As day length grows shorter moving toward the winter solstice, and as the frequency of arriving cold fronts increases, the water temperature on our local reservoirs begins the most rapid downward trend of the year.
From a summer high of around 86 degrees, late October and the entirety of November see the water temperature fall through the 70’s and into the 60’s. Some years we’ll even see high 50’s toward November’s end.
Despite the fact that fish are cold-blooded creatures whose metabolism rises and falls with the temperature of their surroundings, there is something hardwired into their DNA that makes them feed hard as the water temperature falls during this part of the year. It is during this time that fish will take on the caloric energy needed to produce their eggs and milt in advance of the spawn in the spring.
As the water cools, it also de-stratifies. Over the summer, warm, less dense water “floated” atop the deeper layer of cool, dense water. As the surface water cools, it becomes more dense and sinks down into, and mixes with, the cool water that was previously below the thermocline. This is referred to as “turn over.”
As this process takes place, the entire water column is once again inhabitable thanks to sufficient quantities of dissolved oxygen at all depths.
During this season, warm water fishes of all species predictably consolidate into large schools and move to the stability of deeper water, as does the forage fish they feed on, namely, threadfin and gizzard shad.
When this annual occurrence takes place, vertical presentations reign.
In summary, successful anglers will take advantage of modern sonar technology to find fish-holding terrain from their boat’s console unit, then immediately mark fish either manually with a marker buoy or with an electronic waypoint. Then, using modern trolling motor technology, anglers will work to stay atop the fish they have worked to find, and will use a vertical presentation to tempt fish to bite.
Vertical presentations are preferred at this time of year for tworeasons. First, as the water cools, fish become less and less apt to chase a bait horizontally, therefore a bait that stays put and only moves up and down is more likely to be responded to. Second, when a bait is fished vertically, a properly adjusted sonar unit used in colored sonar mode (often called 2D sonar mode) will track that bait’s movement, and fish response to it, close to 100 percent of the time.
This gives anglers an advanced notice about the presence of fish near their bait and allows the angler to be prepared to set the hook upon detecting a strike.
My bait of choice in this season is the 3/8- and ¾-ounce slab. Often incorrectly referred to as a “spoon” (which has a concave side and a convex side), the slab has two convex sides and therefore does not have near the motion nor the resistance of a true spoon when pulled through the water.
By far my favorite model of spoon is the Redneck Fish’n’ Jigs Model 180 in white and in silver halographic. Because these are made by a “mom and pop” operation in Altus, Oklahoma, they can be hard to get a hold of, but they are worth the wait.
I modify this slab to increase hooking effectiveness by adding a stinger hook to the line tie on the end of the slab opposite the treble hook. I prefer the Hazy Eye Stinger hook. A quick Internet search will help you find these and understand how to attach them to your favorite slab.
This single hook will increase hookups by over 30 percent year-round, and by an even greater percentage in cold water.
Thanks to the habit which largemouth bass have of inhaling a bait on the fall, nearly 100 percent of my winter-caught largemouth bass are hooked primarily with the Hazy Eye Stinger hook, with the treble found either dangling free or hooked into the fish on the outside of the mouth.
The real “trick” in fishing slabs is actually in holding your boat still enough in a hover to see your slab on sonar. This is made more simple with modern trolling motor technology like the Spot Lock technology found in Riptide, Terrova, Ulterra, and Ultrex trolling motors. On non-GPS equipped trolling motors, the use of a manually thrown marker buoy aids in the hovering process.
Once the lure is on the sonar screen 100 percent of the time, the angler can experiment with everything from aggressive, long “rips” of the lure up off the bottom, to less aggressive snap-jigging tactics, to very short, subtle movements of the rod tip, all the way down to “deadsticking,” accomplished by just holding the lure still and only inches off bottom.
Once a response is provoked, stick with that presentation until the fish turn off to it and demand something else.
I have already begun to observe the first inklings of this annual change in fish behavior with catches of over 100 fish for each of my last four guided parties, which amassed a catch of 561 fish, all on slabs with stingers, and all in water between 34-46 feet deep.