As you venture out on our two areas lakes, Belton and Stillhouse Hollow, there are two summer-specific things anglers need to be aware of.
The first is the existence of the thermocline (see last week’s column for a full description on this topic).
The second is the presence of literally millions of small, newly hatched shad nearly everywhere you venture.
These threadfin shad are the main forage fish for most of the gamefish in our local reservoirs, including largemouth bass, white bass and hybrid striped bass.
These young-of-the-year baitfish were spawned over a roughly nine-week period from late March through early June. They vary in size from about 1¼ inches (those spawned early), down to less than a half-inch (those spawned latest).
These small shad are essentially helpless against the superior speed of the gamefish which consume them. Their only defense mechanism, other than their coloration, is to group together so tightly that they appear to be one large mass instead of a collection of many small individuals.
Biologists give us a rule of thumb indicating that typical fish populations lose about 50% of their membership with each year that passes. So, if one million shad are hatched by June of 2020, we can expect only a half-million still in existence by that time the following year.
The point is, this time in late June sees a peak preyfish availability which will not be seen the rest of the year, as the populations begin to fall due to disease, starvation, predation and other natural factors.
For all of these reasons, multibait rigs, namely the Alabama rig and the umbrella rig, really shine at this time of year when predator fish are already accustomed to seeing, chasing and eating small forage fish encountered in large groups.
Time for some definitions. An Alabama rig is an artificial lure with three or more wire arms extending outward and rearward from a molded head with serves as the hub which connects those wire arms. A bait, typically a soft plastic bait threaded onto a jig head, is attached via a snap, loop or split ring to each of the arms. The stiff arms are spaced sufficiently far apart such that the multiple baits do not tangle when cast.
An umbrella rig is similar to an Alabama rig, but typically has longer arms which are designed to accommodate baits attached to the rig with leaders. Umbrella rigs are designed to be trolled, either on a flat line or with downriggers. Umbrella rigs will tangle hopelessly if cast.
Many varieties, colors, weights, and sizes of both Alabama rigs and umbrella rigs are on the market.
I encourage you to experiment with one this summer while the opportunity to catch fish on them and gain confidence in them is at its best.
If you are a largemouth bass or smallmouth bass angler, the Alabama rig is for you. I suggest choosing small white or clear soft plastic grubs or “Sassy Shad”-style baits to place on the hooks. Choose a long, stiff rod, as lobbing these heavy Alabama rigs can be made difficult without the correct rod and reel combination.
Fish lighter weight Alabama rigs shallow in low light conditions. Allow heavier rigs to sink to bottom and retrieve them back to the surface in bright conditions. Using Alabama rigs when fish are aggressively schooling on the surface is a good way to land multiple fish simultaneously.
If you are a white bass or hybrid striped bass angler, the umbrella rig will be more productive. Hybrid are fairly wary, and having a leader between the umbrella rig’s frame and the baits will draw more strikes than an Alabama rig.
For hybrid, using white bucktail jigs with curl-tail grubs attached is a productive staple for summertime trolling. For the smaller white bass, I prefer either clear, white, or pearl 2-inch Sassy Shad-style baits or chrome Luhr Jensen Pet Spoons in sizes 12 and 13.
I use 24-inch fluorocarbon leaders on each of the arms of my umbrella rigs. Three-armed rigs are my favorite as they are fairly tangle-free. Some umbrella rigs have a loop on the end of the head opposite the line tie which allows the angler to add a bait which runs in the center of the “school” of baits formed by the several lures attached to the rig’s arms.
I suggest making the leader on this center bait longer than all the rest by 5-7 inches. It will appear as a “straggler,” and that one bait will typically catch more fish than all of the other baits combined.
One of the drawbacks to commercially available umbrella rigs is the lead typically used to form the head holding all of the wires together. Although secure, this material is also very heavy. In a downrigging scenario in which the angler is seeking to control depth very carefully, the dense lead proves counterproductive.
This has driven me to make my own umbrella rigs using stainless steel wire and a JB Weld epoxy-based adhesive product to form a near-weightless head which is every bit as durable as lead. The production process is beyond the scope of this article but those interested are invited to contact me during business hours at Holding the Line Guide Service, 254-368-7411.
The summertime presents a unique opportunity to expand your horizons and gain experience and confidence with a bait many are reluctant to try due, in part, to its odd appearance, heavy weight and ritzy pricetag. Given the potential to catch more than one fish at a time, and to provoke otherwise stubborn fish, one morning’s-worth of experimentation with a multibait rig may open up a whole new realm of possibilities for you.