BOB MAINDELLE: Facing the fish in cold water | outdoor sports
My two least favorite fishing months are June and February, in that order. Let’s talk February.
On Stillhouse Hollow and Belton Lakes, we just experienced the lowest water temperatures these lakes have cooled to so far this year following the passage of Winter Storm Landon and the several minor cold fronts that followed. .
As I sounded the depths this week, the water in Belton was an almost uniform 50.8F from surface to bottom in 65 feet of water.
Fish, being the cold blooded creatures that they are, simply don’t move or feed as much in cold water as they do in warmer water due to reduced metabolism. This is the downside of cold water.
By contrast, the water is now well oxygenated from top to bottom, and many of the bottom topographical features and structures that were closed to fishing during the hot June-September season are now teeming with fish and bait.
Also on the positive side, game fish tend to form larger shoals as they stand in deeper water, whereas these same fish tend to fan out horizontally when in shallower water.
Dealing with cold front after cold front is tricky at this time of year. Nearly one in three trips I’ve booked are negatively affected by weather, either due to extreme cold or high winds.
Learning to “play with the weather” is helpful, but only if your schedule is flexible enough to get out on the water at the right time.
During the winter months, the last day of a warming trend before a cold front arrives is a solid bet. The air temperature is generally as hot as it will be before the next front arrives, cloud cover is generally abundant and winds are generally blowing. Unfortunately, as was the case on Wednesday when such conditions occurred, the winds may be too strong to fish safely.
In addition, the hours immediately preceding the arrival of a front, identified by the time window during which the wind changes from southwest to west, then to northwest, can also offer above average results.
Conditions to avoid, on the other hand, are cold, clear and calm conditions following the passage of a front. Such a set of conditions is often called post-frontal time.
Last week I only fished twice, once on Tuesday in the lull between the cold fronts, and again on Thursday morning just before the arrival of the cold front that is currently influencing our weather this weekend. end.
Tuesday produced 63 fish for two anglers and Thursday produced 75 fish for two anglers.
Given all that’s going on with the season and the weather, I chose to look for large aggregations of fish in deep water, knowing that when I found them, my presentation would have to be “low and slow”, which means that I would need to fish at or near the bottom and minimize rapid and/or excessive movements.
My presentation of choice is the white, 5/8-oz. Bladed Hazy Eye Slab of my own making. I originally designed this to mimic the color, size and profile of threadfin shad, then after seeing how attractive the rotating blades are to white bass through my experimentation with the MAL lure, I added a small treble hook fitted with a willow blade, resulting in an even more effective slab.
The process used once fish are found on sonar is to hold the boat directly above the fish using Spot-Lock, then drop the slab to the bottom while observing it on Garmin LiveScope or a traditional color sonar (also called 2D sonar).
Depending on how aggressive the fish is, either I slowly lift the lure off the bottom by slowly and gently lifting the tip of my rod upwards (for less aggressive fish), or I slowly bring the lure up off the bottom at a steady pace (for more aggressive fish).
With clients on board, I will have them practice dockside several times before going after fish so they get used to it before encountering fish. Using a lightweight 8 foot fishing rod, I have them place the tip of their rod on or within inches of the surface of the water, then, with the line almost taut but with the lure resting always on the bottom, I do them slowly and steadily. lift the stem up to the 11 o’clock position within 5 seconds. To coach them properly, I actually ask them to count out loud, “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand…” so that the rate of increase they get is perfect.
If I turn, I won’t go more than four or five cranks off the bottom if I don’t see a fish following. If I lift, I won’t go more than the equivalent of those same four or five crank turns.
Once you’ve enticed a fish to follow, I’ve found that continuing the same upward motion of the lure, at the same travel speed, is the most effective way to entice a following fish to strike. As I have the good fortune to observe successful and under-performing anglers aboard my boat, I find that those who follow this advice closely do better.
Those who see a fish following on the sonar and either speed up, or slow down, or stop, or stop and shake the lure, often scare the fish away while those who continue to move the lure in a way that attracts the fish in the first place ends up doing all the catching up.
I have observed this same behavior for largemouth bass, white bass, hybrid striped bass, pureblood striped bass, and freshwater drum.
Sometimes fish will follow a lifted lure and still follow the lure after the angler has raised their arm up as far as possible. When this occurs, continued uninterrupted upward movement can be accomplished by switching from hoisting to reeling. With practice, this can be done smoothly.
The tendency of fish to track high in the water column in this manner is an indicator that the winding tactic should be used rather than the lifting tactic. This often happens when feeding activity is up.
When fish are too lethargic to follow and overtake a slowly moving slab, even slower tactics, such as dead-sticking, are needed. That’s another topic for another Sunday.
In the meantime, we are waiting for the spring warming with warmer temperatures and longer day lengths.