a split shot about 6 to 8 inches above the hook. If you want a slow fall, use one small split shot. Increase the size of the shot until you get the fall rate you prefer.


With a long, rippling tail on the lizard that will create a wake, fishing it weightless is a fun option. A 6-inch lizard glides nicely, thanks to its body profile.

“I love to throw a lizard weightless and let it hit that invisible zone, that part of the water column that where we can’t see the bait but bass can,” Scalish said. “It’s still in the water, too, and not on the bottom. That’s often where the bass will be and can be different depths depending on the water clarity. If it’s gin clear, for example, this zone might be 8 feet deep. If it’s off-color, it might be 4 feet, and if it’s dirty it might be 10 inches. You have to look at the water and bait, and figure that out.”

Scalish controls the sink rate of the lizard by using lighter line or a heavier hook. The way he fishes the weightless lizard is pretty simple.

“I cast, let it slowly sink, reel it in, cast, let it slowly sink and repeat,” he said. “It glides, and you can make it glide left or right by offsetting the hook. If you rig it Tex-posed or Texas-rigged, you can make it track left or right by slightly turning the hook point in the body.”

If you get near a bush, piece of cover, stump, rocks or anything else that looks fishy, kill the retrieve and let the lizard slowly sink. Hang on, because it can be explosive.

Scalish said lizards may not be the hot spotlight bait right now on the tournament trails, but time has proven them to be great bass-catching lures that should not be left out of your tackle arsenal.

YUM Lizards

Yum Lizards come in 4- and 6-inch sizes and the right colors. They offer a classic lizard or salamander shape with curled legs and a curled tail for added action.

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