Want to shake up winter bass? Lay some heavy metal on them.
Metal bass baits have been around for decades, but the average fisherman seldom utilizes them because the lures depend heavily on angler skill. Additionally, because they're so expensive and time-consuming to manufacture, they're seldom promoted by lure companies or the bass pros sponsored by them.
The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" certainly applies to these lures.
But metal baits can be incredibly effective, especially during the winter season when bass are likely to be deep and lethargic in cold water. You can wind some crankbaits down to 20 feet, or crawl a jig over the bottom 30 feet down … if you're not in a big hurry, that is. But metal baits let you fish water up to three times that deep quickly and efficiently. They sink rapidly into the strike zone, allowing you to make multiple presentations in a short time span to bass either holding on bottom or suspending.
I know guides on deep, clear reservoirs, such as Lake Lanier in Georgia and Dale Hollow in Tennessee, who have caught bass at 100-foot depths on metal baits in winter. Try that with a crankbait or jig!
Metal baits have other attributes that make them appealing to bass in cold water. They're compact compared to most other bass lures compare a 1/2-ounce metal bait to a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait. In winter, the digestive system of bass slows down, so they feed less often and key on smaller forage, making a metal bait an appealing snack. Plus, these lures have plenty of flash and vibration, even at extreme depths.
Three main styles of metal lures are available, and the following outlines will help you fish each category correctly.
Machine-stamped out of thin sheet metal with a weighted head and body, the profile and flash of blade baits resemble a baitfish in clear to slightly stained water, which is exactly where you should be fishing them. They can be cast long distances, even into a stiff wind. And they drop quickly, exhibiting no vibration on the way down. But when you hop or crank the lure, it vibrates frantically to trigger strikes.
Blades come in a variety of weights, but 1/2- and 3/4-ounce models are recommended in winter. They should be fished on a 6- to 6 1/2-foot spinning rod (medium heavy) or a baitcasting outfit (medium) with 10- to 12-pound-test lines.
Always attach a wire snap or split ring to this lure.
Most anglers fish blades on steep structure, whether it's main lake points dropping into a deep channel or rocky banks with a 45 degree slope. These areas typically have short outcroppings or ledges present where bass hold in winter, often at depths exceeding 20 feet. A blade can be used to probe these areas quickly.
Presentation: 1.) Position your boat in deep water and cast the blade onto the shallow part of the structure; 2.) As the lure falls, lower the rod tip from roughly 10 o'clock to around 9 o'clock, throwing a small amount of slack in the line. This method lets the lure drop straight down, rather than arc back toward you like a pendulum. It takes practice: Throwing too much slack in the line will tangle the lure; not enough slack and the lure will swing toward the boat; 3.) The line will go slack when the blade hits bottom. Lift the rod back to 10 o'clock with a medium-fast stroke you'll feel the blade vibrate as it shoots off bottom; 4.) Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the blade is directly under the boat. Bass usually hit it on the fall.
The Little George tailspinner, invented by Alabama bass legend Tom Mann decades ago, has sold millions of units over the years. Today, tailspinners, like other metal baits, have taken a backseat to more heavily promoted lures such as crankbaits and soft plastics, but they're just as deadly now as before. As the name implies, they have a rear spinner blade, which throws out tremendous flash and vibration and makes a tailspinner a better choice in murky water than other metal baits.
Tailspinners will catch bass on primary points, 45 degree banks, rock bluffs and the outer edges of river channel flats. A 1/2-ounce model should cover most winter applications. Fish it on the same tackle as a blade bait.
Presentation: 1.) Position your boat in deep water and cast the tailspinner to the shallow part of the structure; 2.) As the lure sinks, drop the rod tip to throw some slack in the line, just as you would with a blade bait; 3.) This compact lure will drop very quickly. Once the line goes slack, pop the rod back 1 to 2 feet while quickly turning the reel handle. This gets the spinner blade turning. You'll feel it throb when you move the rod; 4.) Stop reeling and the lure will drop back to the bottom again. Lower the rod while it drops as you did in the second step; 5.) If you see the line jump, or if you feel a heavy sensation, set the hook immediately. Bass will often completely inhale this compact lure and can spit it out just as fast.
The jigging spoon is the metal lure most bass anglers are familiar with. BASS pros Stanley Mitchell and Jack Chancellor used spoons to help them win Classics in 1981 and 1985, which temporarily raised awareness among other anglers. Today, the jigging spoon is commonly used by fishermen targeting spotted and smallmouth bass on highland reservoirs.
When you see baitfish and bass suspending on your electronics in winter, the surest way to catch them is with a spoon. Idle your boat down the middle of a deep, clear reservoir tributary or along a steep channel bluff. Watch your graph closely, and you'll often find a big cloud of shad suspending in open water, along with several hook-shaped markings indicating bass beneath them. These fish can be caught by dropping a spoon straight down and jigging it repeatedly. I know anglers who have caught 50 to 75 bass a day from 44 degree water using this tactic.
A 5/8- to 3/4-ounce spoon works great for most winter bass applications. Fish it on a 6 1/2-foot baitcasting rod (medium heavy) with 14-pound-test mono. Use a wire snap, snap swivel or split ring with a spoon.
Presentation: 1.) Locate suspended baitfish and bass with your electronics. Release the reel spool and strip off enough line to allow the lure to sink to the bottom of the school; 2.) Lower the rod tip toward the surface of the water, then "pop" it upward so the spoon hops about 1 to 3 feet; 3.) Allow the spoon to sink again, following it down with the rod tip so there's a little slack in the line, as in fishing other metal baits; 4.) Hop and drop the spoon repeatedly, watching your line each time it sinks. If you see the line jump, set the hook. Most strikes come on the fall. Vary the distance you hop the lure until you determine what sort of action the bass want.
Hottest metal for cold water
Bullet Blade This East Tennessee standby features a one-piece, die-cast zinc alloy body that produces high-pitched harmonics. Available in reflective prism colors for maximum flash. (Bullet Lures, 423-753-6151, www.bulletlures.com)
Reef Runner Cicada A favorite of Lake Erie smallmouth anglers, this unique bait has a realistic bug-like appearance and a concave blade, producing strong vibrations when hopped and a darting, fluttering action on the fall. (Reef Runner Lures, 419-798-9125, www.reefrunner.com)
Silver Buddy The late smallmouth guru Billy Westmorland provided design input for this bait, which is manufactured in Kentucky by three generations
of the Banks family. A classic winter smallmouth lure. (Silver Buddy Lures, www.silverbuddy.com)
Bass Pro Tail Spin Helicopters down with a wild fluttering action. Realistic minnow body. (Bass Pro Shops, 800-BASS PRO, www.basspro.com)
Little Sparky Handmade in limited quantities by Tennessee angler Elmer Taylor, this minnow-like tail spinner has a cult following among the Southeast's trophy smallmouth hunters. (Elmer Taylor Lures, 423-263-9551)
Mann's Little George A true bass fishing classic. Teardrop shape and centerline balance make it fall true and vibrate like crazy when ripped off bottom. (Mann's Bait Co., 334-687-5716, www.mannsbait.com)
Acme Sidewinder Curved body makes this spoon fall more erratically than other lures in this category. (Acme Tackle Co., www.acme tackle.com)
Bass N Bait Rattle Snakie Combines the flash of a spoon with a built-in rattle. Randy VanDam (Kevin's brother) caught the Ohio state record smallmouth on this lure. (Bass N Bait Co., 419-647-4501)
Bass Pro Strata and XPS Spoon Hammered exterior and a core of solid brass make the Strata one of the most popular spoons for winter jigging. The XPS is made of tungsten, so it's smaller than lead or stainless steel spoons of comparable weight, a benefit in frigid water when the bite is slow. (Bass Pro Shops, 800-BASS PRO, www.basspro.com)
Hopkins Shorty The go-to spoon of many reservoir smallmouth guides. Made of stainless steel for maximum flash. (Hopkins Lures, 757-855-2500, www.hopkinslures.com)