Pro's Picks For Winter Bassin'
Dialing in Deep Bladed Jigs With Fred Roumbanis
Like a lot of pros, Roumbanis said the technique requires a feel and the only way to develop it is to practice. He casts the bait, lets it sink and then retrieves it as slowly as he can while still feeling the thump. The 3/4oz size is easier to control and he uses 12 to 15-pound line - never anything heavier. Smaller trailers like the Optimum Victory Tail will help keep the bait deeper and are generally better in winter. Bigger trailers are typically better in summertime. It's at its best in winter on structure bluffs, deep humps and steps - basically places where bass feed before moving up shallow and what he calls "the highest spots near the deepest water." As spring develops, Roumbanis starts to fish more ditches, drains and channel swings. "But it works year-round, so try it anywhere and anytime you like to fish deep," he added.
Although Roumbanis recommends 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon line for the technique, he also uses 40-pound Gliss braid from Ardent which has the diameter of 8-pound line, with a 12-pound fluoro leader. This braid/fluoro combo will push the bait 3 to 4 feet deeper than straight fluorocarbon when needed. He uses his own iRod 7'5" heavy action Magic Stick paired with a 6.5:1 Ardent Apex Elite casting reel. Any 3/4 to 1-ounce bladed jig will work. He likes white skirts with a bit of chartreuse or the Hawk's Secret skirt from Pepper Custom Baits.
Dialing In Deep Bladed Jigs With Fred Roumbanis December 2016 BASS Times (Jon Storm pg. 14 - 15)
Wintertime Flipping With Braxton Setzer
When the water cools down and the shore grass begins to die, Setzer starts looking for the mats of bent-over vegetation that subsequently form. Setzer doesn't discriminate too much on the location side of things. He'll run along the shorelines of the main lake and in pockets. The key is the presence of mats that are nice and thick. "A lot of times I'll start looking for it in the fall, and that will go all the way through the winter and to the spring," says Setzer. "The mats will kind of break up in the spring. The weather will break them up because it's just dead vegetation. Typically by the end of the spring the current and wind will push it [the dead grass] out, and the new vegetation will take hold. Anytime the water temperature starts to get into the low 60s I'll start looking around and start flipping them." Setzer is happy to flip a mat with just a couple of feet of water underneath it or as much as 8 feet.
Flipping is a great pattern all winter in Setzer's region, but there are some factors that can affect the program. "These are [power] generation lakes, so in times when we don't have rain they clear up and can fluctuate some," says Setzer of the Coosa chain. "That can have an affect on it [the bite], and sometimes it will cause those fish to pull out from under the grass. Ideally, you're looking for stable conditions and stable water level. As long as you don't have big fluctuations the bass tend to stay up under the mats." Water clarity has an impact too. According to Setzer, sometimes fish will pull up under a mat in gin-clear water, but the clarity makes it difficult to fool them into biting. "It's easier to catch them in dirtier water, and you tend to catch bigger fish when the water has color to it," he says. "I think that's just because the fish can't see the bait as well."
Lure Presentation & Selection:
Setzer doesn't do anything too extraordinary when flipping mats. He usually simply pitches his bait in, hops it a time or two, and then pulls it out for another shot. Neglecting to fish directly up against the bottom of the mats can be a mistake. "In cold situations the fish will sometimes press their backs right up under the mat to get some of the radiating heat from it," suspects Setzer. "There are times when those fish aren't necessarily on the bottom. Some of these mats may be in 4, 5 or 6 feet of water, and if it [the bait] goes right by them they may not want to go down. If you pull the bait up and shake it under the mat that may be what it takes to get those fish to bite."
For his flipping tackle, Setzer doesn't stray too far from the norm. He flips the regular and small versions of the Missile Baits D Bomb and Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver, well as the Mister Twister Flip'n Out. "Around here I opt for a Phenix Recon 796 rod," he adds. "The heavier 805 flipping stick/punch rod is a good rod as well, but I use it more in really thick vegetation and things like that. I like to be able to manage the line, so it's always a high-speed reel, and I use Yo-Zuri Super Braid in 65-pound test." Setzer usually uses a Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover Flippin' Hook and a tungsten weight that ranges from about 3/4 to 2 ounces depending on the thickness of the mats, with a 1-ounce weight being his go-to size. He always attaches his hook with a snell knot.
Ice Out Bass Migrations
Specific weather elements create a prime bite windows can increase giant bass movements and activity levels early in the season. A two to three day warming trend with strong southerly winds in-between early season fronts following stable weather are prime times to catch the largest fish in the system. One of the most important factors is bass location throughout the water column. During specific times, bass will be locating near bottom as the slowly migrate to secondary and primary staging grounds. As water temperatures warm, bass may locate higher in the water column and move in large groups toward their preferred spawning areas. These migrations can be stalled by quick barometric pressure change - multiple early season fronts and will cause these large groups of fish to vertically stack through the water column.
Staying astute with your electronics will be a key to focusing on exact bass positioning and activity levels throughout the day or night. Bite window time frames can vary from being short or intense or during the perfect situation can last more than two hours. When every factor aligns, multiple giant bass can be the norm with the proper presentations for each individual mode of activity level. I'm following big fish at this time of the season and watching every weather scenario, along with small increments of water temperature changes. Many times, the North sections of the lake warm quicker as the southerly winds blow warmer shallow water north. Knowing where main lake basin movements begin on the waters you fish and being able to eliminate dead water fast on new waters is a crucial factor to being consistent on big fish during the initial migration period.
Once these off-shore bass are located and activity levels are factored in, a variety of presentations will trigger specific fish in various modes of neutral to semi-active in frigid water conditions. I use a wide variety of presentations, but part of all my presentations remains the same. Dead-Sticking - big fish in water temperatures in the high 30's to high 40's don't chase down baits very often. Selecting presentations that can trigger bass with a miniscule strike zone is the deal here.
I tend to keep it simple until water temps hit the 48 to 50 degree mark. Various weighted jig combos to cover a variety of depths from 28 to 55 or 60 feet, Bladed swim-Jigs for lifting and dropping, small beaver style grubs with a mushroom head style jig, soft plastic fluke style minnow baits, a variety of Jigging spoons [even Ice-Fishing Jigs] and a Float'N' fly rig can be a simple but effective groups of presentations to fish precisely through the entire water column. As the water hit's the 50 degree mark, I add soft plastic and hard jerk baits, along with deep running cranks to the program. For trophy smallies, we run fluke style baits directly below the boat, straight vertical at various depth levels. Dead-stick these Fluke style baits in 12 to 25 or 30 feet depending on smallmouth locations through the water column. As smallies become more active, we raise the bait higher in the water column as smallies are looking up for the first baitfish pods of the season. These fish will rise 10 to 20 feet to take a bait.
For largemouth presentations, the four mentioned groups of select baits would cover essentially the entire water column. We do a lot of strolling and dead-sticking baits this time of the season to cover certain areas. Smaller to medium size swim baits come into play when water temperatures at 48 or above. Long line strolling with these baits along with stopping and dead-sticking them on those perfect spots throughout the main lake basins has produced giant bass through the decades all over the country. Select small increments in bottom looking for a change in contours and off-shore humps. Filter fingers or pinch points leading from deep structures with a variety of quick depth changes offer fish a comfort zone during spring fronts. A difference of a few feet or so in main lake basin zones can be a perfect holding zone for big bass filtering in. During any post-front scenarios this time of the season and even further on into spring, these areas hold groups of stalled giants.
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The First Spring Migrations Winter 2017 Bass Angler Magazine (Brett Richardson pg. 46 - 48)
Best Smallmouth Bite of The Year With Brandon Coulter
"Water temperature is the main indicator as to when this pattern gets going. In east Tennessee, the surface temperature can be in the low 70s in October, but it'll usually drop into the mid-50s by December. This cool-down casuses a big transition in the shad - the smallmouth's primary food source. These baitfish start getting lethargic and they also leave the backs of the creeks and start migrating out towards deep water. "When they do this, the smallmouth shadow them, often hanging underneath the shad schools and watching for minnows that turn up sideways and flutter down." Coulter stresses, "The important thing is finding and fishing under the bait. if you locate the shad, the smallmouth will be somewhere close by. Coulter says when shad are migrating back to deep wintering areas, they typically relate to two structure types. The first is a 45-degree sloping banks in the deeper ends of the tributary creeks or on the main-river channel. Coulter notes, "The best sloping banks have some type of rock on them - chunk rock, slate, limestone." The second structure that shad frequent is deep extended points, especially those that flatten out toward the end. Coutler continues, "these structures are farther out from shore and the best ones have a sharp break to deeper water, like a bordering creek channel. They also need some type of hard bottom, such as rocks, pea gravel or red clay." Coutler starts his day by idling over likely structure and searching for baitfish with his electronics. "The shad will suspend along the banks or out on the points, usually in the same depth zone: 10 to 20 feet.
Lure Selection & Presentation:
When fishing sloping banks, he "tight lines" with three small shad-imitating lures: Berkley Gulp Minnows rigged on a 3/32oz ball head jig, a marabou jig and an Ugly Head jig. Coulter fishes these lures with a long spinning rod and a reel spooled with 15-pound braided line and a 15 to 20 foot 4-pound test fluorocarbon leader. Coulter rotates through these three baits to see which the fish prefer on a given day. He says, "I'll usually start with the Gulp Minnow. That's my main day-to-day bait. But if the fish are really active, I'll switch off to the marabou jig. If the bite is slow, I'll go with the Ugly Head jig."
To tight ling along sloping banks, Coulter positions his boat "at least a full cat offshore," and he makes "absolutely the longest cast I can make" at a 45-degree angle to the bank. Then he starts his retrieve. "When the bait hits the water, I close the bail on my reel, then I start a very slow pendulum retrieve back to the boat. The bait should never touch bottom. Instead, I sort of drift it back, with my rod tip slowly moving from 8 to 12 o'clock. I never pull the bait with the reel, as opposed to reeling the bait toward the boat." If action along hte sloping banks is slow, Coulter moves to the deep offshore flats and he switched to heavier baitcasting tackle and a 1/2oz Silver Buddy blade bait. He coaches, "The shad will usually hold close to a breakline. When I find them, I'll move my boat back over deep water and cast up onto the structure where they're hovering. "As soon as the Silver Buddy hits the water, I'll thumb the line on my reel to stop the bait and get it vibrating. Then I'll engage my reel and track the bait as it flutters down to the bottom. "When it hits - if it hits - I'll reel three to four times to take up slack and I'll stroke my rod up to the 12 o'clock position. Then I'll let the Silver Buddy fall back down as I keep in contact with it.
Best Smallmouth Bite of The Year! Bassmaster November/December (Wade L. Bourne pg. 62 - 63)
Fighting Winter For Lunker Smallmouth With Charlie Hartley
"I've been out on days when I wanted my mama," Hartley divulges. "I've had times when I've kissed the ground when I made it in. I've seen tournament partners that demanded to be taken in, and they wouldn't go back out. Anybody planning to fish the Great Lakes in late fall should understand that they have to pick their days. When the wind advisories are up, forget it. But when the wind is down, you can catch smallmouth like you never dreamed of." Hartley lives in Grove City, Ohio, and he loves bass fishing this time of year. He says, "I've fished in November and December from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Up north, the bass are feeding up for winter. In the south, they're in prespawn. So there are good fishing opportunities all over the country. "But for my money, when the weather cooperates, the Great Lakes offer absolutely the best fishing this time of year. When you hit it right, you won't believe how good it can be.
"This great bite lasts from a week to a month long, starting in late October. The water surface temperature will be from the mid-40s down to the mid-30s, and the pattern will hold up until the lakes begin to freeze over. "This time of year, the smallmouth are gorging themselves on perch and smelt just out from where major tributaries empty into the lakes. They're hanging on deep rock flats where the bottom shallows up toward the mouths of the tributaries." Hartley adds, "Find the bait, and you'll find the bass." One of the easiest ways to do this is to look for perch boats. "These are guide boats that target yellow perch, which feed on the smelt. You'll see these boats in clusters, sometimes 20 to 30 of them working around the mouth of a tributary. "When you find the perch boats, start idling among them while watching your scanner," Hartley continues. "You want to see bait on your display that's solid from top to bottom. I'm talking about where you're having trouble recognizing the bottom of the lake through all the fish returns. Don't be happy until you see that." The baitfish and predators will typically be layered, with smelt closest to the water's surface, Hartley says. The perch (along with small bass and walleye) will be in the middle column, stalking and feeding on the smelt. The big smallies will hang at or near the bottom, waiting for crippled smelt to flitter down from the frenzy above. He says, "The average depth of the big smallies will be 35 to 45 feet deep. They usually won't be farther than a couple of miles out from the mouth of the tributary." Hartley emphasizes, "Now I'm not talking about one bass here and one there. I'm talking about huge schools - thousands! This is the closest thing to ocean fishing in freshwater."
When he's confident he's over a school of smallmouth, Hartley sets about catching them. He uses one technique and two baits: vertical jigging with a jigging spoon or a blade bait. in spoons, Hartley prefers a Hopkins jigging spoon. He rigs his spoons with an O-ring for better action (but no swivel!). In blade baits, he goes with a Silver Buddy, Vib-E or Venom bait. He fishes chrome baits when the water is clear and gold baits when the water is stained. His choice in bait sizes is dictated by the wind. "My standard is 3/4-ounce spoons and blade baits," he says, "but if the wind is up, I go with heavier baits, up to 1 1/2 ounces. Sometimes the wind and currents push the boat so fast, it's hard to get the bait to the bottom. When I can't feel the bottom, I go heavier. You've got to have that bottom contact." Water clarity can affect success on any given day. "A strong wind can stir up the mud in the shallows, and muddy water can really hurt this pattern. If the water is clear, I think, 'Oh, boy, I'm going to kill 'em today.' But if the water is too brown, I know fishing is going to be tough."
Hartley's jigging technique is simple. He says, "I let the bait free spool to the bottom, then I engage my reel, take up slack line and start hopping the spoon or blade bait up and down as I work the structure." Hartley guards against jigging too aggressively. "Don't forget: The water is cold, and the fish are getting sluggish. So I jig with a subtle rod action. I don't pop the bait up. Instead, I lift it a couple of feet off bottom, just fast enough to feel the vibration. Then I stop it and follow it with my rod tip as it flutters back down." Hartley says most strikes come when the bait drops. "Sometimes you can feel a bite, but other times you won't. If you start lifting the bait for the next hop and you just feel dead weight, set the hook!" The wind and current define the direction of drift he has to make. "The main thing is to stay over the baitfish. Your scanner should stay lit up. If you're not seeing bait, you need to relocate and search until you find them again." And when he catches a good smallmouth? "I'll mark a waypoint on my GPS, then I'll motor upwind and try to repeat the drift I just made. A lot of times I'll catch a bass every time I pass over this spot. "You always have to keep safety in mind," Hartley warns. "You can't disrespect the Great Lakes. Their smallmouth fishing is fantastic in late fall, but it isn't good enough to risk your life over."
Finesse Fishing Tactics For Winter Smallmouth
One of the finesse tactics that I like to employ to go after big smallmouth bass is drop shoting a small plastic bait. What this presentation allows you to do is to put that bait directly in front of the bass that are oriented to cover, whether that is a big boulder on the bottom of the lake or on the edge of a weedline. That drop shot can be held in place and just ever so slightly shook to entice those bass into biting. The majority of times you are not fishing directly over the area you are targeting the bass, so cast your drop shot to the weedline, rock pile or point and let it sink to the bottom. The amount of weight you need to get down there should be kept as light as possible, depending on the wind and if you need to get it through thick vegetation. The length of your dropper will depend on how heavy the cover you are fishing is; along with how far off the bottom the bass are suspended.
A good drop shot rod should have a soft tip, so you can give your bait the proper subtle action, but also a strong back bone that will get that big smallie into the boat! Once I feel the bite, I reel up the slack and give my Wright & McGill Victory Pro Carbon 7' Drop Shot rod a sideways sweeping hook set. Using a Fluorocarbon line is a must as it is very sensitive, abrasion resistant and is not seen as well by a bass in clear water. I'll spool up my Wright & McGill Victory Pro Carbon 30 Series Spinning reel with 8 or 10 lb test Seaguar TATSU line. This Double Structured Fluorocarbon line, along with being on a larger sized spool spinning reel allows me to make super long casts and eliminates pesky line twist.
The equipment that an angler uses while drop shoting is very important to being successful, because the proper equipment ensures you can present the bait properly in a very natural manner. Then it is important to be able to feel the bites as sometimes a smallmouth will just nibble on your offering, but once they are hooked the rollercoaster ride is on as a big smallmouth with dive one second and then be airborne the next! Even though I'm using spinning tackle and small pound test line, having a sharp and strong hook is imperative. I like to use the Lazer TroKar 1/0 Drop Shot hook when nose hooking my plastics and the 1/0 or 2/0 Finesse Worm hook when I want to rig my plastic bait weedless. The possibilities of the baits you can rig on your hook are endless and experimentation is key to find out what the bass want that day. My top choices include the Zoom Z-3 Swamp Crawler, as this bait has the characteristics of a hand poured finesse worm which excels greatly on a drop shot. What I mean by these characteristics is that when nose hooked the worm will flow naturally in the water column and float up away from the hook. If I'm looking to fish my drop shot weedless, I'll Texas-rig a Zoom Finesse Worm or if I want to wacky rig a soft plastic stickbait, the Zoom Fluke Stick Jr is a great option. Deciding on which bait to use has a lot to do with what the bass are feeding on in the lake or river I'm fishing. If they are feeding on minnows then I want my bait to resemble a minnow. If the bass are very lethargic, then I'll use smaller plastic baits.
The idea of the shaky head is very similar to the jig worm combination that many anglers in Minnesota have fished for many years. What makes the shaky head different is that you can make it weedless making it ideal for probing water that is filled with weeds, rock and wood. A shaky head can range in size from 1/8 oz, all the way up to 3/4 oz and the weight you chose will depend on the depth of water, current if any and the wind. I predominately use a 3/16 oz jig, because it allows me to make a long cast and maintain a good contact with the bottom, which is important because that is where most of the fish holding is located. What makes the shaky head technique/lure so versatile is that based on how you fish it, it can be a finesse lure or just a change up in your power fishing arsenal. As the name suggests one of the ways that it can be fished is to just shake the jig, upon it resting at the bottom. This retrieve is very effective when casting to isolated cover - you are able to keep the bait in the strike zone for the longest amount of time possible.
Another retrieve for a shaky head jig is to swim it around the cover, such as over a rock pile, through lay downs or a long a weedline. This retrieve allows the shaky head jig to act as a finesse swim jig and then once you hit the sweet spot around the cover, such as an open pocket in the weeds or behind a big boulder you can let the jig sink directly into the key fish holding area. The most important thing about fishing a shaky head is to let the fish tell you how they want the jig to be fished. The common and typical dressing for a shaky head jig is a finesse worm. A finesse worm is a perfect solution for having a streamlined, compact approach for targeting finicky bass. If the smallmouth are keying in on crawfish and want a finesse, yet bulky meal still, I'll use small creature baits such as a Zoom Z-Hog Jr. Just like selecting the size of your jig, it is important to experiment and find your favorite options for plastics and then let the bass tell you what they want that given day.
Another great option to target tight lipped smallmouth is with a wacky rigged soft plastic stickbait. This presentation is very versatile as you can throw it around shallow boulders where smallmouths are tucked in behind them. If smallmouths are cruising sand flats, throwing your wacky rig out and slowly dragging it back to the boat will entice those cruising smallmouth into biting. Making long casts with a wacky rig is very important as the farther you can cast the bait, the more water you can cover and the least likely you are to spook cautions smallies. This is why I like to use a braid main line (Seaguar Smackdown 10 lb test) on my Victory Pro spinning reel, connected to a five foot Fluorocarbon leader (8 lb Seaguar, this still gives my bait a natural looking presence in the water. I'll rig a Zoom Fluke Stick or Fluke Stick Jr on a Lazer TroKar 2/0 Wacky Worm hook and if I need to get the bait down deeper or if it is windy and I need more weight to cast the lure I'll insert a Lazer Sharp Nail Weight into the solid end of the bait.
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Finesse Fishing Tactics For Winter Smallmouth Winter 2017 Bass Angler Magazine (Glenn Walker pg. 18 - 20)
Fishing Winter Jerkbaits With Braxton Setzer
When the water temperature begins to fall and through the winter, Setzer says that the spotted bass in the reservoirs that line the Coosa River like to get in and around wood cover. The best spots are brush piles on or near breaks with deep water close by - the edge of a creek channel, a point or anything else that creates a sharp drop. Setzer also likes to target long laydown trees that end in deeper water. You'll need to plant the brush [where legal] or find it with Lowrance StructureScan or sonar, but you can often spot the trunks or roots of laydown trees on the banks and then fish around the tops out in deeper water. "Depth doesn't play as much of a factor as location, and if it's a brush pile that fish like to use," says Setzer. "I don't use a super-deep jerkbait for brush piles, so the deepest top I would want to target is maybe 10 feet. If I can get it within a couple feet of the top of it those fish will come up and get it."
Lure Selection & Presentation:
When it comes down to fishing the tops of brush, Setzer tunes his approach based on the depth of the cover. "A lot of times those fish will sit in that brush and the more active fish will sit at the top because they're looking to feed," he says. "My selection process is based on how deep that brush pile is. I want to get the jerkbait as close to the brush as possible without hanging up." For that, Setzer uses a pair of jerkbaits. One is the shallower running Duel Hardcore Minnow Flat 110SP, and the other is the deeper running Yo-Zuri 3DB Shad. He fishes each bait on a 6-10, medium-light Phenix Maxim with Yo-Zuri TopKnot fluorocarbon and varies his line from 8- to 12-pound test to really dial in the depth range. "Line plays a factor in how deep you can get the bait," explains Setzer. "For instance, the Minnow Flat 110, which is the shallow jerkbait I like to go to, may only get down 3 or 4 feet on 12-pound-test line. If you throw it on 10-pound-test line you may get it down to 6 feet. Of course, in the brush pile game the lighter you go the more risk you have of breaking them off if they get down in the brush. If you're fishing around standing timber or something like that you may need to put a little more heat on them to get them out." The 3DB Shad is a hybrid type of bait, but Setzer fishes it just like a jerkbait. He turns to it for deeper tops and says you can easily fish it down to about 8 or 9 feet depending on your setup. Setzer usually looks to throw a jerkbait around brush anytime the water has fallen down into the lows 60s and into the 50s, and usually uses a regular jerk-jerk-pause retrieve. During a warming trend he likes to fish a little faster, and he'll sometimes slow down when the water is really cold.