October 20, 2022
Most bass anglers can catch active bass in ideal conditions by covering a lot of water with medium- to fast-retrieved baits. By doing so, they provoke fish that are in the mood to strike or eat. But when the bass aren't in the mood, wise anglers know to shift their game to a very slow approach—as often it's the only way to elicit a strike.
If you can figure out how the weather and other variables affect the fish, and adjust your retrieve speed accordingly, you will catch more fish. However, bait speed control is the one area in which most bass fishermen encounter trouble. Let's face it: Working a bait extremely slowly is difficult.
Weekend fisherman and professionals alike avoid minimal-movement presentations, commonly referred to as "dead-sticking" due to the method's inherent slowness. For bass anglers with plenty of patience and good technical fishing skills, a retrieve that barely moves a bait along the bottom can be very productive on a typically slow day.
TEMPT SULKY BASS
A professional bass angler once told me that he convinced his partner to deadstick fish during a bite-affecting cold front that had reduced contestant weigh-ins to very few fish. The two were fishing Texas-rigged worms in weed-infested waters 10 feet deep. They did not have one strike all morning. Then, the pro made a cast and laid his rod down, deciding to try a different rig and bait. It took him a couple of minutes to select the rig and tie on a new lure. As he finished, he noticed movement in the unmonitored line.
The pro grabbed the rod, set the hook and reeled in a 5-pounder. About 15 minutes later, he laid the rod down again to untie his boat from a stump and get everything in it ready to leave the spot. Once again, he had to quickly pick up the rod and reel to keep a big bass from making off with it. Over the remainder of the day, they utilized the deadstick method to fill their limit. Many anglers fishing a level-wind baitcasting reel in tough weather conditions have had backlash experiences that resulted in their discovery of the deadstick pattern.
While taking 4 or 5 minutes to pull out the tangles, many have had their motionless bait picked up by a bass. Sometimes, the best bass presentation is just doing nothing. There are additional advantages to slowing down the retrieve. Generally, the slower you fish a bait, the larger the average size of the bass caught. It often takes larger and perhaps wiser fish longer to make up their mind about grabbing a bait.
As such, it stands to reason if you can keep the lure in the strike zone near a big bass a little longer, you may agitate it to bite. Also, the most productive big-bass baits are usually slow-moving baits. Faster retrieves usually result in more aggressive strikes from smaller bass.
SLOW YOUR ROLL
Predicting fish moods can be difficult, but taking into consideration the weather conditions, time of year, water temperature and other key variables can help an angler determine optimal speed control. Cooler weather with water temperatures below about 70 degrees usually dictate that productive anglers slow the speed of their retrieves. In some Southern states, the water temperature seldom climbs higher for several months.
Late fall and winter may provide many frigid days during which bass want to carefully look over and analyze a bait before they are motivated to mouth it. If significant weather systems move through an area, bass usually become inactive and lethargic. After a cold front, successful soft-plastic-tossing anglers will often let the bait sit for a minute or two after the cast before twitching it. In fact, when fish are in a neutral or negative mood, deadsticking may be the only way to get them to bite.
When using the deadsticking technique under any conditions, an angler should know if and how the bait is moving while sitting on the bottom. It is helpful to check out a worm, jig or any other soft plastics in a swimming pool to see the reaction of the bait to your rod tip movement. You can make the worm quiver with very little rod movement or let it sit still with no angler-initiated action.
You can also watch a bass’ reaction to a worm "playing dead" in a very clear lake to develop that knowledge. Any minor turbulence in the water may make a buoyant worm wiggle. Even when a bass moves away into cover, the fish may actually cause the turbulence.
With a sensitive rod, you may feel a small "tick" when the bass picks up the bait. So, you should have just a little bit of slack line between you and the lure to prevent the bass from feeling you. Closely watch the line for the subtle "tick." Often, the fish will just take it into its mouth and hold it for a few seconds. The angler can then reel up the slack and set the hook.
Some of the prime locations in shallow to mid-depth waters around the South in which to employ the ultra-slow deadstick worm method include pockets, edges and holes in pad fields, hydrilla beds, matted vegetation, buck brush, willow trees and other cover.
As the water temperatures drop in the late fall and winter, bass often move into clusters of any aquatic vegetation that remains. Toss a bait to the edge of the grass, pads or trees and try to drop it vertically down the stalks or trunks. When fishing pockets or holes, pitch the lure to the spot and let it fall, watching the line as it descends. If you don't notice a "tick" as the bait descends, let it rest for up to 30 seconds. Then softly twitch the rod tip.
To move it slightly, barely pick it up. If the taut line feels "mushy," pause to determine if you can feel anything pulling back on it. If so, set the hook. If there is nothing, raise the rod tip just enough to move it a little over the vegetation. Then, let the bait sit for just about 15 seconds. If nothing strikes the lure, cast or pitch it to another hole. When fishing dense vegetation, keep in mind it takes a fish longer to locate the bait there.
RIG UP RIGHT
A sensitive, medium-heavy-action rod; a reel with a low retrieve ratio; and a 6-inch soft, buoyant worm with curl tail and 3/8-ounce sinker make for a productive outfit. With this method, the weight of the lure can be critical. It's difficult to keep a light bait in one place. When you try to barely move it, the bait may pull up off the bottom and move too far. To barely get the bait to quiver, you are better off with a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce bullet weight. The buoyancy of the soft plastic is also very important, particularly if you are tossing it with a heavier jig head. Over some vegetation, however, baits that weigh too much may penetrate too deep into the cover.
Jigs with plastic trailers can also be effective with an ultra-slow approach while flipping and pitching. When inactive bass won't move far, putting a jig beside a piece of cover and leaving it in front of the fish can result in strikes. Shake it up and down in one place, barely moving it if possible. Then let it sit again without any movement for as long as 20 or 30 seconds. Repeat as necessary.
Lastly, if all else fails, try fishing an unweighted worm. On light line and a spinning rod, throw the unweighted bait near bassy-looking cover. Once there, leave the bail open, allowing the bait to fall slowly under its own weight. Keep the rod tip high and allow the mainline to sag. Once the bait settles to the bottom, allow it to remain motionless there for as long as you can stand (up to a couple minutes). If the line ticks or slowly moves off, set the hook.
Line selection plays a critical role in deadsticking success.
Because deadsticking is such a slow technique employed when fish turn lethargic, bass often have plenty of time to eye a bait up and down. Because it is basically invisible in the water, fluorocarbon line shines when deadsticking. On top of that, and unlike monofilament, fluorocarbon line sinks.
Seaguar InvizX is soft and very castable. The 100-percent fluorocarbon line is crystal-clear, disappearing in the water while providing an abrasion-resistant alternative to braided lines. InvizX holds knots tightly, is very sensitive and features small diameters, available in 4- to 25-pound test and 200-, 600- and 1,000-yard spools (from $24.99; seaguar.com).
Berkley’s Trilene Professional Grade 100% Fluorocarbon offers anglers an extra-tough clear line that excels in the most inhospitable of aquatic environments. Trilene Professional Grade 100% Fluorocarbon is perfectly suited for skipping baits under docks and around abrasive cover like standing timber and rock piles. Available in up to 25-pound test, Trilene 100% is an excellent choice for pitching applications as well, and excels in light flipping and punching assignments. Trilene Professional Grade 100% Fluorocarbon is available in 6- to 25-pound test in 110- and 2000-yard spools (from $11.99; berkley-fishing.com). — Dr. Todd A. Kuhn