By Chris Gorsuch
In December’s issue we went over a few more aggressive cold-water techniques. In this issue we are going to discuss more traditional approaches for targeting smallmouth bass in your favorite river. While I primarily fish the Susquehanna River, I have found identical results in my annual visits to the Juniata, Delaware and branches of the upper Potomac. I’m guessing you can apply the same tactics on the Shenandoah, James and New Rivers.
Hair Jigs & Micro Tubes
Todd and I have been fishing together for nearly 20 years. We generally spend more time fishing together in the winter months than any other time of the year. Todd’s passion is fly fishing for smallmouth, which he does five to six days a week from April through November.
Come December, he changes his approach and makes the switch to spinning gear. He prefers a medium, fact-action rod with a good backbone for the hard sets that cold water often requires. Like most of us his line choice for winter jigging is a braided main line with a 10-12lb fluorocarbon leader. He (and this author) believes this set up offers anglers the best feel for the subtle pickups when fishing in extreme cold water.
Armed with micro tubes that measure 2-3/4 to 3 inches, and hair jigs that he ties himself, Todd can turn the most inactive situations into steady action.
When it comes to his choice in hair, Todd prefers deer or bear, over rabbit or fox. Deer tail and bear fur are more course than the rabbit and fox that I use myself from time to time.
Regardless of the hair type, hair jigs compress in the water making hooksets quite a bit easier than soft plastics. Todd prefers to find areas with very soft current. Areas such as bank eddies, mid river areas behind ledges and rocks, even island areas where there is 4+ feet of water. Rather than hop the hair jigs or tubes, he shakes the rod tip and lifts slightly to drag the tube across the bottom slowly. Managing line by limiting slack allows him to feel any resistance. Fish slowly but work the entire area. While bass are often in the softest part of the area you are targeting, they can also be out near the current line.
Since our very first outing together, Michael’s go-to lure in most any situation is a swimbait. He has a technique for swims in nearly any condition or time of year. I first experienced this with him during a trip in extremely high conditions one December and again in January. While I was all for his color choice, selecting a dark purple and black swimbait over a different profile seemed odd. He fished the swim on a 3/16oz football jig, which by the way, was exactly how I threw the Fitt Lures Chillee Willee that morning.
I asked why he chose the larger profile for such cold water, and his answer could not have been better.
“I guess it is confidence. I just know this profile works for me on the Delaware, so I wanted to try it here on the Susquehanna.” I have learned over the years that confidence is often the key to fishing, regardless of lure choice.
It was not long before Mike was hooked up. Fish after fish, I shook my head as the larger 4” profile created the same amount of attention from the bass as my smaller profiles.
When most people think swimbaits, they immediately imagine reeling and moving the bait the entire time. In cold water, the movement is much slower and resembles more of a drag than a swim. Constant contact with the bottom, pulling the swim a few inches and stopping briefly is the key. Weights can be adjusted to water depth and current speed, at times as heavy as quarter ounce, and as light as a sixteenth.
Mike’s go to swimbaits are the Fat Impact from Keitech, the Diesel Minnow from ZMan and the Spark Shad from Megabass. Fished on a clean jig, or a jig with a silicon skirt is a solid option for cold water. Mike prefers to trim the skirts back and in extreme cold water, he trims or reduces the number of tassels to about half as many as a fully skirted jig.
Bill is one of the most patient anglers I have met. He is not a numbers guy, all he cares about is connecting with a monster. I have watched him fish all day for 6 to 10 fish and be completely satisfied as long as most were monsters. While I wouldn’t say he completely ignores soft plastics, it is rare that I see him reaching for them. Now, do not get the impression that Bill doesn’t have those ‘number days’, just that he truly would sacrifice 50 bass for five big ones. When it comes to cold water, he will have suspended jerk baits on every rod.
When I use the word patience, I am telling you he will hold a jerkbait in current without moving it for 30 to 45 seconds between a subtle, light twitch. This technique is very productive, especially for large bass, but it requires patience when you know you are sitting over fish. With most rivers, there are wintering areas where bass hold up. Getting these fish to strike can often take patience, especially when you are using a larger profile and targeting a select group of larger bass.
Bill’s go to jerkbait selections for cold water are the 115SP Flash Boost from Shimano and the Pointer 100SP from Lucky Craft. These are larger profile jerk baits than I use myself come winter. Bill feels these 100-115 size bodies tend to appeal to larger bass, although smaller bass will strike these as well. Over the years Bill has tried a number of line options when throwing suspended baits. He has settled into 12lb Fluorocarbon line over monofilament and the combination of braided line and a very long fluorocarbon leader. He feels the fluorocarbon gives him the feel and the depth he is looking for with these somewhat larger jerkbaits.
So, that wraps the last three ‘Angler Choices’ for cold water lures and techniques. Remember that confidence and the patience to slow down your favorite presentation, will produce fish when fishing this winter.
Have a great start to your new fishing season and we will catch up again in next month’s Woods and Waters.
Author Chris Gorsuch is a licensed charter guide in the state of Pennsylvania. He started the Reel River Adventures guide service in ‘07 and spends 225-250 days on the water annually. His home base is on the Susquehanna River where he operates 20’ jetboats.You can follow his daily fishing reports on Facebook ‘Reel River Adventures-RRA’ & Instagram @Chris_Gorsuch