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Late Winter Jig Fishing for Productive Winter Bass Fishing

We’re headed into the tail end of winter, so if you’ve been suffering from cabin fever, ANGLR Expert Jef Nelson is here to yank you out of your recliner and get you out on the water. It’s time to welcome the upcoming sunshine and get ready to chase down some bass with some late winter jig fishing!

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Late Winter Jig Fishing: Take Advantage of the “Warmer” Days

I’ll take any chance I get to shake off cabin fever. One of those days in early to late March when you can get out on the lake here in Pennsylvania, providing there is no ice, or only a thin coating of it- there’s nothing like it!

Since it’s still rather chilly around here in March, I’m usually not in too much of a hurry to be out on the water at the crack of dawn. I’ll usually get to the lake around 9:00 a.m. because I know the higher the sun gets, the warmer the fish are becoming, and they’ll move with the bait.

Late Winter Jig Fishing: Finding the Bass

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I launch my Skeeter ZX200 with three graphs mounted on it. I have my Humminbird electronics all set to look for different things by using 2D sonar, side imaging, and HD downscan. I think of them as lie detectors, checking myself to make sure that what I think I’m seeing is exactly what I’m looking at.

I start out idling because the no wake zones are so large here, searching for baitfish. Here in PA, they can be difficult to find this time of year. I look around out in the middle of coves and creek arms to begin with. Sometimes you get lucky, but most times you don’t. I next move on to idling around secondary points in those coves and creek arms. Most of the time that’s to no avail, as well, because the water surface temperature is still hanging around that 37-43℉ mark.

When I reach the end of the no wake zone, I ask myself if I should stay the course, or head out to the main lake. Heading out deeper is usually not a good idea here unless we have some seriously freakish weather patterns with temperatures in the 50’s and a lot of sun for days on end. That rarely ever happens around here.

I usually decide to stay the course and start looking at secondary points in the 15-30 foot range with shallow water access readily available.

I’m focusing on a little cut in the bank or a long-extending underwater point. Somewhere in there you’ll find the bait suspended off the ends of those points or over a small point with shallow water access in that water column. Once you find them, GAME ON!

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Late Winter Jig Fishing: Putting the Bass in the Boat

I always use a scent on my jigs. My preference is Liquid Mayhem in any of the crawfish scents they offer, just because I feel that, at this time of year, crawfish add more calories to the bass’ diets, helping preserve the fat content they need to come out of their winter rigamortis.

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I start out trying to entice the bass on the shallower side of the bait by dragging a ½-ounce Jewel Football Jig with blue and black flash skirt with a Zoom Super Chunk Jr in green pumpkin threaded onto the jig to keep it as compact as possible out to about 15-foot. Sometimes you can catch some hefty bass sunning themselves on the shallower side of the bait, so try to set your boat right on top of the bait, keeping track of them with your electronics. Usually you’ll catch those fish in those little cuts in the bank or up on the shallow side of the flat underwater point.

If you don’t get a bite there, don’t worry, your trip isn’t over.

Move your boat off of the bait a little deeper, say at about 35-50 foot. You won’t see the bait anymore, but don’t worry, you’ll still usually be in contact with them. They’re pretty thick this time of the year.

Late Winter Jig Fishing: Bumping up the Jig Size

I bump my jig size up to a ¾ ounce, because now I’m looking for a reaction; I want something that moves a lot of water. I’ll still use the same colors, but I also bump my trailer up to the larger size Zoom Super Chunk or a four inch Berkley Chigger Craw in green pumpkin or black and blue.

When you cast that bait out to where you know the baitfish are, you’ll feel the jig bump up against them as it falls down through the school. It’s very crucial to watch your line during this cast for any indication of it jumping or wandering off to one side or the other.

I believe that when it contacts the bait, it panics them a little bit and gets the bass excited and in a mood to feed.

In addition, that ¾ ounce bait makes a large thud on the bottom, which gets the bass’ curiosity peaked so they come over to investigate. When you get a bite off of the bottom, it usually feels like dead weight, as opposed to the shallower bites that feel like they want to rip the rod out of your hands. Once you find this type of scenario, you can duplicate it up and down the entire lake most of the time, depending on water clarity. Here, we’re not usually impacted by cold rains and flooding, so the lake is a little more stable when it comes to water clarity. By now, it’s also settled from being calm through the winter, or covered with icy protection.

Late Winter Jig Fishing: Use the Right Gear

For bringing these fish into the boat, my tools of choice are Duckett Micro Magic Pro with the new Kigan Guides on them. The Kigan guides are just a smidge larger than the original Micro guides, but are still very small and virtually indestructible because of the way they are designed. I like the 7’3” for the ½ ounce jig for the shallower side of the bait paired with a 16-pound FC Sniper fluorocarbon line from Sunline. For the shallower depths, I like the same Duckett rod, only in a 7’6” medium-heavy action with 17-lb fluorocarbon from Sunline.

I pair both rods with Lew’s Super Duty reels in the 7-1.1 gear ratio to pick up the slack as fast as possible, while still leaving enough gearing to handle bigger fish. I used to operate under the assumption that having an 8-1.1 reel would be awesome, but I’ve found that anything over a 7-1.1 causes you to lose a lot of winching power.

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Pay attention to your electronics closely, and you’ll find what you’re looking for. Once you catch that first fish, you won’t be cold any longer! Always use your ANGLR Bullseye to keep a record of when and where you’re finding these fish from year to year. Life is always a little easier and more enjoyable when you have such a great tool only one click away.

Quit wishin’ and let’s get fishin’!

 

How to Throw a Shallow Square Bill Crankbait in Cold Water

Fishing a shallow square bill crankbait around wood in the wintertime is one of the best ways to break down cold, shallow water. As water temps drop into the forties, the bite slows drastically and a lot of anglers put down their power-fishing gear and abandon shallow water altogether. Contrary to popular belief, bass stay shallow year-round. That’s right, winter, spring, summer and fall. Not all bass obviously, but some. And some of those some are big ones.

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Shallow Square Bill Crankbait: Approach

So how do you modify your approach to fish a square bill in shallow and cold water?

Well for starters, you certainly have to slow down. Way down. Not just your retrieve, but also the speed at which you cover water. You have to be much more thorough.

Why?

Bass are cold blooded, and cold blooded animals become lethargic in cold environments. So a bass isn’t likely to chase a bait like it would in warmer water conditions. Therefore you have to be really thorough when breaking down an area.

Shallow Square Bill Crankbait: Slow Down Your Retrieve

As previously mentioned, slowing your retrieve is important. On a few particularly cold trips when the water temperature was in the low forties, I have actually had to slow my retrieve to where I could just barely feel the bait wobbling back and forth. At times, I would feel as though I had a leaf or a small stick hung on my bait only to have a 3-pound bass roll over and come to the surface. I have caught bass this way that were so lethargic they would still have mud on their bellies where they had been sitting in one place for a long time and hadn’t fought at all on the way to the boat.

I know this is hard to believe.

I didn’t want to believe the first person that told me he had seen that either. But I did believe him. Because that lesson came on the heels of a 15-pound beat down my dad delivered to me in a club tournament. Three of us fished the same area all day. I had two fish for 3-pounds and the other guy zeroed. I went back out the next day and slowed down. Then I slowed down even more. And then finally when I had slowed my retrieve to the brink of boredom, I got bit. A 2-pounder, fighting like a twig, with mud on his belly when he came into the boat.

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That made me a believer.

Shallow Square Bill Crankbait: Find the Cover

A bass’s lethargic nature in cold water is what makes cover so important. It gives bass an ambush point to sit by in hopes that something will come along that they can eat without exerting much energy. Cover also helps us as anglers fish slowly with confidence. Because the only thing harder than crawling a bait this slow is doing so without a target. You also want to focus on sunny banks in the wintertime. That’s not to say you want get bit in the shade, but your chances certainly go up around cover in the sunshine.

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But just because you know where to throw, doesn’t mean you’re going to get bit.

Not necessarily right away at least. I have also, on several occasions, had to throw at a piece of cover multiple times in order to get bit. You can find a really good example of that at the 3 minute mark of this video I shot when the water temp was 47-degrees.

In summation, you can still catch bass on shallow square bill crankbaits in extremely cold water, but it won’t be easy. You have to be very disciplined and dedicated to get a bite and when you do, you’ve got to make that bite count because they’ll likely be few and far between.

ANGLR’s Ice Fishing Resource: Your Quick Start Guide to Ice Fishing

Adding yet another power-packed informative guide to their collection, the ANGLR Labs gurus have created the Ice Fishing Quick Start Guide just for you. It includes everything you need to get started ice fishing. Even if you’ve never drilled through before, you’ll leave here with just what you need to get started right!

The average angler has never ventured out on the ice before with a rod and reel. The idea itself is a bit mysterious. Perhaps you caught an old rerun of Grumpy Old Men and are inspired to give it a whirl while hurling insults and obscenities at your neighbor. No matter. We’ve at least got the fishing part of it covered for you!

Divided into six chapters, you’ll have an easy time learning the ropes and determining exactly what you need to get hooked into this sport!

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Ice Fishing Resource: Basics

Author Jordan Rodriguez introduces you to the sport with a few basics to get you going. Consider it a teaser section. He gives you just enough to keep you coming back for more. Safety comes first, always, so pay close attention for tips on how to determine ice safety.

Ice Fishing Resource: Gear List

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The section on how to get started, before you can actually get started. Without gear, you’re going nowhere in a hurry, but how do you know what will really come in handy on the ice, and what will actually be a hindrance?

Rodriguez takes you through the list of items you’ll want to be sure you’ve packed, which you absolutely need, and which you can live without. He’ll get you straight on the different types of ice augers, and clues you in on what types of sleds are available for toting your gear.

What you really want to hear about are the rods and reels. If you’re new to ice fishing, you may be wondering if what you already have at home could be reapportioned to ice fishing. You never know ‘till you check out this chapter! You even get the low-down on what sort of electronics you’ll need, as well as how to use the ANGLR App to your advantage on the ice.

Ice Fishing Resource: Planning Your Ice Fishing Trip

You’ve got the itch now, but where do you go to scratch it? Can you just head out to the first frozen body of water you see, or is there a trick to locating where those bad boys are? Is it a matter of plunking down a hole and sitting in stubborn concentration all day? Or is there more to it than that? No worries. After this section, you’ll be on top of your game and be armed with the knowledge of where to start, and how to work on from there.

Ice Fishing Resource: Tackle, Rigs, Lures, and Baits

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Here’s where things really start to get fun! Rodriguez lays it all on the line, giving you the best choices to grab for a day on the ice. Because your choices can be vast, you’ll get an idea of what brands and types work best for simple jigs, ice spoons, tube jigs, and swim jigs. You should also have an ample supply of baits packed and ready to go, too.

You’ll even get a tutorial on how to rig your line for the biggest impact.

Ice Fishing Resource: How to Land Your Fish

Landing fish – especially the big ones – can be tricky through the ice. Don’t worry! We’ve got you covered with tips for making sure that you’re able to have a pretty successful landing rate.

Ice Fishing Resource: Tips By Species

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What more could you ask for? Not only do we have what you need to get yourself started, but we’ve got even more! We break some really helpful information down by species for you, so you can walk out on the ice for your first time with confidence. Are you after bass? Looking for perch? Maybe you want to find some crappie, walleye, or trout. Perhaps you’re even hunting the great pike and muskie. There’s always a few more details to fill in for each species you’re after, and we’ve got just what you need.

We’re not looking to overload you with too much, but want to make sure your first few trips out on the ice are enjoyable, fun, and successful! By referring to this guide, you’ll be off on the right foot! Who knows? Maybe you’ll become a steadfast bucket butt, yourself!

Lake Berryessa Fishing with a Spoon in the Fall

During the fall and into the winter, bass tend to school up and roam expansive flats as the shad and other baitfish are in the same areas. Finding these schools is much easier said than done. So, I set out on Lake Berryessa fishing with a spoon in the fall to try to give some insight into a great way to locate these roaming schools.

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Lake Berryessa Fishing: Locating the Bass

It can be a tedious task locating fish but when you find them, it’s usually lights out for five minutes to an hour, sometimes even longer.

What are you looking for?

Basically, I started off running the boat at 10-15 miles per hour looking for schools of bass by watching my Garmin 7610 depth finder practically the entire time. I spent my time trying to find big flat areas, then, I would move from the shallow flat in 15-foot out to about 50-foot looking for spaghetti.

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By spaghetti I mean your depth finder screen looks like a bowl of noodles.

Once I located the school of bass, I would stop the boat, lower the trolling motor and watch the front finder make sure the fish were still there. If you’re practicing for a tournament, you may just want to drive around and mark schools to revisit later.

Once you find them at a certain depth, they will be at the depth for a while, so if you lose the school, go back to search mode, shallow to deep.  There are times when the fish will stack up on points, cuts or creek channels too so if you spent a few hours searching the flats with no luck it doesn’t hurt to expand and check new areas.

Note: Sometimes I will drop the Aqua-Vu underwater camera down to verify the fish species and quantity. These schools can be massive covering 50 yards or they may only be a few yards long.

With the trolling motor down, I made sure I was still on top of the school. Then, I’d drop the spoon down. If the bass are active, the spoon may not make it to the bottom. I’ve found the fish bite better when there’s not a big school of bait mixed in. Though the bait is almost always close by, when the bait is mixed in the fishing is a little tougher.

A funny thing I’ve found is when you find these fish stacked up, you’d think a drop shot, Ned rig, Shaky head would be a good choice, but that’s not always the case. I won a tournament on Lake Berryessa years ago before I knew much about spoon fishing, we found these pods of bass but couldn’t catch them, but when we found a single fish, we’d lower a worm down and bam!

If only I knew about spoons back then.

Lake Berryessa Fishing: Working the Spoon

It starts with the right equipment, The right depth finder makes a huge difference, I’m using a Garmin 7610, 10” unit with ‘CHIP’ that really helps me separate the targets aka. the bass. When throwing a spoon, I like a fairly heavy rod like the Okuma TCS 7.3 heavy with an Okuma Helios reel spooled with 15 to 20-pound monofilament.

The line size doesn’t really seem to matter here, so make sure the line is heavy enough to free your spoon from most snags but still limber enough to fall naturally. After the main 15 to 20-pound mono line, I typically go with a 14 to 16-pound fluorocarbon leader with a snap for the spoon and a swivel to attach to the main line. Fluorocarbon is little stiffer and it seems to foul the spoon on to the line less often, the snap protects the line and makes it easy to swap out spoons, lastly, the swivel helps with line twist.

This rod and reel set up works well for a multitude of presentations like chatterbaits, football jigs, 6” Senkos, frog fishing, and heavy spinnerbaits.

Getting the action right is actually pretty easy, with the Hopkins and the Revenge spoons, I’ll let the spoon fall while controlling the line as it goes out, I want it to sink pretty fast but not quite free spooled. While controlling the line, you can feel if you get bit on the way down. Once the bait hits the bottom, snap your rod upwards 1 to 3-feet varying the upward distance and the speed in which you jerk upward.

This is similar to the retrieve on other lures where you experiment letting the fish tell you how they want it. Sometimes it takes big hard jerks off the bottom letting the bait fall on a slack line and there are times when you just flop the spoon over while it’s on the bottom, moving your rod only a few inches at a time.

The River2sea spoon is different, it’s a flutter spoon where the spoon glides back and forth on the fall. When I’m fishing this one, I’ll cast it out 30 to 40-feet letting it fall to the bottom then give it a good jerk upward letting it fall back to the bottom until I get under the boat. Then, I’ll jerk it up and down a couple times, reel it in and cast again. The River2sea flutter spoon has a bigger profile where most of the fish that bite are better quality.

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Also, the River2Sea spoon has a stinger hook where you can occasionally catch two bass at the same time.

Lake Berryessa Fishing: Conclusion

Spoon fishing is pretty simple, find the fish, drop the spoon and set the hook. The biggest problem I see is, anglers will lose patience when stopping to fish when they see only one or two fish. Sure they may catch a few but if you wait and find the big schools, you can hammer 20 to 30 or even 100 quality fish in a day.

Fishing is an ever-changing game – experiment and let the fish tell you what they want. Use the ANGLR app it will help you for years to come.

Mark’s Spooning Equipment

River2Sea Spoon River2sea James Watson Spoon – Chrome: https://bit.ly/2Ql7XC7

Hopkins Spoon ¾ and 1oz Chrome Shorty: https://bit.ly/2Kw4gUM

Revenge Spoon ¾ and 2oz – Silverside: https://bit.ly/2r6dyy4

Okuma TCS 7.3 heavy rod: https://bit.ly/2rakZEu

Okuma 7:3.1 Helios reel https://bit.ly/2r7YJLf

Sunline Natural Monofilament: https://bit.ly/2r6IKNo

Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon: https://bit.ly/2TPmq8l

P-Line Cross lock Snap #2: https://bit.ly/2BCOox1

P-Line Ball Bearing Swivel 2: https://bit.ly/2DNKAuj

Depth finder Garmin 7610: https://bit.ly/2DPtk89

Aqua-Vu Underwater Camera: https://bit.ly/2AvUrBC

Cold Water Crankbaits: Fishing a Finesse Crankbait in the Winter

Wintertime cranking is one of those things most people don’t really want to do, but you still need to know how to do. That being said, a few people love it. But even taking myself, for instance, it’s not my favorite. First off, it works best in the coldest, most miserable conditions and the bite is usually slow so it’s a grind. Secondly, at least some of the more popular cold water crankbaits are finesse crankbaits that work best with spinning gear which I typically steer clear of when possible.

But, I still need to know how to do it and more importantly I just flat out need to do it at times and not be so stubborn. Case in point, when I was on the Auburn University fishing team we had a club qualifier on my home lake of Lake Martin in December. I went out and power fished all my favorite mud holes and ended the day second to freshmen phenom Jordan Lee. Yep, the then 19-year-old now two-time Bassmaster Classic Champ beat my 23-year-old butt on my home lake. With none other than (drum roll please) a finesse crankbait.

Cold Water Crankbaits: What is a Finesse Crankbait?

So what is a finesse crankbait? Well, a true finesse crankbait is probably most associated with a Rapala Shad Rap. It’s a crankbait with very tight action, not a wide wobble. However, when I think of cold water and wintertime cranking, it’s hard to leave out baits of the Storm Wiggle Wart variety. The two baits can both be used to target fish in water with the same depth, color, and temperature, but the Wiggle Wart has a much wider wobble than the Shad Rap.

Cold Water Crankbaits: When to Throw a Finesse Crankbait

Now that we’ve established the what, let’s set the scene for when to throw a finesse crankbait. As far as the water temp goes, you’re looking at the high end being around 55 degrees and bottoming out when the surface freezes over. Not a normal occurrence for us southern anglers, but we know y’all up north understand what I’m talking about.

You can get bit on a crankbait as cold as you can stand it.

The bites will likely be fewer and farther in-between the colder it gets, but you can still get bit even in the low 40’s and high 30’s. I will say personally that I have had better success in these extremely cold scenarios with a Shad Rap style bait more than the wider wobbling baits. Though I know people who would say the exact opposite.

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Cold Water Crankbaits: Why You Should Throw a Finesse Crankbait

So why do these two styles of baits work so well in cold water? Though their actions are different, they can both be fished really slow and still maintain a good action and contact with the bottom.

Being able to fish them slowly is key because the bass are lethargic and not typically willing to chase anything very far or fast. Bottom contact is key because quite often these style crankbaits are being used to imitate crawfish scurrying along the bottom and not baitfish at all. We’ll talk a little more about that when we get into the color selection.

Cold Water Crankbaits: Where to Throw a Finesse Crankbait

So, where do you fish these baits? This style of cold water cranking is most associated with water from 2-to-10 feet. There are some very small finesse style crankbaits that could be thrown shallower than this but I usually lean towards a square bill in those situations. Then there are some very big ones that could be used a little deeper. But by and large, we’re targeting the 2-to-10 feet range because that’s where the bass are, either trying to warm up in the sun or chasing crawfish and baitfish.

The good old 45-degree banks are great for cold-water cranking. Because the bass are lethargic, they don’t like to traverse long distances. A 45-degree bank has both shallow and deep water readily available so a fish can move shallow on sunny days to warm up or stay a little deeper on cloudy cold days when the surface temps plummet. And they have various depth ranges to hunt for crawfish or passing baitfish.

Transition banks leading into pockets are great for the same reason. If the water is not quite as cold and a fish is a little more willing to move around it has the opportunity to work up the bank into a shallow pocket or it can move down the bank toward deeper water.

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The same principle applies to channel swings in creeks.

At the point where the channel begins to move away from the bank, you’re left with shallow and deep water in close proximity to one another. And you have a place where fish can sit just outside of the current and wait for the current to bring food to them.

Bottom composition is important when looking for the right cover. These style baits work really well around chunk rock, clay, and wood. The key though is not so much the cover but rather what it indicates, good habitat for baitfish and crawfish. Again, fish don’t want to have to move far so look for places where bait is plentiful. You’ll either see baitfish on your graph or on lakes with a winter pool, you may even be able to see little crawfish mounds and holes on the land above the water.

When you get bit in an area where fish are relating to crawfish, you’ll find that you can get bit there time and time again in the winter. Crawfish don’t migrate or move around as much as baitfish so day-to-day and even year-to-year you’ll find concentrations of crawfish in the same areas.

Cold Water Crankbaits: How to Fish a Finesse Crankbait

We already touched a little on the importance of fishing the bait slowly and maintaining bottom contact. Those are two of the most important things. To add to that, you don’t really want to jerk or twitch the bait much in the cold water.

Just a nice, slow, steady retrieve.

Fishing around wood and rock, you are going to get hung some. Be patient and when you feel your bait start to make contact with the cover, don’t snatch. If you keep easing the bait along it will usually come over the cover. Or if you’re fishing with a bait that will float, pause it for just a beat and it will float up enough to be reeled over the cover.

Just don’t snatch when you feel something right away. If you’re unsure if what you feel is a fish or just cover, you don’t need much of a hook set in the winter anyways with a crankbait. The fish will hook themselves when they hit the bait and a strong hookset often just rips the hook out of the fish.

If you do get hung, try popping your bait to get it un-snagged. If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say that, watch this video. It will do a far better job illustrating this than I can with the written word.

If you are able to master the art of popping your bait undone, you’ll find it often triggers strikes that you wouldn’t have gotten if you went up to the bait to get it un-snagged. This same thing happens a lot of times with jigs and worms. When the bait hangs up, a fish will be sitting there looking at it and when it suddenly dislodges and makes a move the fish will instinctively strike the bait.

Whenever you’re fishing elongated cover like laydowns or docks, you want to parallel the cover to ensure that your bait is in the strike zone as long as possible.

The same principle applies when you’re fishing fairly steep, rocky or clay banks. To maintain bottom contact and keep your bait in the strike zone as long as possible, you should parallel the banks with your cast.

When selecting colors, matching the hatch works well. Most cold water crankbaits I throw in this depth range are actually mimicking crawfish. Even exaggerating it a bit at times. Bright reds, yellows, and oranges work well to key on those colors present in a crawfish. But I do have a few shad patterns that I like as well. Shad patterns I like in the winter aren’t super detailed but more flat, pale and plain like the shad tend to be in cold, stained water.

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You’ll also want to fight the fish very carefully once you get bit. With the lethargic nature of the bass, they seldom inhale the bait entirely but instead, they’ll either get one or two hooks in the edge of their lips or on the outside their mouths entirely. So your gear is important for several reasons.

Cold Water Crankbaits: Gear for Throwing a Finesse Crankbait

To help prevent poorly hooking fish, lots of anglers prefer to change out the stock treble hooks that come on their baits for something a little sharper and with a wider gap. I don’t typically worry with this unless the hooks are drastically undersized, dull or have a really narrow gap.

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Whether you’re using a spinning rod or a baitcasting combo, you want a rod with a decent amount of give to it. A nice 7’ 0” medium action cranking rod is pretty good for a baitcaster combo and something in the 6’9” medium action range is good for a spinning rod. You also want a reel with a good smooth drag system for both combos so the fish can pull drag if it needs to during the fight instead of pulling the hook out on a tight drag.

Most anglers agree that baitcasters are best for the bigger Shad Raps and the heavier baits like a Wiggle Wart. But when it comes to a spinning rod or baitcaster for the lighter, small Shad Rap style baits, I personally prefer a baitcaster still and that’s where a lot of anglers differ. But that’s not to say I’m right and my way is the best. I’m just more comfortable with a baitcaster. A spinning combo is certainly better for most anglers as it allows a light bait to be thrown farther without the risk of a backlash. And a spinning combo is better suited to finesse a fish to the boat by letting them pull drag much more evenly instead of in spurts like they would on a baitcaster.

To be honest, if I was as comfortable with a spinning combo as I am with a baitcaster, I would use a spinning combo too. But accuracy is key and I can cast better with a baitcaster. All of this to say that there’s no shame in using a spinning rod for this technique with the lighter baits.

On the contrary, if you’re trying this for the first time I would recommend starting with a spinning combo not just because it’s easier but because its truthfully better.

No matter which combo you go with, you’ll find that Shad Rap style finesse crankbaits are hard to throw very far, especially in wind. My dad always equates it to trying to cast a potato chip. They don’t weigh much and because of their profile they catch wind like a sail and drift off course very easily. One thing that I found to help make casting easier is actually a particular bait, the Soul Shad by Jackall.

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Cold Water Crankbaits: Notable baits

Jackall Soul Shad

These baits are a little hard to find and expensive, so by and large I stick with the Shad Rap from Rapala. But in windy conditions, in particular, it’s nice to have a few of the Soul Shads on hand. Here’s why. The Soul Shad has a chamber inside of it with a little metal ball. This ball is held in place by a magnet in the belly to balance the bait.

But, when you go to cast the bait, the force of your back cast causes the ball to dislodge from the magnet and roll to the tail end of the bait. So when you cast the bait, the weight is in the tail and makes the bait much more aerodynamic. Not only does the bait weigh more making it easier to cast, but the placement of the weight makes it much less susceptible to wind resistance. And when the bait hits the water, a simple twitch rolls the ball back to the magnet, balancing the bait for the retrieve. Pretty smart.

The drawbacks are again availability. And the color options and sizes aren’t as plentiful as a Shad Rap. But it’s a good bait to have for certain situations.

Storm Wiggle Wart

The Wiggle Wart has an interesting past. The bait was created by Storm which was inevitably bought out by Rapala. The manufacturing process of the Wiggle Wart changed in the buyout and now the pre-Rapala Wiggle Wart has what amounts to a cult following. Diehard anglers are willing to pay big bucks for the original, touting that it has some fish catching trait that the new ones just don’t have.

Some defend this theory as factually based and proven. Others look at it as conjecture and superstition. I’ve honestly never thrown the original because they are so expensive so I can’t truthfully give an opinion. Regardless, if you’re lucky to have inherited a tackle box full of the original Wiggle Warts you could put yourself through college selling them on eBay.

SPRO RkCrawler

The RkCrawler was designed a few years ago by highland reservoir specialist and super-fan of the original Wiggle Wart, Mike McClelland. McClelland wanted to bring to market a bait that he believes better mimics the original Wiggle Wart’s action than the newer models while also making a bait that was much more affordable and available than the pre-Rapala Wiggle Warts.

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I have used and had success with the RkCrawler and they are quality baits, but again since I haven’t used the original Wiggle Wart I can’t comment on how well they have replicated the bait. But I will say that it seems some of the diehard fans of the original have been impressed with the RkCrawler and it does catch fish so it’s worth a try.

Rapala Shad Rap

Again, this is the gold standard in finesse, cold water crankbaits. Tight, consistent action. A plethora of color choices. A size option for every depth. Great profile to mimic either a baitfish or crawfish. This is what most companies take to the drawing board when they want to create their own version of a finesse crankbait.

SPRO Little John MD

The Little John MD is another good cold water crankbait with a slightly different profile and action. It’s kind of an in-between when you’re looking at the actions of the Wiggle Wart and Shad Rap. It’s got a little tighter and less erratic action than the Wiggle Wart, but a little wider wobble than the Shad Rap. I really like this bait when the water is between 48 and 55 degrees. Colder than that and I’ll lean towards the Shad Rap.

Strike King KVD HC Flat Side 1.5

The KVD Flat 1.5 is another good cold water crankbait that, like the SPRO Little John MD, isn’t a straight knock of the Shad Rap or the Wiggle Wart. It’s its own bait and like most Strike King baits, its affordable and high quality. Offering an in-between action and a little different profile, it’s another good cold water crankbait to have in the arsenal. The same way the SPRO Little John MD leans more towards the Wiggle Wart style while still being its own bait, the KVD Flat 1.5 leans more towards the Shad Rap end of the spectrum while still standing out in the crowded crankbait market.

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Cold Water Crankbaits: Rod, Reel, and Line preferences

Spinning Combo

When I do use a spinning rod combo for really small finesse crankbaits, I use a Shimano 2500 Stradic Ci4+ Spinning Reel paired with a Fitzgerald Fishing Vursa Series 6’9″ Medium spooled with 10-pound test Sufix 832 Braid and an 8-pound test Seaguar InvisX Fluorocarbon leader. In the rare occasion I’m targeting big fish around particularly abrasive cover with this combo, I’ll step up the line sizes and maybe even the rod a bit. But the smallest line possible is needed when trying to throw these particularly small baits.

Baitcaster Combo

For this combo, I pair a Lew’s Speed Spool LFS Casting Reel with a Fitzgerald Fishing Vursa Series 7’0″ Medium casting rod spooled up with 10-to-15-pound test Seaguar InvisX Fluorocarbon depending again on the size fish I’m targeting and cover present. Again, the lighter line makes the longer casts easier and allows the bait to dig a little deeper so you want to go as light as possible. And the lighter line causes less of an impact on the action of the bait.

If you have a hard time fishing slow, you can choose a slower gear ratio reel here to help you slow your retrieve. I typically stick with something in the 7:1:1 range and just slow down. But there is an option to pick a slower gear ratio and there’s not a lot of drawbacks since the fish won’t likely be making fast runs and you can just ease them to the boat with the slower reel.

Cold Water Crankbaits: Takeaways

Cold-water cranking should never be overlooked. Even on the coldest days when you can’t buy a bite on a jig, something about the action of a cold water crankbait will trigger a strike. Bites often come few and far between though, so be sure your gear and mental fortitude are up for the task of keeping them buttoned up all the way to the boat. Don’t let the bite or cover surprise you and cause you to snatch. And play the fish carefully once you hookup.

As you build your confidence in the technique and in certain baits and colors, in particular, put together a cold-water cranking box and make mental notes of which style bait works the best for each scenario. Frontrunners like the Wiggle Wart and Shad Rap gained notoriety for a reason, but there are other baits out there that will shine in certain situations too.

Target areas with both shallow and deep water present and fish slow and methodical. Look for rock, wood, and clay, but the cover isn’t as important as the bait around it. Two banks in the winter may look identical, but the presence of bait on one or the other makes all the difference. And when you find a stretch where you can get bit, you’ll usually get bit there again and again over the years.

Focusing on Your Bass Fishing Winter Approach

Just because the temperatures are starting to drop doesn’t mean you’re fishing efforts have to drop as well.  Let’s look at some winter bass tips that might keep things interesting during this time of year. Some people will not venture out into the cold just to hook a big lunker.  However, some of us could care less how cold it is, we want that excitement. So let’s focus expanding on your approach for bass fishing winter months.

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Breaking Down the Bass Fishing Winter Months

Most anglers are of the opinion that winter bass are usually very inactive.  However, when the sun has beat down on the water for a few hours, the surface temperature will rise. Big female bass are usually feeding hot and heavy during the early winter months, they’re just located in different areas than during the warmer months. They are migrating more, schooling up, changing their home areas, and gaining weight for the duration of the winter.

On a January morning, the water is at its coldest point of the day just before the sun peaks over the horizon.

The winter months are, as you all know, the coldest of the year and this will really slow the bass down. But more importantly, it slows down their foraging efforts. During a cold winter morning, there isn’t much forage available. With that said its common sense that bass will not do a lot of moving around if their foraging targets are scarce. To give yourself the best chance at landing quality bass during the winter months, it’s advisable to wait until just after 10 A.M. when the water starts to warm up a bit.  Then you can stay until the late afternoon before the temperatures start to drop.

Use the Weather to Your Advantage

An approaching warm front is one of the very best conditions to get the bass moving during the winter. These warm fronts usually spark some quality baitfish activity, mainly in the early afternoon. A single sunny afternoon can bring the surface temperature up several degrees. The best case scenario is when these fronts linger for two or three days. This keeps the general air temperatures up.

Usually, any constant rise in air temperature will culminate with an increase in water temperature. That is usually enough to get bass and forage moving around. It will bring bass up from their deep water winter homes where they often suspend. Frequently, bass will actually venture near the surface to warm themselves. You might see this over fallen timber, rocks or dock pilings near shallow areas.

This is because these structures often hold heat. Therefore, the surrounding waters are a degree or two warmer.

Bass are always waiting for spring to hit. When the water temperature climbs, it feels like spring has arrived and they are ready to take advantage of it. They are oblivious to the fact that the weather will most likely crash and get cold again when the front passes. Now, this weather effect may not cause the bass to enter into a big feeding spree, but it should encourage them to hit lures that they would probably have ignored during the early hours of a cold morning.

Locations and Gear for Bass Fishing Winter Months

During winter months, paying attention to the tide seems to have less of a factor on your fishing approach than during other points during the season. Try looking for drop-offs along the river or spots with deep water close by on a lake. Bass are known to stage in these areas while waiting for baitfish. Railroad or highway bridge pilings are a few of the better places to try during the winter months. The vertical structure provides a good piece of cover for which bass will relate.  More importantly, it gives us, the anglers a good target.

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Keep in mind, when the bass shift into their winter patterns, most anglers believe you should break out the finesse gear.

We should also remember to fish all the way around a bridge piling.  This would be a good place to try rigging a grub on a 3/16-ounce shaky head jig. It’s best to use a jig with no weed guard. Winter bass are somewhat weary and may be hesitant to take a lure if their mouth touches the stiff bristles of the weed guard first. When going for the bass suspended near the bottom you might try using ½ to ¾-ounce jigging spoons or maybe a ½ to 1-ounce tail-spinner lure. When water temperatures drop below the mid-’50s, going to a jig and pig or even a jigging spoon are a couple of the top methods to try. Pork trailers are always a good addition in my opinion.

Curly or flat-tail grubs rigged on ¼ to ½-ounce jig heads are also some of the best combinations I have used. Large 7”-12″ worms or baby brush hogs used with a very slow retrieve will also initiate strikes in the colder water temperatures. The majority of the bites will be a light touch and generate only minimal line movement, so stay alert!

Personally, I think it is hard to beat a chartreuse grub or straight worm.

The use of chartreuse soft plastics has become a universal method of attack for this time of year and on through early spring. However, green pumpkin and watermelon tints are good alternative colors. You might also consider black or black with chartreuse tail tips depending on your water clarity. Black is a color that catches bass most everywhere all year long if the water clarity is right.

Another common technique for prompting bass to bite during this season is ever popular practice of split shotting. This is a very basic technique that is inexpensive and easy to set up.  But, there are a few things you should know that will make it a bit easier for you. First off, try to use 6″ straight tail worms. These seem to offer the best presentation with this technique. The other thing to remember is to start off using 1/8 to 3/16 ounce split shot sinkers. You can always adjust the weight as you work the rig and based on your water depth.

Remember that wind can hurt your ability to detect bites with these types of presentations so try to position your boat accordingly.

My choice of rod for this time year would be a medium action 6 to 6 ½’ lightweight rod, with a good backbone and a soft tip. I chose to rig it with 6-pound monofilament or braided line, and a quality spinning reel.

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Plan Before You Go!

Bass fishing during the winter months should not be entered into without forethought. Safety is stressed by some as an important factor when fishing during this time of year. It is imperative that you dress according to the temperature expectations for the day. However, this does not mean that you have to have so many layers on that you look like a giant marshmallow. Some of the better thermal underwear, such as Under Armor, can keep most fishermen warm when put together with a sweatshirt and a good outer coat.  

Many of us often have an extra change of clothes on board, just in case. You can often find yourself wet and miserable after running your rig wide open across the lake during windy and rough conditions. Weather conditions that suddenly change can also give us fits when trying to get the boat loaded on our trailer. A thermos of hot coffee or cocoa and some energy bars would also be a good addition to your gear for your cold water outings. Keeping your core temperature up helps prevent hypothermia.

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The most important thing to remember when fishing during winter months is to slow down.  

Patience isn’t something you can pull from your tackle box but it is just as important. Slow down your approach and work for each bite. You cannot agitate a bass into striking during the winter months. The bass are no more excited about the temperatures than you are. They are moving slow, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Be subtle while trying these tips and see if you can’t pull a few more lunkers into the boat before things warm up again.

Steelhead Fishing with ANGLR Expert Nolan Minor

While everyone has a few crazy fishing tales to tell, steelhead fishing in the tributaries of Lake Erie in the fall seems to really draw an interesting crowd. So much so, that these anglers wind up a sort of combat, fishing shoulder to shoulder. ANGLR Expert, Nolan Minor had a few fun tales to tell when we chatted with him the other day. He was getting ready to head up to the Great Lake with his buddies and was reminiscing on some of their experiences up there.

Steelhead Fishing: A Whole Different Experience

I like Steelhead fishing in the tributaries of Erie, even though sometimes it’s sort of like going to Walmart. The fish are still there, but the environment is a little different from what you would find elsewhere. The creeks are smaller, and you’re sort of surrounded by colorful, yet rough characters. We chalk all of that up to being a part of the experience. Not only do we get to catch a bunch of awesome fish, but we get in some quality people watching during the process.

In Erie, fishing for steelhead is what they call “combat fishing.” There are so many people out there fishing. It’s not uncommon to be fishing a pool with 25 other people around you, making it pretty close quarters. It’s never pretty, and there are usually guys shoulder to shoulder, but everyone is usually pretty cool about it. When someone hooks a fish, people are pretty respectful and bring their lines in to let the person land their fish before going back to what they were doing. Some people are less talkative than others, but it’s usually a pretty good time.

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My buddy has a video he took of this ‘character’ while we were fishing under a bridge. He had hooked a fish and took off running. He wasn’t only following the fish, but he was being kind of a nut. His boots were full of water, so he was squeaking as he went running through this crowd of people under the bridge. We still refer to him as “Squeaky Boots.”

I usually like to observe what people are doing for a few minutes to see what casts they’re making to make sure I don’t interfere before I step in. On another trip up there, we had found a pool with about 30 fish under an overhanging tree. No one was fishing right under that tree, so I slid in there. I had about six different fish come and chase my bait on the first cast, which told me those fish hadn’t seen a bait in a while. 

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I hooked one and lost one, then I caught one. I called my buddy over and he caught one. Two older men fishing up stream from us decided to leave and were obviously furious with us, expressing their concerns verbally. They told us that we were fishing too closely, and that we didn’t ask to come fish near them. I tried not to really engage with them. Really, what it was about was that those guys weren’t catching anything and us young guys walked in and started catching fish right away. It hurt their feelings and their pride, so they felt like they had to say something. Everyone around us commented the same sentiments after they left. That’s really the only verbal confrontation that I’ve ever seen on the creek, which is amazing, considering all the combat fishing that’s going on.

Things like that happen at least once every trip up there. In addition to the fish themselves, things like that are part of what make the trip.   

Nolan’s Very First Steelhead

When I caught my first steel, we were fishing at the “tubes;” two large culverts that tunnel underneath a set of train tracks. There are usually a bunch of steelhead under there because it’s cool, dark, and protected. There were some pretty large logs in the water under the tunnels and I could see some fish hanging around them. We had already spent three hours looking for fish and I hadn’t caught one yet ‘till we came upon this pool.

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Well, I hooked this fish, but was using 6 pound test line, so there wasn’t really much I could do to steer it away from snags. It decided it was going to head into these downed trees and ran around one branch before taking off in the opposite direction. The fish wound up 30” from the tree, but my line was going around the tree. Then it got caught up on something, so I couldn’t pull him back around the tree. I’m shocked my line didn’t break off because it became so stuck in there.

The fish must have decided that he wasn’t hooked anymore, so he just swam over to the tree and was sort of just hanging out. At first we thought he wasn’t hooked anymore, but then I could still see my hook with the line hanging out of his mouth with my bait.

We had to take a different rod and snag the line to get it closer to us. We managed to get him about halfway to us, but the line got hung up again so we couldn’t get him any closer. We had to take a third line to snag the second line to pull him close enough to us to net him. By that point we had a crowd around us watching these shenanigans, but we got that fish! He was average size, which is around 21-22 inches; about a three pound fish.

That was my first steelhead, and it’s kind of a fitting way to have caught one in Erie, PA. There’s nothing bright and flashy. You just have to do what you have to do.

How to Catch Gag Grouper

As the coastal water temperature drops through the fall and winter, the Florida fishing scene starts to wane a bit, but there’s still plenty of fish to be caught. You just need to alter where you’re looking.

Gag grouper can be a blast to catch, and learning how to catch gag grouper is easier than you’d think! Just because the cold weather is bearing down, there’s no need to take a break from setting the hook!.

Where Can You Find Gag Grouper?

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These large fish are typically caught in the two to 12-pound range, though they can be found up to 20-30 pounds. An occasional 50-pounder can be landed in the deeper waters, and the world record stands at over 80. You can find them along the East Coast of the Americas from Brazil through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico to as far north as New England.

Juvenile fish take shelter on the inshore glass flats and shoals until they mature. During most of the year, mature gag grouper like to hide around any type of structure that can give them shelter.

They can be found in ledges and holes and love to populate offshore reefs and shipwrecks.

As winter approaches, a massive migration of gags head for the warmer protection of the inner shores, especially within the Gulf of Mexico, to spawn. Off the coast of the Carolinas, spawning takes place in February, and in the Gulf of Mexico, spawning lasts from January through March.

During the late fall and early winter, they’ll show up a few miles off the shoreline along with spanish mackerel, kingfish, speckled trout, blacktip and spinner sharks that are chasing the schools of bunker and herring close to the beaches.

They’ll still be looking for places to shelter, so searching for large man-made structures close to the coast are a good place to start. You’re looking for any piece of structure located with nearby access to deep water. You should be able to find reasonably sized gags there. Also, head for rocky ledges and patch reefs in 15-30 feet of water. A little trick is to find clusters of stone crab traps and you’re likely to find good grouper structure.

How to Catch Gag Grouper: Live Bait and Cut-Bait

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Many anglers catch lots of gags on spinning and plug tackle, but live bait tends to be the best option. They can be caught on fresh cut bait like mullet or pinfish. They’ll also go for cut bait like squid, octopus, and crabs, though live bait, by far, is the best option. You can use a live pinfish, small gray or lane snapper, or live cigar minnow to draw them in quickly. Pilchards, grunts, or sand perch are options, as well.

Attach your baitfish to the hook just above the anal fins since the supporting structure of the fins adds some security.

How to Catch Gag Grouper: Tackle and Gear

Standard grouper tackle usually works just fine. A six to seven-foot conventional rod and reel equipped with the 40-pound test is a good place to start, but you’ll probably do fine on 20- to 30-pound test. In the warmer months, offshore anglers will lean towards stouter rods with 50- and 80-pound test lines, but that’s not necessary for the shallower waters during the colder months.

Use a four ounce egg sinker on a 2 ½ foot,  80lb fluorocarbon leader.

By law, you’re required to use a circle hook when bottom fishing in much of Florida’s cost, including the Gulf of Mexico. 6/0 will work here, though some tend to opt for a 4/0.

Be Prepared For a Fight When Pursuing Gag Grouper

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Gags are very aggressive strikers and will fight hard at all depths. When hooked, these are very powerful fish that want nothing more than to run back into a hole or ledge and take you with them. You’ll need to have heavy gear with you to prevent the fish from taking your line. Most anglers crank the drag on their reel down all the way to prevent the fish from reaching a hole.

They have a tendency to become “rocked up” if allowed.

This is where the grouper will run into a hole or under a ledge and spread its gills locking itself in place. To prevent that, keep the drag tightened so it’s almost impossible to pull line off of the spool. Lower your bait to the bottom, and then reel up a crank or two so that your sinker is elevated and the bait is swimming just off the structure. Keep your rod held low so you can immediately lift it as soon as the fish strikes, turning it away from the rocks. Lift up… reel down… repeat.  

If your fish is able to get rocked up, place your rod in a rod holder and release all pressure on the fish by giving it some slack. Wait five minutes, or watch to see when the line begins to move (whichever comes first). Start to cautiously reel in all slack to the point that your rod is low to the water and tight to the fish. Then use a quick, upward stroke. If you’ve got a fish pulling back, reel down and lift again to keep your fish headed in towards the boat. Though, you can also find a few other ingenious off-the-wall tricks out there, too.

When you’re looking for something different to try, cooler weather fishing for gag grouper can liven things up a bit and provide some fun fishing that requires a bit of finesse.

Locating Bass Ice Fishing Lake Arthur With Gus Glasgow

The ice season can be some of the most exciting times to get out there and go after your fish of choice. Sometimes, you may even stumble across a school of fish you weren’t expecting to find. That’s what happened to ANGLR Expert, Gus Glasgow up on Lake Arthur in Western Pennsylvania a few years back. He was out targeting crappies and ran into a school of smallmouth bass ice fishing. The best part? they seem to have taken up residence in that spot, year after year.

Glasgow has been fishing since he was a little kid. His uncle was a passionate fishermen, and got him hooked on ice fishing. He took Glasgow out for the first time around the age of six, and he loved it. His mom wasn’t so keen on the idea since there wasn’t really any emphasis on safety back then.

“If you saw water squirting up, you just took a bigger step over the hole,” Glasgow shared.

The Premier Western PA Ice Fishing Destination

While Glasgow resides not too far from Presque Isle, Lake Erie, he favors the more popular Lake Arthur for ice fishing. “Presque Isle is so iffy on the ice, more people go to Lake Arthur.” It’s like the ultimate ice fishing destination spot for all of Western PA.

Anglers make the trek up from Pittsburgh, Ohio, and even West Virginia to get some ice time. It’s usually the first lake with ice, the lake with the most ice, and the lake with the safest ice.

“Due to the geological location and the surrounding hills, it’s the best and safest place to go,” You can’t beat that!

How To Find the Fish You’re Not Looking For

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He ice fishes almost exclusively for panfish these days but stumbled upon a little secret a few years back while going after crappie. “It’s a really rare thing to catch smallmouth bass ice fishing. The only reason I even came across them was because I happened upon a spot that apparently the bass wintered in.” He was on the upper end of Lake Arthur along one of the three main fingers where ice fishing is generally practiced: Muddy Creek, the Propagation Finger, and Shannon’s. That’s where the majority of anglers go after panfish, Muskie, and Pike.

Earlier in the season, you’re more likely to catch crappie in the shallower ends of the lake near brush piles, rock piles, and weed edges.. As the season goes on and more fish have been caught, their numbers start to dwindle and they head further out to deeper water. Glasgow thought he was following those crappie as they headed closer to the main body of water, looking at some brush piles and rock piles over open water near main lake points. He started finding groups of wintering smallmouth in about 10-12 feet of water in a brush pile near two rocks.

“It’s rare to catch smallmouth at Lake Arthur, period. It’s very rare to catch them through the ice, and extremely rare to have a spot that produces high numbers. It’s a real oddity, but they fight just as hard through the ice as they do through the summertime.”

Thinking this was just a fluke, he’s actually stumbled across another location on the same lake, finding similar groups of smallmouth. He’s able to catch them in these locations over and over again. Both locations are very similar in that they consist of a brush pile near rock structure over a hard bottom. “But it’s really only those two locations on Lake Arthur where I’ve found those conditions, but I can go out and consistently catch six to ten in a short period of time, which is an oddity when it comes to bass.”

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Smallmouth Bass Ice Fishing Gear

When he had happened upon the surprise bass, Glasgow had been using microplastics, Fiskas tungsten jigs tipped with a maggot, and a dead-stick minnow, all with 32” ice noodle rods with 2-3 pound Gamma fluorocarbon ice line, in his effort to chase panfish when he caught a surprise, instead.

“I caught them on a jig, and I wasn’t paying attention to my deadstick rod. I looked over, and it was sliding across the ice about to go down the hole,” he reminisced.

Smallmouth have a tremendous amount of fight when compared to largemouth bass.

“They fight extremely hard in the wintertime.” Once he noticed that he was consistently able to get into these bass ice fishing, he took a friend along. “I warned him, ‘do not leave your rod near the hole unattended because these smallmouth are nuts.’ He didn’t believe me. His rod took off within seconds and he lost it down the hole.” He jokes about the fish’s wintertime fight. “If they could jump, they would. A couple of times I’ve felt like they’ve probably jumped and smacked the ice.”

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Now that he knows he’s going to go for these smallmouth, Glasgow still uses the same rigging as he does for the panfish. Occasionally he’ll grab a Northland Forage Minnow spoon, though he’s still using his four and five-millimeter Fiskas jigs.

Ice Fishing Technology

This seasoned angler laments the lack of technology that affordably pairs fish-finding technology and tracking with GPS, making it difficult to readily track your catches, but he believes that the ANGLR Bullseye could easily bridge that gap in the future. Glasgow uses the Bullseye with the ANGLR App when ice fishing and likes the fact that you can easily share your catches, your story, and your map.

If you want to make your catches public, you can, but you can also keep all of your data completely private! You can share where you were, how you caught them. “Before you just had a pen and paper at home your wrote these things in like a diary,” he reminisces. “Most people don’t want to do that.”

Glasgow ponders on why he keeps finding the bass ice fishing where he does. “I think there’s an abundance of crawfish there, which they’re still feeding on in the wintertime. They’re also ambushing minnows when they have the option, so they’re relating near the brush, but the hard bottom is what keeps them there. He noticed that the second spot was almost exactly the same as the first. He happened upon it the same way, too. It was also an area he had historically had a lot of luck with crappie.

“They have almost the same structure; a rock shoreline with a lot of rock bottom with a brush pile on top of it. They just hang out in that brush pile on top of the rocks.”

So it seems it’s probably a good modus operandi to take a lesson from the Boy Scouts. Be Prepared. You never know what you’re going to run into and how much fun you’ll have on the ice!

Fishing for Steelhead with ANGLR Expert Nolan Minor

In the corner of northwest Pennsylvania lies the next best thing to a vast ocean: one of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie. With its almost tidal surf and vast, dark, deep waters, it’s an angler’s dream. From roaming schools of smallmouth, giant walleye, and the hard fighting steelhead, Lake Erie has a species for any angler!

We caught up with ANGLR Expert, Nolan Minor just as he was returning home from a trip to the outfitters. The Virginia native was gearing up for a trek from his home in Morgantown, West Virginia to travel three hours to Erie. He and his buddies were heading out fishing for steelhead.

What Makes Fishing for Steelhead in Erie so Unique?

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Steelhead is a rainbow trout, but what makes it unique is that it’s migratory, similar to salmon. They live out in the ocean, or Great Lakes in this case, for the first two to three years of their lives before they make their first trip back in the streams to spawn. Unlike trout, they don’t meet their demise in the rivers, but are able to return to the lake in the spring.

They live their lives out in the vast lake, only concerned about food, but then one day something clicks in their brain and they decide they need to go spawn, so they begin to head to the creeks sometime around the end of September, early October. They keep flooding up the creeks until December. That’s where they’ll remain until the spring, when they return back to the open waters. Their life cycle is similar to their cousins’ out in the Pacific Northwest: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, where the biggest difference is that those steelhead live most of their lives out in the open ocean.

There are two main creeks that harbor the majority of steelhead as they make their spawn run: Walnut Creek and Elk Creek.

An average Erie steelhead is usually around 21-22 inches and about three pounds, maybe a little less. Most of the fish we catch there are around that size. The largest one I’ve caught so far was 28 inches. That’s not that large of a fish, but it was really fat and weighed about seven and a half pounds. The smaller jacks are usually around 17-18 inches, but they’re less common.

When I Got That First Bite… I Was Hooked

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I didn’t know what to expect on my first trip. I had done a lot of trout fishing in rivers and streams down in Virginia. My skills transferred over pretty smoothly. Fishing for trout and steelhead is closely related. The two fish’s behaviors are very similar, the baits they each take are almost the same, so tackle is similar as well.

This is a huge fish that’s a very aggressive fighter. It’s sort of one of the coveted freshwater fish to pursue. Growing up in Virginia, I hadn’t had an opportunity to go fishing for steelhead before my college years. With Erie being so close [at three hours away], I had to try. My buddy goes regularly, so he took me up there for my first time during my freshman year. Three or four of us still get together and head up to Erie for a long weekend as often as we can. Being college students and members of the West Virginia Fishing Bass Team, it’s difficult but we still manage to make it up two to three times a year.

Because I’m still in school, I’m really only able to get up there about two to three times a year. I’d love to go more often if I was close enough to take a day trip through the weekdays. Fishing pressure is a big factor to your success. When it’s busy, for every 40 fish you see, you may catch one.

Usually about 90% of the fish are being caught by about 10% of the anglers.

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Gearing up when Fishing for Steelhead

Most anglers up in Erie fish with noodle rods. I’ve never used one because I was used to trout fishing on creeks in Virginia. I use a shorter 6’6″ light action rod, pretty light tackle. When we’re up there, we’re catching more fish than most people, so we must be doing something right. In the larger rivers like in the Pacific Northwest, a longer rod is necessary to keep your line off of the water, but these creeks are so little, so you don’t need that length. It’s such tight quarters in the trees and under bridges. The trees are actually covered in hooks, line, and bobbers. This is similar to fishing for stream trout; you have to cater your gear to the environment you’re fishing in.

Fishing for Steelhead (3)

We fish our baits underneath a small split-shot float. We’ll use single eggs, and we’ll use spawn bags, it really depends on what the fish are telling us. Some people use minnows or worms. We use a light line and an 8-14 hook, depending on the bait and conditions. Typically, the clearer the water, the smaller the equipment. We’ll use small jigs, and will grab a trout magnet a lot. Another staple of ours is a three inch pink trout worm. It’s the ‘Wacky Senko’ of trout fishing. Since the water is so small, we typically use smaller stuff.

Some people tend to overcomplicate things, but fishing for steelhead is pretty simple. Unlike bass fishing, you only have a handful of different baits and 3 or 4 color choices for most situations.

The fishing changes from day to day, based on the conditions. That’ll determine the bait or technique that works best for the day. There’s no bait that’ll be any better day in and day out.

You’ve got to have a drag-free drift under your float. That’s the key to being successful. You need that bait to be floating in a natural way. That’s the biggest fundamental, and once you have that mastered, you’ve got it. You’ll have your bait underneath your float, then use small split-shot weights to balance things out. Starting with a larger one, tapering off to a smaller weight closest to your bait since you want your bait to drift a little in front of the bobber to get that drag-free drift; a more natural drift, which is the key to getting a bite.

Steelhead sit up off of the bottom a little bit, and you want that bait to be drifting so they don’t have to move very far to eat it. You almost want it to hit them on the nose, since food is not their main priority when they come into the creek. While you can typically see 30-40 fish in the water at a time, they’re not always taking the bait, so you have to be patient, and present it to them in such a way that they can’t say no.

While landing these fish is exciting, it’s the time spent in the crowds of people that flock to Erie during this time that really makes the outing unique. I will be talking about my experiences fishing off of Lake Erie in our next Steelhead Edition. Make sure to catch it!