Kelly Bostian: Pro anglers reveal their winter bass catching techniques
BY KELLY BOSTIAN World Outdoors Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2013
1/27/13 at 3:59 AM
Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: Preparation time
GIVEN THE fish stories of the past week, a person has to wonder just how many bass anglers will keep their boats going instead of winterizing them next year.
A record-setting 42-pound bag at Arbuckle last weekend, pro anglers hauling in 6- and 7-pound fish for the cameras in January, the Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake in February; these things are adding up to show bass fishing in winter might be worth the effort after all.
This is not to say that no one fishes for bass in winter. Always there are a few hardcore anglers on the water. Classic contender Jason Christie of Park Hill is one. But, like Christie said, one of the reasons he likes winter fishing so much is he usually has the lake all to himself.
Winter bass has been top-of-mind for me this week as pre-Classic preparation had me on the water with three Oklahoma Classic contenders, Edwin Evers of Talala, Tommy Biffle of Wagoner and Christie. And the record tournament catch had me talking with Jeff Reynolds of Calera, a former Bassmaster pro who was one half of the record-setting team in the Backyard Bassin' tournament on Arbuckle.
The fish can be caught. It's just not always easy. A recurring theme with anglers this week was this: In winter you might not catch as many fish, but those you do, for the most part, tend to be larger.
While acknowledging he and partner Johnny Thompson had "a blessed day" on Arbuckle with five fish totaling 42.02 pounds, Reynolds still said, "it wasn't as good as it sounds."
They only culled one 6- or 7-pounder and another that was around 3 pounds. "I wish I could say we had 'em dialed in, but it wasn't like that. We never got into a big wad of fish," he said.
Reynolds said their big day didn't make a lot of sense in fishing terms. The team practiced a few days before and did poorly, and the Saturday of the tournament was a high-pressure system bluebird day with a light wind. Usually that means slow to poor fishing, he said. They didn't expect to do well at all.
He couldn't explain the success. "It was just one of them deals where the stars were aligned and the good lord blessed us and we just had a day of a lifetime," he said. They caught two of their fish on an Alabama Rig, two on a jerkbait and one on a skirted jig.
If he had to put his finger on something that helped, Reynolds said it was his Hydrowave, an electronic sound emitter attached to the trolling motor that sends out sound waves that mimic baitfish sounds.
"They're not a sponsor of mine or anything, it's nothing like that, but I think the biggest deal was the Hydrowave," he said.
Reynolds said he noticed shad would move up, a few even flipping at the surface, when they pulled over them with the boat.
"I'd never seen that before," he said. "It's one difference. We didn't have it on when we practiced and we didn't catch fish, and then we did have it on for the tournament. I think it's one thing that made it so the jerkbait worked because it brought them up off the bottom."
Reynolds also said he used a new jerkbait made by Livingston Lures that incorporates high-pitched rattles and a sound chamber. "I'm a firm believer in sound now," he said.
With the Classic just a month away, Christie, Biffle and Evers as a group were less willing to share details about their favored baits. All agreed the Classic likely will be a jerkbait tournament, but skirted jigs and spinnerbaits are winter fishing tools that will no doubt figure into the Classic. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to the Classic and those certainly weren't the only baits those anglers had on their lines this week.
All three are fishing nearby waters often these days, honing their winter fishing skills and fine-tuning everything from warm socks and gloves to line, rod, reel and bait combinations.
Mostly, though, they exercised jerkbaits. Biffle reflected on the old days when he and fishing partner Bud Guthrie were among the first to "suspend a Rogue."
The Smithwick Rogue has long been a popular stick bait. Guthrie figured out how to make it suspend better in the water column and, as Biffle said, "he used to wear those guys out up on Table Rock."
"We used to drill a hole in them with a pocketknife," Biffle said. They poured jig lead into the baits and added or subtracted material until they suspended just right. "I like them to sit head-down, just hold there even or float up just a little, in almost a sort of backwards motion," he said.
Suspending jerkbaits are sold weighted so that extreme measure no longer is necessary, but Biffle, Evers and Christie all carry adhesive lead strips so they can "tune" their suspending baits. Anglers should note that some of the most effective jerkbaits I saw in action this week sell for $15 to $30 each.
Using 8- or 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line is key for helping them sink, then it's a matter of finding baitfish and/or good looking structure - ledges, points, or rocky slopes near steep drop-offs to deep water.
Working a jerkbait takes practice and patience. The bait is designed to sit in front of the fish's nose until it's good and ready to eat. You cast it out, reel it down and let it sit, twitch it a little and let it sit, twitch and sit.
"The time is the key," Biffle said. "In older days guys would smoke and you'd hear them talk about they cast it out, lit up a cigarette or took a puff and put it down, then they got a hit. That's quite a while to let it sit," he said. "Just takes patience."
Edwin Evers holds a fish he caught on Lake Eucha last week in preparation for next month's Bassmaster Classic. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Tommy Biffle's tackle box contains many different jerk baits he uses to catch bass. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World