Heavy Metal Jerking
by C.C. McCotter
After a week of cold, windy weather, the grip of an early winter had finally loosened on central Virginia and all across the area diehard anglers were thawing out and heading for Lake Anna, the site of some of the best cold weather fishing within 200 miles.
When my phone rang and my fishing buddy anxiously asked me if the fish were biting I told him if he met me at the marina we would find out. An hour later when he pulled in with a belly full of Slim Jims and a Mountain Dew buzz that had him fumbling to tie even a Granny knot I realized we had to keep it simple.
My Nitro slid off the trailer into the 48-degree water and we hit the lake ready for whatever Miss Anna would throw at us.
We motored out gingerly into the slowly warming morning air to a spot I had done well at before, the mouth of Marshall Creek. As we neared the area my Lowrance 550C started marking bait and fish. A buoy and the trolling motor went over the side and we were vertically jigging..... and we were catching fish within minutes of leaving the dock in December!
Big, fat, tasty white perch came over the side of the boat. Plump, colorless largemouths with pink lips, feisty yellow perch, surging catfish and even a small yet lively striper fell to our vertically presented lures.
My buddy actually took a break from stuffing his face with meat sticks and washing them down with fluorescent soda to land all his fish. He mumbled his disbelief of the fantastic cold weather action.
While we were fishing, one Mr. Fancy bass fishermen pulled up in his glittering metallic green boat with ten rods rigged with all the hottest lures. He asked us what we were fishing for and we told him we were jigging for perch.
No sooner had we answered when his attitude changed visibly. It was like we had a body odor problem. The decked out fellow looked down his nose and said, "I don't fish for perch." And with that utterance he started his motor and sped off in search of a more acceptable quarry.
Well, while I do have a fishing buddy like the Dew-guzzling one in this funny story and we have probably all met anglers like Mr. Fancy, the account is somewhat fictionalized and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Wintertime jigging is however, for real and a very effective technique for catching just about any fish that swims in Lake Anna or in your home water. On that day I described and many others IÕve been on Anna IÕve actually caught largemouth bass and striper as well as white perch vertically jigging.
During the colder months jigging can often turn a tricky day into a memorable one, with plenty of action when other methods fail to produce. HereÕs how you can get in on the action.
The beauty of cold weather jigging is that there are really only a few things the angler needs to succeed.
Start with a quality depth finder that offers a high-resolution pixel count of at least 320/per inch. This will help you better determine between fish and the bottom they hold near in the winter.
Next the beginning jigger should purchase the right kind of fishing rod to handle vertical presentations. The ideal rod is around 5'8" or six feet with a fast taper tip or one that has a soft tip but strong butt and middle section. The soft tip will produce more hookups from notoriously subtle biting winter fish. The right rod actually gives a little when the hook is set so there is less chance of the angler pulling the lure free of a barely hooked fish. The soft tip also gives jigging lures better action.
My personal favorite is an ABU Garcia Revo STX reel and a six-foot medium action Berkley Lightning. The best rod and reel combo will enhance lure action and also offer enough backbone to muscle a big bass or striper as well as finesse a slab-sized perch to the surface.
Next, visit your local fishing shop and take a look at the selection of jigging lures. Look for heavy metal. Not the musical kind, but the kind found in lures like ½ blade baits and nearly one-ounce slab or flutter spoons. Each lake will have its own regional favorites. Online guide reports should reveal them.
Lures IÕve used on Anna and beyond with great success include the Crazy Blade, the Riverside Ripper and the Toothache spoon. Other traditional heavy metal offerings include the Buddy lures, ½- to ¾-ounce Hopkins Shorty spoons, Luhr Jensen's Ripple Tail and Crippled Herrings, Acme Kastmasters and Little Georges.
Get yourself a collection of these producers, pick a day, hopefully not too windy, hitch up the boat and head for your favorite wintertime fishing hole. Yes, a boat is essential. Vertical jigging is a little tricky while bank fishing.
Depth Finder Tips
Start by turning on the depth finder and scanning areas of the lake that will hold wintertime fish. Typical spots to check are flats in 30-38 feet of water nearby the main river or creek channel. The mouths of main creeks where they intersect the main river channel are also good spots.
Now, no depth finder can tell you what kind of fish you are recording, but you can learn to identify the species by their general schooling or non-schooling patterns on the screen.
White perch often congregate on or just off the bottom. If you see a bunch of small to medium-sized fish near the bottom in the middle of a flat, chances are you have located the perch.
Largemouth bass too congregate near the bottom in the wintertime in loose schools. Look for them to be near dropoffs both shallower and deeper. Bass do not school vertically like perch. A good depth finder will show bass schooled horizontally within a few feet of the bottom or just under baitfish.
Big winter stripers usually do not school tightly and rarely are they just off the bottom. They generally hang in the water column and show up as ten to 20 big fish (over one-inch long) spread out, yet on the same screen. There are exceptions, though, and at times, IÕve seen dozens of five to eight pound striper on my Lowrance in less than 20Õ.
With all species, if you are also marking big fuzzy, blobs of baitfish, sometimes on the bottom and sometimes just above the bottom the fish are probably not actively feeding. If they are feeding, then this bait will be broken up or near the surface.
Keep this in mind too, vertical jigging will still catch fish when theyÕre not actively feeding. Think about it, if a nice, fresh donut was dangled right in front of your nose, wouldn't you snap it up, too?
How To Vertical Jig
Once fish are located on the depth finder, toss out a marker buoy nearby, but not on top of, the fish, drop the trolling motor or anchor and start jigging.
The technique is simple. Open the bait or freespool the lure to the bottom all the way. This is very important. The lure must be just above the bottom to successfully catch winter fish while jigging.
Once the line goes slack and the lure rests below, crank the hand twice to position it just off the bottom. Then pull (not snap) the rod with your wrist a couple of feet upward and follow the lure back down on a semi-tight line. Do not let slack develop as the lure falls. Repeat the process every second or two until you connect with a fish or the depth finder empties.
You can also cast out and yo-yo jig the bait back to the boat using the same technique. This is an effective way of locating a roving school.
Strikes usually come as the lure is lowered back down and felt on the next upswing. When a strike occurs, don't do the "pump and reel, baby!" marlin fighting thing. Just maintain a tight line and let the rod do the work.
Most fish won't begin fighting until 15 feet from the surface, so be ready for some savage runs. Wintertime fish rarely jump but are notorious for pulling free of hooks. The angler can avoid this by not over-reeling the fish.
Now about our Mr. Fancy Fisherman.... Later that afternoon, back at the ramp we saw the hotshot angler watching us as we pulled 12-inch perch from the livewell and laughed about how we even caught a few largemouthÕs and striper.
We stopped inside the marina store for a few snacks to go and the guy walked in behind us, went to the peg that held the heavy metal lures. There he pulled a few off the wall, made his way to the register and said with a wry smile," I'll take these and a couple of Slim Jims."