Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Jerkbaits For Largemouth Bass

Jerkbait Triple Play


The Early Largemouth Game



          You can throw curves, but it’s better to be on base and take a cautious lead early in the spring. You can’t steal without stop and go. Bass seem yet in training, warming muscles to allow them to give chase once water temperatures move well into the 50’s. Until then, you’re more likely to score by practicing patience. Three general types of hard-bodied jerkbaits or minnow lures serve as proven pitches as soon as bass begin to nose into shallows, and they score on through the prespawn period: suspending, floating, and sinking.

          Suspending plugs like the Rapala Husky Jerk, Daiwa TD Minnow, Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue, and Jackal Squad Minnow, among many other brands, draw all the rage, applause dimming over the floating and sinking types of plugs. In cold water, you can tantalize bass by barely moving the lure, seeming to mesmerize bass into doing the obvious—sucking the plug down. Particularly in clear water, bass get drawn from a distance, but even stained water may result in hits, because a bass’s lateral line sensory organ detects subtle motion from yards away.

          This said, don’t rule out a floating jerkbait like the Rebel Minnow. Popularity cannot and never will mean everything. Especially so, since the Rebel Minnow is an old standby with a longer reputation than any Husky Jerk. Since this simple example of a highly effective plastic lure that rests on the surface at an angle is under the stadium lights, watch that it can be twitched with rod tip lowered to raise the rear to the surface, as the tail falls back with a little slack.

          This is a method every bit as subtle as barely moving a suspending jerkbait. It’s worked for me in water as cold as 47 degrees. But only during late afternoons or evenings after a sunlit, mild day has water temperature increased to 47 degrees or slightly higher, when will bass respond by taking the lure at the sunken end, making a surface dimple as slight as a trout’s sipping a fly.

          Most of the shallow flats and shoreline action happens after water temperatures hit 50, when bass get stirred into striking out after forage fish, and erratic jerkbaits spur reactions. Sinking plugs like the Rapala Countdown, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, and lipless varieties like the Old Faithful and Pesca do allow the option of fishing deeper, but you have to reel the plug at a fair clip or it loses depth. At minimal speed, you hang up on bottom. Nevertheless, even when water temperatures reach the 50’s, particularly the biggest bass may be staging at depths of six feet or more, and sinking plugs wobble along very effectively if not too much cover like residual weeds or timber is present, although fishing over the top reach of vegetation can break your rod—or shatter the bat, if you will—in low light with falling barometer. It just might take a big, bruising female to sock the plug hard enough, and the game isn't softball. 

          Impart action to that plug. A rod tip is not only there to set a hook or to just reel a lure back in a straight line. Fast action rods serve best, since the stiffness in the middle and lower sections gives you better power and control by letting the tip make the lure dance, the rest of the rod transmitting hand motion directly to the top. In turn, you can feel the lure’s action in your hand much better and enjoy a quick hookset.

          With warmer temperatures, crazy action is generally best with floating and suspending plugs. You can drive bass nuts jerking them around. Don’t throw them an easy pitch, get bass to swing wild, and they’ll swing again until they hit. Especially with increasing water temperature moving through the 50’s to around 60 on a warm day, bass may be powerfully motivated to feed, and a minnow lure behaving like wildly frantic forage attempting escape can result in jarring strikes.

          Why is this? No baitfish is so obvious as to behave like a wisecrack.

          A combination of two factors may be responsible. For one thing, bass become aware other bass swim nearby; each is competitive. Have you ever noticed—when fighting a bass—another attempt to steal the plug stuck in the hooked bass’s maw? I once landed a double header. When a jerkbait comes crazy, bass have no time to notice whether or not another is after it. They immediately react as if another might get it first.

          The second consideration is sheer aggression. A minnow plug is really far from an exact replica of a baitfish of any kind, although lures of all kinds especially resemble actions of forage to some degree far from perfect. Nonetheless, lures especially seem to trigger something like territorial aggression by which bass jolt into fierce desire to kill.

          For shallow water success, many companies make jerkbait floaters. Smithwick makes a floating Rogue, as well as the suspending version I’ve mentioned. Kevin VanDam won the 2005 Bassmaster Classic at Three Rivers, Pittsburgh, with this time-tested plug. Famous Rapalas feature balsa wood resulting in rapid, smooth pulsations and jerk responses unlike any other brand.

          It’s fun to experiment and develop preferences. I’ve used Rapalas for more than 40 years, and for a long time the #9 floater was my favorite lure. Lately I’ve appreciated the Rattlin’ Rogue because I can work it deeper, though without the instantaneous response to the rod tip as with the Rapala.

          Early spring is perhaps the best time of year to tempt a big female, not just because she’s full of eggs, but because she feeds a little more than she would with the same metabolic rate, as she would feed in the fall, so that those eggs grow before released.

Among lure choices you can employ April through May, jerkbaits can have you covered.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Shiners for Lake Trout, Why not Power Bait?

So I finally got out and fished Round Valley Reservoir, first driving up Route 31 to Paddlesports in Washington to buy kayak racks, finding it's closed Mondays. So I salvaged the drive by photographing Spruce Run at Glen Gardner. I later found my best shot ruined by the lens hood getting shifted out of place and vignetting two corners of the picture, but had did not failed to notice the Glen Gardner Inn beyond the bank and across the street at an angle from where I shot. I will return to this scene.

At Round Valley, I found Mike fishing his favorite spot where he can sit in his car and read the newspaper. I had a couple of photos for him from last winter, and then told him I had to go buy shiners. He offered to give me half-a-dozen. I gratefully took four. Last week he caught a 24-inch laker off a nearby point, so I took his direction and fished that, as he drove off to do some banking. Just before he turned to leave, he said he's caught two lakers on Power Bait this year, and they say only stocked trout take the stuff.

While I waited, a rainbow got caught across the way, and after an hour or so, I felt uncomfortable in the chill. I went to my car and read. When I noticed my 11-foot noodle rod had shifted position, I ran at top speed over the rocks for about 75 yards, but careful not to twist an ankle. Most of the line had peeled off the spool, frightful, because another minute or two could have meant a lost rod and reel.

Line tight, I lifted, closed the bail, and set the hook--into nothing. Took forever to reel in the empty hook and sinker. First thing I felt was an intense desire to get back here and do this again, and then I felt the inevitable: Do this again and not screw up. And you know how that is. It gets to gnawing on you. I felt like a fool for having sat in my car. And that was a big shiner the fish took.

So, stay or go. I decided to fish another hour. I still had shiners on two other rods. Yup, all along I had foldout chairs in my trunk. So I got one of those, took my book and sat there, waiting. Instead of reading, I found sitting still and listening to water lapping very soothing.

Pretty soon I saw Dave setting up to my right, called out and walked over to see him. He's caught more than a hundred this busy season, but says the trout have moved out further from the bank, no surprise. He caught a rainbow on Power Bait within three minutes and offered to let me bait up. He's setting the bait on a short leader, maybe 18 inches.

"Early in the season, they hit marshmallow & mealworms, and then they just stopped. I noticed guys getting them on Power Bait, so that's what I've used since."

By the time I got back from my car with my noodle rod, Dave had missed two more hits. We fished another half hour and no more happened. Rainbows travel in pods. And they often pass on shiners, but will take this orange stuff that disgusts me.
 This guy trolled very slowly with an electric.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Slab Crappies Big Baits: Top Techniques Jigs Plastics Shiners

South Winds Pack Early Season Slabs

Greet the season with positive feeling for early spring, and don’t discount little signs of more to come. Big crappies may convince you the vernal transition is here. Once ice is gone from ponds, lakes and reservoirs, the water is open to sudden temperature spikes brought on by March and April warm fronts. Crappies invade coves, timber flats and shorelines with residual weeds in numbers fitting of an army. Action can be so easily enjoyed that perhaps it makes sense to enlarge your offering and concentrate on big fish. Crappies longer than 17 inches and upwards of three pounds are possible in some places in New Jersey including Spruce Run and Manasquan reservoirs, lakes Hopatcong and Mercer. Other reservoirs and lakes across the nation may produce even larger fish. A 14-incher is a good one, but if you catch one this size, more may add to your fun. Large crappies move in pods of similar-sized fish, and although numbers won’t be as many as in schools of dinks, you may anticipate the slabs with a lot more interest than would motivate catching smaller.



Bulky Baits



You don’t need a heavy jighead, no more than an eighth ounce, and lead can be shaved to less than a sixteenth ounce while retaining a large hook for a big plastic or synthetic bait. Wide hook gaps are important to ensure hook sets. The additional width between hook shaft and point means more grab relative to the plastic body of the lure. Bulkier plastics, synthetic baits and live shiners may best interest larger crappies with mouths plenty voluminous to accommodate wide gap hooks and especially by using a lengthy rod, they cast further. The typical tiny crappie jig is not the conclusive choice, not for slabs. Synthetics like four-inch saltwater Gulp! Swimming Mullets, tube jigs, twister tail and paddle tail plastics just as lengthy all serve the purpose of slowing a jig’s descent through the water column.


Why is this important? Two reasons. The longer the lure is in view to fish yet moving slow in relatively cold water, the more time the crappie has to react. And secondly, on retrieve you can keep the bait swimming above bottom where crappies likely suspend. So have a pen knife handy to reduce lead weight.


I got interested in large shiners for crappies while fishing for northern pike. For pike, I like to set bobbers using a couple of rods while nearby live lining a large shiner with my favorite St. Croix. Most of the pike take the live-lined shiner presented on a size 6 plain shank hook through both lips, used with a barrel swivel to tie the leader and add little weight. I cover range bobber fishing can’t accomplish. One blustery, warm afternoon with wind blowing up from the south, I got into a bunch of big crappies on these large, live-lined shiners, a very convincing experience. They took the bait whole, and the fairly small size 6 hook was sufficient for hookset, otherwise allowing the shiners maximum liveliness. Don’t set the hook instantly when fishing shiners, but don’t wait more than five or six seconds, either. Avoid gut hooking.



Southerly Blows



While fishing lakes and reservoirs, not only the warmth rising from the south matters. Finding downwind coves or shorelines means the shallows are turbulent with water warmer than any coves less exposed to the sun, which positions on a more southerly axis this time of year. Turbulence itself provokes fish into further activity.


Crappies have lateral line sensory receptors which make them aware of commotion at the surface. Sunlight on the water goes through the chop and gets dispersed at crazy, random angles. This means a light show goes on underneath, and forage fish lose inhibition, since they sort of blend in with this disturbance, or are at least a little less likely to be spotted, or sensed by predator’s lateral line receptors, since so much noise is generated above. For comparison, imagine a perfectly calm surface with brilliant sun penetrating straight through. What forage fish will venture out in that, made visible in high definition? The sun-scoured aquatic environment is simply inactive compared to warming water in motion caused by south wind, which gets the entire food chain accelerating—at least for the afternoon and evening—into spring activity.


In some situations, waves crash against a muddy shoreline and discolor water, which gets pulled out and away from the bank for several yards or more. The edge of discolored water should always be fished carefully. Even if water is only two feet deep or so, crappies may be feeding especially on invertebrates such as aquatic worms. A worm-imitating paddletail like the four-inch Keitech Swimbait is a big offering that may trump the interest slabs have in smaller.



The Quantum Leap



A lake, reservoir or pond can be understood as quantities in relationship, and things can equate to action so fast in early spring the situation can seem to have the quality of magic. Lake Hopatcong is probably one of the best examples in the nation of a lake with many coves. It’s a very small lake compared to some, only 2680 acres, but perhaps the best of any to score high at pattern-seeing on the Rorschach test would fail to draw an analogy to anything else by the lake’s outline. No amoeba could ever roll out into so many shapes and diversions. River Styx is a huge cove, productive for perch and pickerel ice fishing all winter, but sort of suffers a lag after ice-out until water temperature spikes, and suddenly crappies leap from outside the weedline up into shallows of four or five feet, initiating the first stirrings of the pre-spawn period. Likewise, flooded timber shallows of Manasquan Reservoir would light up a computer screen, if any could scan acres just for crappies suddenly present and turned on. Whole ranges of many lakes and reservoirs come into play as entire populations of crappies take the leap from relatively inactive waiting, to critically needed feeding on baitfish among residual weeds to spur the growth of eggs for spawning by late April or so.


Ranges—untold acres—of residual vegetation may be full of spots to consider, although some reservoirs, like Spruce Run, have little weeds, submerged brush, docks or timber yet produce very large crappies. Since the acreage of a cove like River Styx is enough to be a small lake in itself, break the possibilities into manageable units. Fish docks or any submerged brush. Plenty of vegetation—sometimes too much even this early, perhaps—exists in combination with these structures. Manasquan Reservoir has, instead of megatons of vegetation, a daunting array of flooded timber. Get back in the relative shallows downwind, especially where you find shallow edges of timber in relation to deep water.


A lot of what the game is all about involves dropping the electric motor and covering water to find pods bunched in spots you discover while on the move. Casting bulky plastics on wide gap jigs is a fish-finding method, although some anglers prefer a bobber arrangement with shiners hooked near the dorsal fin, dropping the rig into tight spots and allowing a short wait before trying another configuration of stumps or patch of brush, getting in a rhythm, a work flow that produces. Ultimately, personal preference combined with a desire to experiment may win the day.



Taking it Slow but Ready to Game



Remember crappies are not as eager to give chase as bass or pike. They will on occasion strike jerkbaits, but this early in the season the fairly slow retrieves of bulky baits or shiners work better. Sometimes a crappie gets caught and no more come aboard. Was it an individual straggler, or did the pod move on and out of range? A good idea is to fan cast the areas near the catch site. Crappies in a pod cooperate by staying together, yet like all individual creatures, they game one against another. When a lure or shiner is presented within the sensory range of more than one predator, the likelihood is that all involved will be alerted to discriminate if they can give chase before any other does. This tension of interest within a pod as a whole increases the likelihood of getting a hit.


That’s something to consider further, this competitive nature. An evolutionary biologist might say any individual of a species behaves in ways that advance the species as a whole, but fish can seem like utter fools for lures and bait, and when reluctant, may yet be provoked into striking. Impart a little finesse to shoot a ripple of interest through a pod. Observe that tube plastics have squid-like tentacles, twister tails undulate in the water and paddle tails vibrate in a way similar to the muscles at the base of caudal fins. Put possibilities to advantage. Don’t simply retrieve these lures in a straight, steady line at the same speed. The likes of an all too regular retrieve does little to send a message to crappie’s senses, because forage fish aren’t zombies; they pulsate by impulses of fright and flight, and at the heart of these responses is life beyond the facts at the surface of things to which they react.


True enough, a plastic tube hardly looks like a minnow, but if you twitch it subtly, irregularly, giving it life, the action is something like evading forage. All you need to do is once strike a nerve in a big crappie and it will take. Quivering animation may get every crappie in sense range interested if they have any inclination to feed.