It’s no secret: Swim a lizard on Ross Barnett

What was once a secret held tight to the chest of a handful of bass anglers on Ross Barnett Reservoir is now a well-known fish producing technique on many waters of Mississippi. It’s called “swimming a lizard.”

It’s simple: Texas-rig a 6- or 7-inch lizard — any color, as long as it’s black with any color flakes, as long as they’re red — and either leave the 3/16- to ¼-ounce bullet weight unpegged or peg it on 17- or 20-pound line. Cast it as far up into sparse vegetation as possible and reel it back.

“There’s not a lot of science to it; you throw it, and you reel it,” said bass pro Pete Ponds of Gluckstadt, who has fished the pattern for decades on Barnett and now takes it on the road to other waters and other states. “In early March, when the temperatures hit about 50 degrees, buck bass move shallow to prepare beds. You can catch as many as you want.

“But, when the water reaches the upper 50s, like 56 or 57, that’s when you see the big females move up. It’s like Mother Nature flips a switch, and it’s on. It’s unreal, because one day you’ll be in there catching a lot of buck bass, you know, 12 to 15 inches, and then the next, you go in and catch the big fish. It happens that quick.”

Ponds offers some tips that can help fishermen find the big fish from the start during this sudden movement.

“I always relate this back to an area of Barnett Reservoir called Behind 7,” he said referring to a big cove on the northeast side of the main lake that once sat behind a sign with the numeral 7 on it. “That is a cove with a lot of pad stems, primrose and reeds, with a ditch that enters it and runs to the back. The first few days after the surface temperature climbs above 56, I catch most of the big fish on the vegetation closest to the ditch and the drop.

“They will hang out close to that edge until they are confident the water temperature won’t drop back. As the days progress, they will move up and fan out into the shallows. You’ve got about 10 days or two weeks to get on them before they settle down on the beds with a male. It’s usually in mid- to late March, but it can happen in the first week when we have early springs.”

Ponds’ biggest tip lies in boat handling, and he stresses it more with this pattern than any other.

“Boat handling and positioning is always important, but when you are in as shallow as you need to be with a swimming lizard, it’s even more so,” he said. “First thing, get a push pole and learn how to use it. Stay off the trolling motor as much as possible as you fish your way in and out of the vegetation. Push pole into position, and then take a break and let the water settle down. Then fan-cast the entire area before poling to the next and repeating the whole process.

“Keep your eyes and ears open to bass activity. If they move, you’ll see ripples. If they feed, you’ll hear them smacking. If you detect one out of casting range, don’t charge after it. Work your way in that direction. That fish will likely still be there and still be feeding when you get there. Remember, these are prespawn fish, and they’ll eat when they have a chance, unless you spook them.”

As with any pattern, Ponds has a backup lure tied on and ready in case the fish misses the moving lizard. He usually reaches for a Pete Ponds’ Signature Finesse Swimming Jig (by Talon). It’s weedless and can get through the vegetation.

“They will slam it,” he said. “But it’s not a search bait in this situation, because it has little to no vibration, and fish would have a problem sensing it. It’s ideal as a follow-up bait, when you know where one is feeding.”

Bobby Cleveland
About Bobby Cleveland 1170 Articles
Bobby Cleveland has covered sports in Mississippi for over 40 years. A native of Hattiesburg and graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Cleveland lives on Ross Barnett Reservoir near Jackson with his wife Pam.