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Play Dead to Entice Tight-Lipped Winter Bass

A dead-stick approach may be your best bet when waters cool and bass grow lethargic.

Play Dead to Entice Tight-Lipped Winter Bass

Dead-sticking a soft-plastic stickbait, such as Z-Man's ZinkerZ, is so effective because it can be done anywhere. (Photo courtesy of Z-Man Fishing)

There's a time and place for fishing fast and a time and place for fishing slow. Fishing slow can mean several things. It might mean slow-rolling a spinnerbait or working a jig in a painstakingly slow fashion. It may even entail dead-sticking—aka soaking—your bait for tight-lipped bass.

Dead-sticking is a presentation that shines when the water is very clear, when bass have been heavily pressured, when fish are inactive or when water temperatures start dropping. In all these cases, and especially with late fall’s plummeting temperatures, bass may not be actively feeding as often as they were even a month ago.

When bass are inactive or simply waiting for that prime opportunity to feed, they'll sit behind whatever fish-holding structure they have available. Then, when an opportunity to ambush an easy meal arrives, they'll strike. That could mean current washing an injured baitfish by their face or, ideally, your bait properly presented for the right amount of time.

bass angler casting
Cast past fish-holding areas and slowly drag a C-rig back along bottom with a sideways sweep. Deep water adjacent to riprap is a good spot to employ this tactic. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Mohr/Providence Marketing Group)

For dead-stick fishing, I like using a Carolina rig or a soft-plastic stick bait. Both allow me to keep the bait in the bass’s strike zone for an extended period. By holding a bait in front of a bass for as long as possible, you pique that fish’s curiosity, and it eventually moves to check it out.

CREEP A CAROLINA RIG

The Carolina rig is highly effective when bass are holding in water deeper than 6 or 8 feet. I also like using a C-rig if bass are holding behind a sand point, as the weight will kick up sand, thus mimicking a crawfish moving along the bottom. A C-rig similarly excels if the lake you’re fishing has already turned over and its summer vegetation has started decaying and sinking to the bottom. Keeping your bait above that gunk is the key to getting bites, and a C-rig can effectively suspend your offering above the mess.

I usually cast a Carolina rig out beyond the fish-holding targets I’ve identified and then just slowly drag it along bottom until I reach the specific area I want to fish. These are places where I know bass are holding, either from my time and experience on the water or after seeing them on my MEGA Live Imaging. Once there, I’ll let the soft plastic on the end of the C-rig just soak. Don’t pick the weight off the bottom, as this creates a lot of silt disturbance. Instead, sweep the rod sideways to move it and only use the reel to pick up the slack.

For C-rigs, always use a weight heavy enough to maintain contact with the bottom. On a river system, water depth, wind and current determine the appropriate size. For me, it’s usually a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce brass C-rig or tungsten barrel weight. I often swap between the two depending on the bottom content where I’m fishing. Because tungsten is denser and smaller than brass or lead of the same weight, it gets the nod when I want my rig to have a more streamlined profile in the water column.

I place one or two beads behind the weight. This protects the knot, which comes next, and when the weight knocks the beads against the next component, a barrel swivel, it creates fish-attracting noise. I connect my swivel to the hook with a 12- or 15-pound-test Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader.

If I’m fishing around laydowns where my hook may hang up frequently, I’ll go down to a 12-pound-test leader. That way I can break off just that part and not my whole rig (my main line is 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon). My leader length depends on water clarity. In stained water, I use a 12- to 18-inch leader; gin-clear water requires a 24- to 36-inch leader.

When I’m dead-sticking, I like using finesse plastics that still produce some action even when they’re not moving. A Zoom Fluke Stick Jr., with its forked tail, will do this. If the wind or a river’s natural flow is producing current, I often prefer an X Zone Lures Muscle Back Finesse Craw. With either soft plastic, I like using a 4/0 Lazer TroKar TK105 Pro V Worm Hook. This style of hook places the point closer to the bait’s rear, which helps keep the bait looking natural in the water while it’s sitting still.

soft-plastic fishing bait
Soaking a wacky-rigged weightless stick bait, like a YUM Dinger, near shallow structures or remaining green weeds can be productive for finicky bass. (Photo courtesy of Pradco Outdoor Brands)

SOAK A STICK BAIT

If you’ve ever fished a tournament that saw exceptionally difficult conditions, you’ve most likely heard the phrase, "soaking a Senko." This technique is probably one of the most used dead-sticking approaches when targeting inactive bass. Dead-sticking a Senko is so effective because it can be done anywhere. In any fish-holding cover you want to fish, at any depth, a Senko slowly falling through the water column and sitting in front of an inactive bass is just plain juicy.

Two of my favorite areas to soak a Senko are either up around shallow structures or near a lake’s last remaining green weeds. Bass holding by laydowns or docks that have been bombarded with other traditional lures often still eat a dead-sticked Senko. Meanwhile, a Senko sitting adjacent to green weeds will call out to bass holding tight to this vegetation and entice them to bite.

Recommended


I like to wacky-rig a 5-inch Senko when dead-sticking, rigging it on a size-2 Lazer TroKar TK137 Pro V Finesse Hook. If I need to get my bait down deeper in the water column or add some casting distance, I’ll insert a nail weight into one end of the bait.

I’ll cast the bait out and let it soak over a rock pile or next to a weed clump, or I’ll have it sit motionless next to a laydown. Then, I’ll reel up a bit of slack and repeat the entire soaking process.

Take care to limit your footprint when dead-sticking for inactive bass, especially in shallow water. Fluorocarbon line is a must, as it’s super sensitive and, more importantly, virtually invisible underwater. When I’m soaking a soft-plastic stick bait, I’ll use an 8-pound Seaguar Gold Label fluorocarbon leader connected to a 20-pound Seaguar SmackDown high-viz Flash Green main line. Again, depending on the water clarity, my leader will be between 18 and 36 inches long.

If the bite gets tough for you in late fall, don’t get discouraged and leave the water without taking a stab at dead-sticking the baits mentioned here. Often, slowing way down with this presentation in key spots will put some bass in your boat and turn your day around quickly.

COLD-WATER KIT

  • Gear to help you excel on the water as temperatures drop.
cold-weather fishing gear
Cold-weather gear: Blackfish Arid Waterproof Gloves (top left), Blackfish Rage Waterproof Ankle Boot (bottom left); Humminbird MEGA Live transducer (middle), Blackfish Gale Vest (right).

Comfort is key as fall ticks ever closer to winter. With cold temperatures and occasionally adverse weather, anglers must be able to retain heat and remain dry. And with fish becoming more and more lethargic due to the colder water, solid mapping and fish-finding technologies grow ever more essential. Here are five pieces of gear that can make your late-fall fishing trips more enjoyable and productive.

  • Blackfish Arid Waterproof Gloves: Keeping your hands warm and dry during the chilly, windy and sometimes rainy fall months is essential, both for safety and functionality. If you can’t feel your hands, you won’t be able to fish effectively. Blackfish’s Arid Waterproof Glove ($50; blackfishgear.com) is 100-percent waterproof and breathable and has a stretch fit to cut down on bulk.
  • Blackfish Gale Vest: Vests aren’t just for fall fashion, they can also help anglers keep their core warm while affording their arms full range of motion. Blackfish’s Gale Vest ($110) is a great layer underneath a rain jacket on cold, windy or rainy days. On milder days, a simple hoody underneath the Gale Vest gives your core the needed warmth to stay on the water. Blackfish uses Thermal Snare Technology to keep heat inside and create a thermal barrier against the wind and cold.
  • Blackfish Rage Waterproof Ankle Boot: The Blackfish Rage Waterproof Ankle Boot ($80) is easy for anglers to slip on and off on the water when a pop-up shower hits. The contoured insole delivers a comfortable bed, allowing anglers to fish all day while keeping their feet warm and dry—an absolute must during fall’s chillier days. My favorite feature of this 100-percent-waterproof boot are the front and back pull tabs, which ensure you won’t have to battle the boots just to get them on your feet.
  • Humminbird LakeMaster VX Cards: LakeMaster Maps deliver incredible detail and accuracy, which help anglers identify key fish-holding locations quicker. The new Humminbird LakeMaster VX cards ($150–$300; humminbird.johnsonoutdoors.com) feature VX Technology, which provides exceptional map performance and customizable color palates, so an angler can quickly identify the desired fishing depth and shallow-water areas. Anglers no longer need a separate SmartStrike card, as the VX cards have SmartStrike built in for select HD lakes.
  • Humminbird MEGA Live Imaging: See fish in real-time and see how a bass is reacting to your bait as you are dead-sticking it with Humminbird MEGA Live Imaging ($1,500 for MEGA Live transducer). MEGA Live Imaging’s unmatched detail delivers absolute clarity, providing an underwater front-row view of your bait in the strike zone. You can even mark and view waypoints on the MEGA Live Imaging sonar screen to make precise casts to specific fish-holding structures.



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