As the winds shifted from the southwest to northwest Tuesday, the season’s second significant arctic cold front moved into Central Texas, dropping lows into the 20s and allowing highs only in the 40s. This will push the water temperature on our local reservoirs down 2-3 more degrees from the 57-degree average we had on both Belton and Stillhouse Hollow prior to the front.
As the water continues to cool, the frequency of largemouth bass landed on vertical presentations in deep water (over 35 feet) rises. This is a trend I see at this time every year.
Although I do not typically target largemouth or smallmouth, outsized specimens of these two species are always a welcome addition to my clients’ catch of white bass and hybrid striped bass. Last week saw a noticeable spike in the percentage of largemouth in my catch.
On Monday, I fished Stillhouse with Clayton Bell and Gaines Smith of Florence. During our four-hour trip, we landed a total of 15 largemouth out of a total catch of 131 fish — over 11 percent of our catch, including a largemouth which weighed six pounds.
Then, on Tuesday, I fished Stillhouse with retired naval officer and flight surgeon Ray Johnson of Harker Heights. During our morning trip, we landed a total of 51 fish, including 12 largemouth bass — over 23 percent of our catch. Johnson’s two largest largemouth weighed 3.125 pounds and 5.5 pounds.
During both trips, we fished exclusively with jigging spoons, also known as slabs, equipped with the conventional treble hook on the tail end, and equipped with a single “stinger hook” on the head end.
This stinger hook is attached to the line tie via a cinched loop, located right next to the snap that connects the slab to the fishing line.
I have reported previously in this column, in my fishing reports on my website’s blog, and on my Facebook page that as the water cools, the number of fish caught on the stinger hook increases. This turns out to be particularly true of largemouth bass.
Of the 27 largemouth caught last week, all but one were primarily caught on the stinger hook, with the treble hook either found dangling loose outside the fishes’ mouths or with just one point of the treble hook points found stuck into the fish on the exterior of the mouth.
I have a theory about why the stinger hook is so effective and why such a great percentage of largemouth are caught on it. If you have ever watched largemouth bass feed in an aquarium setting like those at Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s or the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, you have likely observed how bass will swim up behind their prey and then open their mouths while at the same time flaring their gills, thus producing a vacuum. The hapless koi or other baitfish is sucked backward into the fish’s mouth and disappears.
I think that because the stinger hook is light and is attached to the slab with a limp piece of braided line, when a largemouth approaches the slab and sucks backward, that small, sharp stinger hook is the first thing to enter the fish’s mouth. It then catches the first bit of tissue it contacts and the fish is hooked. The rest of the fairly dense, heavy slab may not make it any further; nor does it need to.
I first was introduced to stinger hooks by a salesman with Gamakatsu. Unfortunately, Gamakatsu discontinued making the stinger hooks in the sizes I found most effective for local freshwater applications. So I improved on the concept and began making the Hazy Eye Stinger to fill this void.
Regardless of whether you use the Hazy Eye Stinger I produce or decide to craft your own, the point is that I firmly believe you are not hooking and landing as many largemouth as you could if you do not fish with a stinger hook when fishing vertically with slabs.
One note to you tinkerers out there ... should you create your own stinger hooks, be sure to keep the braided loop as short as possible. The loop should be just long enough that you have to force it over the bend of the hook using your fingernail applying a bit of pressure. Any longer and the stinger will get caught on your snap or your main line as you jig with it.
With the two-day TuffMan Bass Trail Championship event to be held on Belton and Stillhouse in just a few weeks, it will be interesting to see if, as has happened in past years with cold water, those fishing vertically in deep water with slabs will rise to the top of the pack.