The weather forecasters surely got this one right.
As much as a week in advance, meteorologists were calling for a cold front to move into Central Texas on Thursday with frigid, arctic air moving in behind it. Indeed, a rare hard freeze warning was issued that morning, with speculation that temperatures would be well below freezing for over 48 hours, with wind chill values on Friday morning falling as low as minus-5 to minus-10 degrees.
As I prepared for my afternoon fishing trip on Belton Lake on Wednesday, I measured the water temperature from the surface down to 55 feet and found the temperature to be a uniform 58.2 degrees.
As the surface waters are chilled by the cold air, that surface water becomes more dense and sinks downward, thus chilling the water it falls through as it goes.
The bottom line is that we are now faced with colder water than we had just days ago and the fact that this cooldown happened abruptly. It is this abruptness which has the greatest negative impact on fishing, as fish, being cold-blooded creatures, typically turn off and do not feed well following any manner of great environmental change.
One of my clients, a retired certified public accountant now residing in Kerrville, texted me as he saw this frigid weather on the horizon. His text read: “So what is the approach when (if) the water temp. gets down to 50?”.
I texted him back: “I will do three specific things in water that cold: 1) downsize to a Bladed Hazy Eye Slab, white, 3/8 ounce, 2) use a snap-jigging tactic within 4 to 5 inches of the bottom with an intentional 2 to 3 second pause between snaps, 3) go prepared to deadstick when conditions are particularly tough.”
I would like to address the first two of these three tactics in this column, then cover deadsticking later in the winter, if this winter is harsh and I see the need to use this tactic.
I have thought a lot about why downsizing lure size when things get tough seems to enhance my results.
I suspect that a smaller bait, imitating a smaller meal, especially when that meal is not moving far or fast, just appeals to a predator which is increasingly less likely to expend energy by limiting its own movements, as dictated by that predator’s diminishing metabolism.
I have already placed a set of rods aboard my boat rigged with white, 3/8-ounce Bladed Hazy Eye Slabs — the smallest, lightest slab I produce and use. This slab comes equipped with two features which a standard, store-bought slab will not have — a stinger hook and a small, spinning, silver, willow-leaf blade affixed to the treble hook.
The stinger hook will up your strike-to-catch ratio by making it more difficult for a fish to contact the lure without encountering a hook. The blade adds flash and vibration even in a limited-movement presentation like snap-jigging.
So, what to do with this downsized lure? I suggest using a snap-jigging tactic.
Snap-jigging really comes on strong as the water chills and we begin to experience some thermal kill on threadfin shad. Instead of pursuing healthy fish, gamefish will slowly cruise the bottom looking for dead or dying shad. Blue catfish anglers have been clued into this phenomenon for many years now.
Although there are a number of ways to accomplish snap-jigging, I have had to become adept at quickly explaining this to novice clients, and here is how I suggest they do it.
First, I suggest using light spinning gear. I have my 3/8-ounce slabs rigged on a St. Croix PFS70LXF spinning rod from their Panfish Series. This is a seven-foot, light power, extra-fast action rod. This is mated with a Penn Conflict II reel in the 1000 size.
Begin by placing the rod’s tip on the surface, opening the bail, and letting the slab fall to bottom.
Once the lure reaches bottom, close the bail by hand (do not use the reel’s handle to close the bail) and then slowly turn the reel’s handle while closely watching the rod tip. Remove all slack from the line such that you are in direct contact with the slab with the slab still on bottom and your rod’s tip still just touching the surface of the water.
Doing this correctly will allow you to use your rod tip as a gauge of how far above the bottom your lure will be.
Now, with your line tight and your rod tip on the surface of the water, lift your rod tip to a height of four to five inches above the water’s surface. Your lure will now be a corresponding four to five inches above the lake’s bottom.
Using mainly wrist action, snap your rod tip upward about 18 inches and whip it right back down to that starting point just four to five inches above the water’s surface. This allows the lure to surge upward and flutter with a free-falling action back to toward the bottom. This flutter closely imitates a thermally-shocked shad.
If you pay close attention to your rod tip, you will see your rod tip dip just slightly downward when your slab reaches the end of its tether and stops suddenly.
This is where the vast majority of your strikes will occur. Now, let that lure sit motionlessly for a full two to three seconds, then snap it upward again. This process then repeats. Fast, reflexive hooksets are critical. With the small, sharp hooks on the quality VMC hooks I equipped these slabs with, a hard hookset is not critical, but once again, speed is.
I will still have a second set of rods aboard with my larger 5/8-ounce and ¾-ounce slabs ready for service should the fish really turn on (especially if they are working under birds) and I see the forage size is greater than the size of the 3/8-ounce slab, but my default will be that smallest, 3/8-ounce slab at least until the weather moderates.