When It Gets Cold...Burn It!
As we prepare for the coldest part of the year and many anglers are winterizing their boats, the “die hard” bass anglers are just getting warmed up. This is a great time of year to get out on the water and find some HUGE schools of mega-sized bass. It is the time of year that the fish slow down and feed less frequently, but when they do feed, they really gorge themselves. We will discuss how to catch these fish when they are actively feeding, as well as sitting there shivering. There will be two very different techniques that we will put in place.
First let’s discuss the equipment we will need to get started. We will need a VERY sensitive 6’6” or 7’ Medium Action spinning rod spooled with 6 lbs. test fluorocarbon. I prefer to use a Falcon 7’ Cara spinning rod spooled with 6 lbs. test Sunline Fluorocarbon. I like the Cara spinning rod because of its sensitivity, and the Fluorocarbon because it does not absorb water, therefore it will not freeze up in your guides as bad as mono, plus it will keep its strength. The other rod you will need is a little heavier action spinning rod, like the Falcon 7’ Medium Heavy Action spinning rod spooled with 10 lbs. test fluorocarbon. On the Medium Action rod we will tie on a 1/8 oz. Giggy head with a 4/0 hook, then we will rig it with a 3” watermelon or rootbeer colored grub. On the Medium Heavy rod we will rig a Gambler E-Z swimmer on a ½ oz. Swim Head. I get a lot of questions about “Why spinning rods?”. Here is the thought process behind that…Ice builds up in the line guide of a baitcaster and frays line when it zips through it, on spinning reels there is no place for the ice to trap the line. Ok, now its time to go fishing…
It is common to be the only trailer in the parking lot and sometimes the only boat on the water. As we look around the lake we are looking for two specific types of shoreline. The first is a shallow flat with large smooth rocks mixed in with chunk rock or dark silt, and the other type of shoreline is large chunk rock on a 45 degree or steeper bank. The first of the two will be the earlier bite on most lakes, but the steeper banks have the more aggressive feeders later in the day. We will begin on the flat bank today that is approximately 3-8 feet deep, concentrating on the round rocks. The reason we look to this bank first is because the water will warm more quickly than it will where the bottom is not as close to the surface. We will fan cast the flat with the grub swimming it slowly enough that it barely ticks the tops of the rocks. As the lead bumps the rocks, it will make a clicking sound. I think this clicking sound is the sound that triggers the reaction strike from a bass. When it is cold and the bass are not eating as frequently they are more likely to strike out of reaction than hunger. It is very important that we tick the rocks to create that reaction. The important part of the fairly shallow flat is that the surface is not the only part that warms quickly, the whole water column warms rather quickly. We will work these flats until we see the bait start moving up as the water surface warms.
When the surface temperature starts to rise, the bait moves closer to the surface and make themselves vulnerable to these schools of bass. The place that the bait moves up first seems to be those 45 degree angle chunk rock banks. It is our time to capitalize on the bass looking for an easy meal. The bass will move up in the water column and begin chasing the bait that is moving slower than normal in the cooler water. We need to get two casts away from the bank, and make the longest cast we can with the E-Z swimmer and reel it quickly back to the boat. The E-Z swimmer will not lift like many swimbaits when rigged on the ½ oz Swimhead, and will stay upright at very high speeds due to the head design. This speed also makes the bait look like a small bait fleeing from the bass and creating another reaction strike. What we will look for in these conditions is bait skipping across the surface and the water swirling like a washing machine. Within a few casts you will find out if the feeding fish are White Bass, Spotted Bass, Smallmouth Bass, or Large mouth. If you feel the fish hitting your E-Z swimmer and you are not getting hooked up, add a stinger treble hook, if it persists, add another. It is not uncommon for me to have up to three stinger hooks on at some point. There are two keys to getting the bites in these conditions…Speed and stealth. When you see the schools of bait coming to the surface turn off all of your electronics and turn your trolling motor on “very slow”. This will help you get close enough to make the proper cast without spooking the school of bait. The speed of your E-Z swimmer needs to be very fast to split the bait and single itself out of the bunch. Once we split the bait, let it fall about 2 seconds then pick back up to the original pace. Keep casting until the baitfish scatter and go back down in the water column. This “burning” swimbait tactic is fun and quite a workout, but worth it.
Some more of the essential information is dress for the conditions. Dress in layers so you can take the outermost layers off when the action heats up. Keep hand warmers in your boat, they are lifesavers at times. Wear good moisture wicking socks so your feet do not sweat; wet feet are cold feet. Always keep a set of matches and a dry set of clothes in the boat, if you can not get back to the ramp, build a fire and keep yourself warm, and always keep a first aid kit in the boat. So remember, when it gets cold, burn it.
As always, a big Thank You to my sponsors: Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, Gambler Lures, Falcon Graphite Rods, Motorguide Trolling Motors, DEKA batteries, Don Miguel Frozen Mexican Foods, and Shaddix Outdoors.