Last week saw the sharpest fall in water surface temperature thus far this autumn.
We began the week at 69-70 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface, and, as of week’s end, lost 4-5 degrees, depending on location and time of day on both Stillhouse and Belton lakes.
As the water temperature drops out of the 70s, through the 60s and into the high 50s, gamefish of all sorts begin to congregate into large groups and often remain fairly stationary and near bottom for most of the winter. Fish metabolism falls with the water temperature, so the fast, frequent feeding of the summer months is no longer necessary.
This set of circumstances ushers in conditions that are just right for the use of tandem rigs, which allow the angler to catch more than one fish at a time by presenting multiple lures on one line.
The traditional tandem rig consists of a slab tied to a leader, which is in turn tied to one of the three rings on a three-way swivel. The main line coming from the rod and reel is attached to another one of the three rings of the swivel. The final ring of the swivel will have yet another short leader tied to it with a second lure, called the teaser, attached to its terminal end. This second lure will typically be a lightweight offering such as an unweighted bucktail fly or some manner of unweighted streamer.
A much improved version of this conventional rigging, and the one I prefer to use, is found in a pre-packaged product called the Hazy Eye Shad. This rig comes ready to have a slab of your choice attached to it right out of the package, complete with all knots tied and an effective teaser fly also already attached.
I prefer to attach a white or silver slab weighing at least ¾ oz. in order to provide enough weight to pull the tandem rig down to bottom in deep water.
Using Hazy Eye Shad rigs with ¾-ounce silver slabs attached, Killeen natives George and Barry Erskine fished their way to a 118-fish morning trip on Belton during their father-and-son fishing trip the day before Thanksgiving. We identified heavily schooled fish holding near bottom in 27 feet of water using sonar, hovered over top of them stealthily using the Spot Lock function on my boat’s Ulterra trolling motor, and caught fish after fish for two straight hours.
The tandem rig is typically fished vertically in open water and away from snaggy areas where congregated gamefish have already been identified on sonar.
I typically fish the tandem rig in one of two ways, both using spinning gear. If the fish are more sedentary and are carpeting the bottom but do not appear on sonar to be coming up off the bottom, I use what I call an “easing” tactic.
To execute this tactic, the angler drops the lure to the bottom while keeping the rod tip just 6-8 inches off the water’s surface. Once the lure hits bottom, you will need to close the bail by hand (not with the spinning reel’s handle) so as to keep the lure on bottom, but also keep the line just barely taut.
With the rod tip starting just 6-8 inches off the water’s surface, slowly raise the rod tip up overhead to the 11 o’clock position in a five-second span, then drop the rod tip sharply back to the starting position, ensuring the slab makes contact with the bottom by watching for the line to go slack just slightly.
This process is repeated over and over again. The first fish will typically strike as the rod is raised.
When fish are more active, and appear both on bottom and as much as 4-6 feet up off bottom as well, I use a more active approach. Again, I will drop the lure to the bottom while keeping the rod tip just 6-8 inches off the water’s surface. Once the lure hits bottom, you then simply crank the reel 5-8 times, thus speeding the rig toward the surface. The number of handle turns will be dictated by water depth.
At no time do you want the rig to break the surface. This process is repeated over and over again. The first fish will typically strike as you are turning the handle.
Regardless of which method is used, once the first fish is hooked, the angler must then keep tension on the fish to keep it hooked while at the same time allowing it to swim without reeling it upward and away from the school. As the first hooked fish struggles, other schoolmates will be drawn to the commotion, see the teaser fly, and will often grab it, thus becoming the second hooked fish on the tandem rig.