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Red Hot Winter Time Bassin (part II)

Posted by Larry on January 3, 2011

Last week in part I of Red Hot Winter Time Bassin, we discussed the “video fishing” opportunities here in the Midwest. In part II we will look at some of the basics that you need to be successful.

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Part II

Last week in part I of Red Hot Winter Time Bassin, we discussed the “video fishing” opportunities here in the Midwest. In part II we will look at some of the basics that you need to be successful.

First, where to find the fish? Like all other types of bass fishing you have to be around fish to catch fish. When the water temps start reaching the low 50s, it’s time to start looking for the mega schools of bait. I start in the major creek arms. Creeks with standing timber that tops out in 40-70 foot range are good places to start the search, but don’t discount areas because of a lack of deep cover. Remember these winter fish are focused on the bait more than oriented on cover.  Start at the mouth of the creek and idle through the gut all the way to the back keeping your eyes on your electronics. Today’s side scan technologies make it possible for you to check out these creeks in a single pass. When you find the schools of bait you are in the right area. Once I’ve checked the creek and bait is present, I narrow the search to the areas within a couple hundred yards of the bait.

When you find the bait it’s time to narrow your search, drop the trolling motor and start looking for targets. The targets may be active fish streaks, a single fish arc, or something that looks a little different on the bottom like a small hump or rock. If the creek has submerged timber, check for hot spots in the tree tops and abnormalities in the trees. Sometimes the hot spots in the cover will look like a typical fish arc, but on most occasions the hot spots are subtle and any hot spot that’s not completely horizontal is a target to investigate.  When you find the targets fish them. As the day progresses you will be able further define your targets and determine where the majority of the bites are coming. You can then focus on those types of targets. When you drop down on a target, your goal is to get the target to react and show itself.  If the bass are holding tight to the bottom, you may only see one arc or a small bump. But the majority of the time, if you get a fish to react to your presentation, the school will show itself.

Early in the winter season when the water temps are in the low 50s and high 40s, I often find the bass holding tight to the bottom. A majority of the time these fish are in the areas where the channels start flattening out. In these cases, it’s all about finding the flat spots along the creek guts at the correct depth near the bait.  These flat areas are easily found on good maps, it’s those areas where the contour lines start to get farther apart. A depression, no matter how small, in these flat areas along the gut of the creek is a prime location. Later in the season as the water temps dip into the low 40s, it seems that these deep fish start to suspend more. Use these general guidelines to get in the correct areas, but don’t get to narrowly focused. These fish will be around the schools of bait, if you can’t find them suspended they are on the bottom or in the trees

If the schools of bait aren’t in the creek guts start looking along the bluffs, bluff ends, secondary and main lake points. They will be in one of these locations. Again, during the winter these Ozark bass, Largemouth, Smallies, and especially the Kentuckies are often in open water relating to the bait.  So don’t rule out areas just because there isn’t a lot of standing timber.  The schools of bait are the key and easily identifiable with good electronics.

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(left screen school of bait on 2D, right screen same school of bait on down imaging sonar)

It will take some practice to find the bass holding tight to the bottom, up under the schools of bait, or suspended in the nearby trees when they aren’t actively feeding. But with a good set of electronics that are setup properly, like the Hummingbird 997 or 1197, you can quickly get the hang of it with some practice. If you are new to using electronics, I recommend you find an electronics seminar in your area and take advantage of these smart guys. The first thing I recommend to setup your electronics for “video fishing” is to turnoff the automatic setting and adjust the sensitivity setting to ensure you can see your lure in the water. Each sonar unit is different, but using your manual settings to establish the upper and lower limits that define the water column you want to concentrate on, and increasing the sensitivity settings will make seeing the targets and your lure much easier. The seminar guys will help you get the settings that you need for seeing these depths clearly, then all you will have to do is tweak the settings when you get on the water.  Once I have found the bait and start searching for targets on the trolling motor, I normally have two screen setups saved that I toggle between. One is a split screen with a zoomed in map and 2D sonar focused on the entire water column. The second screen is again split screen with the same 2D sonar looking at the entire water column and a zoomed in 2D sonar screen looking at just the water column where I see the majority of the activity.

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(Left side shows the zoomed 2D and the right side shows the entire water column)

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(Left side shows the map and the right side shows the specific water column with the top limit and bottom limit set manually) (Right side also shows active bass under a school of bait)

 

As far as tackle it’s pretty simple. All you will really need is ½ oz and ¾ oz spoons,  4-5inch grubs, 3/8 oz darter jig heads, drop shot hooks, 3/8 oz drop shot weights, and you favorite 3-5 inch finesse plastic.

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(Single tail grubs and Darter jig heads)

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(1/2 oz and ¾ oz spoons)

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(Gulp minnows 2 ½, 3, and 4 inch)

 

Your line and rod and reel combinations are critical. I use spinning gear for all my “video fFishing”, but I do know several folks that are successful with baitcasters on their spooning rigs. My preference is a good spinning reel; the ABU Soron 40 is my reel of choice. I like the control that the spinning reel provides; the bait gets to depth quicker on a free fall and there is no need to pull off line to keep the bait falling free. Some complain of the line twists you can get with spinning gear, but with properly rigged baits, a small swivel, closing the bail by hand, a good line conditioner, and high quality line the twists are not a big problem. 

As far as rods, I prefer a good medium to medium heavy action 7ft to 7 ½ ft spinning rod with a soft tip. I rig the spoon on the medium heavy rod and the grub and drop shot on the medium action rods. I like the long medium and medium heavy rods because you have to move line at depths of 80 to 100ft and the sensitive tips lets you feel the subtle bites. The hook sets are not the typical flipping and pitching hooks sets. With the light line and small hooks, the hook set is a simple lifting of the rod not the eye crossing big heavy tackle yanks.

Your line choice is the most critical of all. A quality fluorocarbon line in 6-10lb test is essential. I use the lightest line I can get away with and prefer “Toray” BAWO Super Hard Premium-Plus 100% Fluorocarbon.  “Toray” is a premium imported line from Japan and can be pricey, but the performance and durability is worth every cent. I switched from Seaguar Invizx about a year and a half ago and the upgrade was well worth it. I rig the grub on 6lb test, the drop shot on 8lb test and the spoon on 10lb test. I will go up as high as 12lb test on the spoon, if I have to drop the spoon all the way into the tree tops to get the fish to react.

Let’s take a more detailed look at these three presentations. I usually start with the ½ oz white war eagle spoon; although, the Bass Pro Shops Strata spoons work well but you will need to add a swivel. The swivel is key to preventing line twists and I use them on all three presentations. The War Eagles spoon comes with a high quality swivel right out of the package; if you are using another brand, you can add a swivel about a foot above your lure. Drop the spoon on slack line and keep it inside your transducer cone. Most of the time you will see the fish come up to get the spoon on the fall. In all three presentations, when you see the fish start up to take the lure start pulling it away. If the target doesn’t start up right away, I stop the spoon a few feet above the target and hop it a few times. These deep fish feed up most of the time.  On occasions, especially when you see fish below a school of bait, drop the spoon all the way through the school and let it hit bottom, then start it back up quickly to trigger the strike.  If the fleeing action doesn’t trigger the strike start the hopping action. I start with 4-6 foot hopes, but on occasion you may have to go with shorter hops to trigger strikes. On rare occasions, the fish may want it sitting perfectly still right in their face. When you identify fish submerged in the tree tops stop the lure just above the trees and work it at that depth. Occasionally, when they aren’t active you may have to drop all the way into the tree top.  You will lose some spoons this way, but if you don’t set the hook hard on the tree you can recover many of them by putting some slack in your line and shaking it.

When I can’t get the fish to react to the spoon or after the action slows on the spoon, I pick up the grub. I prefer Yamamoto and Chompers smoke color grubs in 4-5inch. Some prefer the smoke grubs with some red, purple, or silver flake, but the smoke seems to work for me. The Tightlines UV Silver Grub has been performing well also.  I rig the grubs on a 3/8 oz darter head jig. There are several brands on the market but the key to selecting the right jig head is the line tie and quality long shank hook. The line tie needs to be positions so the jig sits horizontal in the water. Fish the grub with the same action as the spoon; however, it’s more common when the fish are less active for them to want the bait sitting right in their face with minimal action.  

When the bite gets tough and the fish won’t react to the spoon or grub the drop shot is often the ticket. The drop shot can be every effective on suspended fish, as well as those holding tight to the bottom.  I rig the drop shot with a 10-18 inch leader. I like the Gulp 2 ½ , 3, and 4 inch minnows for this presentation. Other finesse plastics will work, but I believe the minnow profile is key. When the fish are suspended try keeping the drop shot in their face with as little movement as possible.  When the fish are suspended deep in the trees the drop shot hangs up less than the grub or spoon. When the fish are holding tight to the bottom, I am a big fan of the Secret Weapon “recoil rig”. The action of the recoil rig simply induces more strikes when the fish are near the bottom.

There will be days when the fish obviously prefer one over the other, but these three “video fishing” presentations will work on our wintertime Ozark bass.  In closing, if you have never tried or had little success at vertical fishing, I highly recommend hoping in the boat with someone who is experienced in these techniques. A few hours with someone who can help you through some of the subtleties of the presentations will pay off in the long run. There are a ton of great guides in the Ozarks that will spend the day teaching the finer points of these techniques.  As the winter doldrums start closing in, get out of the house and on one of these lakes and enjoy the best kept secret in the bass fishing world, Red Hot Winter Time Bassin in the Ozarks.

Check out the below link for an instructional video on “video fishing” hosted by my good friend Robert Jorgensen and produced by Winkiedoodles on You tube. Bob's "video fishing" clinic on Table Rock

Here is more Table Rock “video fishing” action thanks to Winkiedoodles. Cold Water Hot Grubs on Table Rock

 

Special thanks to Robert Greene and Robert Jorgensen for their collaborative efforts on this article