Heavy Metal For Cold Water Bass
The cold-water period is one of the most productive times of the year to target fish with metal lures, including jigging spoons and blade baits. During the winter months, bass, walleyes, and other predator species respond favorably to the vibration and flash of metal lures presented near the bottom. The effectiveness of these lures is rooted in their abilities to trigger impulsive reaction strikes from fish that are otherwise not actively feeding, a common circumstance when water temperatures have fallen to their lowest point of the year. Nevertheless, the right lure presented in the proper way can still garner lots of attention even after the leaves have all fallen from the trees.
Let’s begin by considering typical bass locations during the late fall and winter months. In this calendar period, lake and reservoir bass frequently retreat to the thermal stability of deep water, and set up camp near rocky points, sharp drop-offs and steep bluffs. These structural elements allow bass to travel up and down the water column over a short distance to feed, as opposed to a longer tapering drops or flats where the bass has to travel further when the dinner bell rings.
Metal lures, like spoons and blade baits, are excellent choices during this calendar period. They distribute an extraordinary amount of vibration and flash into the water, helping to attract bass from long distances and focus their attention on the lure. The descent of the spoon or blade toward the bottom is an excellent mimic for a vulnerable, drying baitfish – an easy meal from the bass’ perspective – and the impact of the lure on the bottom frequently elicits a strike. A well-balanced blade bait, like the SteelShad family of blades, will swim down toward the bottom rather than tumble uncontrollably on the fall, which helps to prevent the lure’s treble hooks from getting tangled in the line and ruining an otherwise productive cast. SteelShad blades are excellent choices for bass, walleye, lake trout, or any other predator cruising along the bottom.
Spoons and blades can be presented vertically, but I prefer to use them to cover water, making long casts and working the lure back to the boat with a jigging retrieve. I gear up with spinning tackle – a seven foot, medium or medium light power, fast or extra-fast action rod is a good place to start. Invest in a sensitive rod for presenting blades, one that will easily transmit the lure’s vibration to you, which will prevent you from over-working the bait. I like the Legend Xtreme LXS70MLF from St. Croix Rod, which can easily serve double duty as an effective drop shot or Ned Rig rod. Add a 2500-series spinning reel and spool up with 20 lb test Seaguar Smackdown in the Flash Green color, finished with a 4-foot leader of 12 lb test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon. This combination of line and leader will allow you to make extremely long casts and cover a lot of water, while easily transmitting the lure’s vibration through the line to the rod. The high-visibility Flash Green color of the braided main line will allow you to visually detect strikes that may occur as the bait falls toward the bottom, while the 100% Seaguar fluorocarbon leader provides for a stealthy, nearly-invisible connection between line and lure. Connect the blade or spoon to the leader using a cross-lock snap to give the lure some additional freedom of motion on the fall.
Allow the bait to fall to the bottom on a slack line after a long cast; resist the temptation to engage the reel once the lure hits the water, as this will force the bait to pendulum toward you rather than falling straight down through the water. Once contact is made with the bottom, engage the reel and pick up any extra line. Then, hop the lure off the bottom with a 1-2 foot snap of the rod tip, and then allow the lure to fall, again on a slack line. Pause briefly, and then repeat the hop-and-drop sequence all the way back to the boat. You may feel or see a bite as the lure falls, but more often than not, you’ll notice that a fish has struck the lure when you do your next hop – rather than the bait leaping off the bottom, your rod will instead load up from the fish that has attacked the lure; when that happens, set the hook and enjoy the scrappy battle from a cold water bass.
Lipless, vibrating crankbaits represent an alternate, complementary family of lures to metal spoons and blade baits. Lures like the LIVETARGET Golden Shiner and Rapala Rippin’ Rap are classic representatives of this family of lures, featuring a loud rattle as the bait is worked through the water column and a lifelike swimming motion on the fall. These lures can be particularly attractive in turbid water, where their prominent sound and vibration can call in fish from considerable distances and help them to locate the baits. In clear water, however, all of that commotion can be a bit much; under those circumstances, try a lipless, vibrating hard bait that is rattle-free, like the Rapala Slab Rap. Give this family of lures a try when you’re seeing a lot of fish on your sonar unit, but only triggering a few with blade baits; their larger profiles, aggressive rattles, and swimming motions may be just what the doctor ordered.