As water temperatures trend downward gamefish tend to congregate into the largest schools of the year.
This happens when many smaller schools of fish merge together, typically in deep water. This “deep” water will range from 30 to 50 feet in the winter months on Belton and Stillhouse lakes.
During this time, tandem rigging provides anglers with the opportunity to catch more fish in a given period of time versus simply fishing with a single presentation.
Tandem rigging involves using a fairly heavy lead slab of at least 3/4 ounces tied onto the end of the line, and a smaller, lighter "teaser" tied on further up the line.
It was with such a rig that Harker Heights resident, and retired U.S. Navy Capt. Ray Johnson and I pursued white bass on Belton Lake on Friday morning. Although the conditions were a bit tough, thanks to a lack of wind, we were able to find three distinct schools of actively feeding fish on bottom in between 38 and 42 feet of water.
My go-to tandem rig that day was the Hazy Eye Shad Tandem Rig — a fairly “high-tech” tandem rig made of high quality components. This rig terminates with a snap at the end of the fluorocarbon main line to allow for quick slab replacement when adjusting color or size of lure.
This rig also features a special bead which freely slides up and down the line, and to which the teaser is tied via a short, stiff length of fluorocarbon. This sliding bead helps prevent fish breakoffs common when two large fish are hooked and pull forcefully in opposite directions. Finally, the rig features an upper and lower teaser adjustment mechanism which allows the angler to choose how far above the lower lure the upper lure will ride.
In right at five hours’ worth of effort, Johnson and I boated exactly 75 fish, included white bass, hybrid striped bass and largemouth bass. We were using ¾-ounce silver halographic slabs and white Hazy Eye Shad flies for our teasers. Roughly 20 percent of these fish were caught as doubles on the tandem rigs we used.
Tandem rigs need not be “high tech” to be effective. A “do-it- yourself” version can be created by using a 3-way swivel. The line coming off the rod and reel is tied to one of the three eyes on the swivel. A longer (30-inch) leader is tied to the second of the three eyes on the swivel, and a short (6-inch) leader is tied to the remaining open eye of the swivel. A slab is tied to the longer leader and a lightweight crappie jig weighing 1/16 or 1/8 ounce and made of marabou or soft plastic may be tied to the shorter leader.
Although this rig is much more prone to breakoffs when larger fish, like largemouth or hybridstripers are encountered, it will suffice for white bass.
Tandem rigs may be fished passively or intentionally. Passively fishing a tandem rig essentially involves ignoring the teaser that has been added and fishing the heavier slab just as you would if the teaser not attached. In doing so, a second fish will be caught on occasion and can be thought of as “icing on the cake.”
Intentionally fishing a tandem rig requires the angler practice restraint once the first fish is hooked on either the slab or the teaser. Care must be exercised to avoid pulling the hooked fish too far away from the school of fish it originated from. Reeling too quickly and/or lifting the rod tip too high can cause this to occur.
Rather, once a fish is hooked, one must maintain enough pressure to keep the fish on the hook while waiting for a second fish to strike the second lure. Typically, the angler will only feel an increase in weight on the line when the second fish takes the second lure, and not a sharp “hit” or strike as is normally felt when the first fish hits.
The second fish normally strikes within 5-7 seconds of the first fish being hooked. Once this time elapses without a result, I normally settle for the one fish that is hooked, reel it in, release it, and try again for a double.
Whether one chooses to fish a tandem rig passively or intentionally, tandem rigs are best used when fish are already biting well. I have found that during tough conditions, the presentation of excessive hardware seems to be unattractive. During such times a lighter, smaller, single slab will typically do the job.