Since the strong line of storms that tore through Central Texas on Veterans Day, we have not had even a single hour of time where the air temperature has been warmer than the water temperature on the surface of our two local lakes.
This has led to a rapid cooling of Belton and Stillhouse Hollow lakes. Before going into this weekend, the surface temperature on both bodies of water hovered near 60 degrees, a temperature we normally do not fall to until the second or third week of December. In some years, we have not reached a 60 surface temperature until after New Year’s Day.
Although decreasing water temperatures are normal in the fall and through the end of February, I have found in the past, and certainly noted this week, that such a rapid decrease negatively affects the fishery.
Fish are a cold-blooded creature, meaning a fish’s body temperature will be roughly the same temperature as that of its surroundings. As water temperature falls, the metabolism of cold-blooded creatures falls as well. Fish tend not to move as far nor as fast in cold water as they did in warmer conditions, and they certainly do not eat as often, given that their bodies demand less food to sustain life.
For the statistically-minded among you, consider this. My average catch per trip for Nov. 7-12 was 149.6 fish. My average catch per trip for Nov. 14-19 was 119.25 fish. This week, Nov. 21-26, my average catch per trip was 83.0 fish.
It is not that the fishing is terrible, and it is not that the fish are not biting, rather everything is simply slowing down, and anglers must appreciate this and do likewise.
Now that the water temperature has fallen to the 58-60 range, I have made three major adjustments in my pursuit of white bass and hybrid striped bass.
First, for the first time since spring, I replaced the MAL Lure with the Bladed Hazy Eye Slab with stinger hook as my primary presentation. See WhiteBassTools.com for an illustration. While I still keep a full set of rods aboard rigged with the MAL Lure, it is not the first rod I now place in my clients’ hands.
As good as the MAL Lure is, I have found that it must be moved too quickly (to keep its blade spinning effectively) to be of interest to gamefish a majority of the time in this cool season. Only during truly aggressive feeding sprees which include an abundance of fish (as witnessed on sonar) will I change back to the MAL Lure during the winter months.
The Bladed Hazy Eye Slab has two unique features. First, it incorporates a small willow-leaf blade so the attractive power of that (demonstrated by the effectiveness of the MAL Lure) is maintained on a winter-time bait. Secondly, it incorporates a stinger hook which will greatly increase the strike-to-catch ratio. The colder the water, the truer this will be. The slab’s profile is also smaller than that of the MAL Lure.
The second adjustment I have made this week concerns retrieve speed. Colder water requires a slower retrieve. The Bladed Hazy Eye Slab I have described can be (must be!) moved more slowly than the MAL Lure. As it rises off the bottom, either by being reeled upward or steadily lifted upward, the lure’s body wags a bit, and the small spinner blade spins and flashes, thus attracting fish.
To ensure I do not outrun and disinterest the fish, I tend to rely on spinning reels with small spool diameters and low gear ratios to mechanically limit how fast clients can reel their baits up off bottom.
Most anglers default to a retrieve speed which is too fast and too uneven to appeal to white bass and hybrid stripers.
Smaller reels in the 1500 and 2000 class do well, especially with gear ratios around 5.2-to-1.
In a typical cold-water scenario, I will find fish with Humminbird side-imaging, use the i-Pilot Link interface between my sonar unit and my trolling motor to hover atop the fish I have found, then rely on down-looking Garmin LiveScope to track fish and my clients’ presentations.
I have them drop down to bottom and reel slowly and steadily upward. A rate of rise of about 2 feet per second is a good starting point. Keeping the rod tip parked in one spot by smoothly turning the handle is critical.
The final adjustment I have made involves changing over from my “splasher” to my “thumper.” The splasher, a small, 12-volt trolling motor with a modified propellor intended to make a splashy commotion on the surface, is intended to mimic the sound fish make as they churn the surface eating bait there. This kind of surface feeding is not happening any longer, so imitating it is not as effective as it was in the warm months.
The thumper creates more of a direct thud on the floor of my boat which resonates with a lower, bass sound than the splashy sound of the splasher. Although available commercially, I made my own thumper which incorporates a small electric motor which repeatedly causes a short, iron bar to be lifted and allowed to drop, thus striking a metallic plate positioned below the iron bar. All of this is contained in a plastic weatherproof, portable box about the size of a military ammo can.
I am so convinced these noise-making devices effectively draw fish to the boat that I would now feel handicapped fishing without them.
Bottom line: the rapidly cooling water demands a significant adjustment in tactics, namely by reducing retrieve speed and lure size. Fishing will likely pick back up with either more stable weather or a warming trend, but even if/when it does, these cool-water tactics will remain effective right up until the spring warm-up.