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Dead Sticking Jerkbaits for Pre-Spawn Bass

written by Don Wirth

(click here or read below )

This do-nothing method requires lots of patience, but it'll put fish in your livewell from late-winter through spring.

Allowing a suspending crankbait to sit motionless can be your ticket to hefty wintertime largemouths.

Serious bass anglers crave inside information. In spite of all the input they receive from fishing magazines, videos, TV shows and seminars, they're constantly on the lookout for subtle innovations in equipment or techniques that can give them an edge over their competition.

We recently got wind of an incredible tactic that tournament anglers and guides are using to put big bass in their boats from late-winter through early spring. It's the very antithesis of the run-and-gun approach so commonly employed by skilled anglers. It's dead-sticking a jerkbait, the most awesomely effective "un-retrieve" we've yet run across.

Researching dead-sticking required some major-league digging. We found most of the anglers who are using the technique extremely reluctant to talk about it. But as Woodward and Bernstein discovered when reporting on the Watergate break-in, persistence pays off. We've uncovered not one, but three variations of the dead-stick method, all geared to putting lunker bass in your boat from February into the bedding season. A word of warning: if you're the typical hyperactive tournament basser who relies on a high-speed approach, dead-sticking is definitely not for you. It requires more patience than many competitive anglers can muster, but properly performed, it'll put you in the winner's circle.

Variation # 1: Lou Treat's Cold-Water Method

Bass expert Lou Treat is a master at dead-sticking in cold water. The Flippin, Ark., angler is a veteran of the regional tournament scene. He's won a number of events, including two tournaments each on the Central Pro-Am and Red Man circuits -- all on jerkbaits.

Treat's dead-stick approach works best during the initial warm-up phase typical of his region; this occurs sometime from late February through mid-March (you'll have to adjust your calendar to fit conditions in your area). "Usually our deep reservoirs get down to around 41 degrees in winter," Lou explained. "Prime time for dead-sticking occurs when the water first warms up 3 or 4 degrees. That's when they'll absolutely eat it up!"

The cast of characters that Treat employs for dead-sticking includes Smithwick's Suspending Super Rogue (a 5-inch 1/2-ounce plastic minnow) and Suspending Pro Rogue (4 1/2 inches/3/8 ounces). His favorite colors are "clown" (reflective yellow back/white belly/red head) and black back/silver sides/orange belly. These lures come factory-weighted; once reeled down, they'll suspend about 4 feet beneath the surface. If Treat wants a deeper presentation, he'll drill strategically placed holes in unweighted Rogues and fill them with lead. Custom-weighting a jerkbait is an art; only by trial and error will you get the lure to behave exactly the way you want it. An easier approach is to use Storm SuspenDots or SuspenStrips; these adhere to the lure's surface. First-timers to dead-sticking usually find the factory-weighted suspending models work well under most conditions.

Suspending crankbaits are ideal for the dead-sticking method.

Treat fishes his jerkbaits on a 7-foot light-action Quantum baitcasting rod, Quantum reel and 8-pound Maxima Green monofilament. The whippy rod enables him to cast these lures long distances and provides shock absorption when a big fish loads on. And make no mistake about it, dead-sticking in cold water is a big bass technique. Treat has caught five largemouths over 8 pounds on this method, plus scores of lunker smallmouths, spotted bass, walleyes, stripers and white bass.

Lou looks for two types of conditions in early spring: rock transitions and isolated standing timber. He defines the former as areas where one size or type of shoreline rock changes into another, such as where a sheer limestone bluff changes to chunk rock, or where chunk rock changes to gravel or shale. The sparse wood cover Treat targets is what he calls "pole timber." It occurs in many highland reservoirs and looks like spindly telephone poles jutting out of deep water.

Once Treat locates a likely area, he evaluates the water clarity. "Most anglers think of jerkbaits as clear-water lures, but if you dead-stick 'em, they'll work in water with only a foot of visibility," he said. If the water is murky, Lou finds bass suspending closer to the surface and tighter to the bank; if it's clear, they'll be suspending farther out and deeper. "Fifteen to 20 feet isn't uncommon in cold water," he noted, quickly adding, "It really doesn't matter how deep the water is if it's clear, because a reflective jerkbait is highly visible and will draw bass from a long distance."

Treat approaches his target cautiously, keeping his his boat well off the bank on his initial casts. "Sometimes the fish will be suspending a cast and a half off the bank, so you don't want to roar right up on 'em and spook 'em," he warned. "Your boat may be sitting in 40 to 80 feet of water, but again, depth is irrelevant since the bass are suspending at their comfort level."

Here's Lou's dead-sticking method by the numbers:

1) Make a long cast to the general area of the transition or standing timber.

2) Crank the lure down to its maximum depth with 10 to 15 medium-speed turns of the reel handle.

3) Stop reeling, letting the lure "dead-stick" or sit absolutely motionless in a suspending mode. For how long? "Two minutes isn't unusual," Treat claimed. "If I know bass are down there, I'll let it suspend darn near forever."

4) As the lure is suspending motionless, make sure there is sufficient slack in your line to compensate for boat movement -- especially critical when the wind is blowing.

5) Keep your eyes glued to the slack line. If it suddenly jumps or swims off, a bass has taken the lure. Reel up the slack and set the hook with a sideways sweep.

6) If you simply can't stand it any longer and have to activate the lure, move it with the rod tip, not the reel. Treat p-u-l-l-s the line 3 to 4 inches at a time, then pauses. "Move the lure just enough so it barely rocks back and forth," he insisted. "Don't jerk -- just pull gently."

Treat often finds bass bunched up big-time on this pattern. "I once dead-sticked 10 fish on 10 consecutive casts ," he claimed. "I've caught five largemouths weighing 26 pounds without moving my boat." Lou said his method is intended to snare lethargic bass in icy water, fish that are too sluggish to chase down a moving lure. Later, as the water warms into the upper 40s and low 50s, he'll gradually switch to a more aggressive jerking retrieve to meet the changing mood of the bass.

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Good stuff, indeed! I normally wouldn't have the patience to apply this technique, but maybe a pint of Old No. 7 would settle me down enough to give it a try :D

Anyway this is very good info, and thanks to FISHAHOLIC for posting it.
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