Bob Maindelle Guide Lines Jan. 1

This deadsticking bait consists of a half-ounce VMC Neon Mooneye jig with a ZMan Elaztech TRD Minnowz bait trimmed to an overall length of 3 inches. Note the knot is positioned at the 12 o’clock position in the hook’s eye to make sure the bait hangs horizontally when presented.

On Monday morning, I fished with clients for the first time following the hard, four-day freeze Central Texas experienced from Dec. 22 to 25.

On the second to last trip I conducted prior to this freeze (on Dec. 21), I measured the water temperature from the surface, down to 55 feet and found the temperature to be a uniform 58.2 degrees.

On Monday, I sampled the water temperature at the same location and found it to be a full six degrees cooler, measuring 52.3 degrees. The rapid cooldown impacted the fishing negatively, and brought an abrupt ending to the long, helpful run of bird activity we had been enjoying wherein gulls and terns led the way to fish activity, thus eliminating the need for slowly scanning acres and acres of water with sonar in order to find fish.

In last week’s column I shared how one of my clients, a retired certified public accountant now residing in Kerrville, texted me as he saw this frigid weather on the horizon. His text read, “So what is the approach when (if) the water temp. gets down to 50?”

I texted him back, “I will do three specific things in water that cold: 1) downsize to a Bladed Hazy Eye Slab, white, 3/8 ounce, 2) use a snap-jigging tactic within 4 to 5 inches of the bottom with an intentional 2- to 3-second pause between snaps, 3) go prepared to deadstick when conditions are particularly tough.”

I wrote last week about the first two actions described above and mentioned that I would take on the third action, that of deadsticking, later in the winter, if it became necessary.

Well, as it turns out, I engaged in my first round of deadsticking this week — far earlier than I hoped this tactic would be necessary.

Deadsticking simply involves presenting an artificial bait with little to no movement imparted by the angler. Deadsticking imitates shad which have been negatively impacted by cold water, which are barely moving, and which are therefore easily preyed upon.

Even though the extreme cold ended on Christmas morning, we still had cool weather in place for another three days — right up until mid-morning Wednesday. During this time span, the air temperature did not exceed the water temperature, thus, cooling of the water continued during this time. By Wednesday morning, the water temperature had fallen further to 51.8.

While fishing with a father and his college-aged son on Belton Lake on Wednesday, we arrived at an area with a moderate slope which was adjacent to the submerged Leon River channel. Side-imaging and down-imaging revealed some loosely schooled white bass in the area, so I stopped and prepared the boat to fish atop these fish.

As I used my “thumper” — an electronic device intended to create commotion and attract fish to the area beneath the boat, fish began to slowly collect under the boat and were apparent on Garmin LiveScope.

We had fared well up to this point in the morning using white, 3/8 oz. Bladed Hazy Eye Slabs worked up off bottom fairly slowly, but these fish would simply not respond to that tactic.

We saw (on sonar) fish holding on bottom and suspended as much as halfway up off bottom toward the surface.

After a bit of frustration at seeing my clients present their slabs very well and still not draw a response from the fish, I asked them to reel in while I grabbed a rod rigged up for deadsticking. I dropped the deadstick bait down, held it in front of and just slightly above the first fish I could present the bait to in this manner, got a hit, set the hook and landed the 12½-inch white bass.

Seeing this contrast in response, I armed my clients with identical rigs and then sat there and watched them pull in about a dozen fish in short order until that school of fish drifted away and the action stopped.

There are a few signs to look for to know with confidence that the time to deadstick has arrived.

First, deadsticking seems to come on strongly on our local reservoirs when the water temperature nears 50. That said, I get reports routinely about other fish populations on other Texas reservoirs turning on to this tactic earlier (at higher water temperatures), but the 50-degree mark seems right for Central Texas.

Next, deadsticking seems to be most effective for nearly motionless, suspended fish. If fish are on the bottom, I will still use a Bladed Hazy Eye Slab. If the fish are suspended and moving left and right, parallel to the bottom of the lake, I will still use a Bladed Hazy Eye Slab, but if they appear on sonar as if they are just camped out beneath the boat, that scenario demands a deadsticking tactic.

Observing fish like this can be done with 2D sonar (aka traditional sonar or colored sonar), but Garmin LiveScope (or like products by Garmin’s competitors) make both observing the fish and employing this tactic much simpler and more effective.

To gear up for deadsticking I use light, 10-pound-test braided line (Sufix 832 Advanced Superline) on a light action spinning rod (Fenwick Eagle EA70ML-MFS) mated with a large arbor reel (Pflueger Arbor 7430). These are chosen to help get my bait down to the fish as quickly as possible.

I attach a 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader to my braid using an FG knot or a six-turn back-to-back Uni-knot.

The bait itself consists of a VMC Neon Mooneye jig in Glow color and in the half-ounce size. I trim and then thread onto that jig’s hook shaft a Z-Man Elaztech TRD Minnowz bait in any of the lighter, natural, shad-colored hues, making sure that the bait is threaded on straight with no bends or crooks. The trimming is done such that the bait’s overall length is no more than three inches. Longer baits seem to draw strikes at the tail, thus resulting in missed fish on the hookset.

I have also had excellent results with Berkley’s Gulp! Alive! shad-imitating products, but they are expensive and are not nearly as durable as the Elaztech material.

I attach the jighead to the leader using a tight Palomar knot. The bait must hang horizontally (parallel to the bottom) to be most effective and cinching the knot down tightly at the 12 o’clock position on the jighead’s eye accomplishes this.

Once fish are spotted on the sonar screen, I drop the bait down to just below their position in the water column and then raise that bait past the fish at an extremely slow rate — about two inches per second — watching sonar for a response and paying attention to the rod’s tip and what I am sensing with my rod hand.

The best scenario plays out when you can get your bait right in front of, and slightly above the level of the fish. The fish will typically rise up after the bait, overtake it slowly and then gulp it with one distinct “thump.” Setting the hook reflexively at this first sensation is necessary, as no other bites will follow.

I am hopeful that we will see some moderation in the water temperatures thus delaying the necessity for using such a tedious, slow tactic, but I will not leave home without my deadstick rods onboard until the water temperature trends upward with increasing daylength sometime in March.

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