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To catch a big bass this time of year, do some deadstickin

Luke Clayton

Deadsticking is a term used for fishing a bait, usually a soft plastic but not always, very slowly during the winter months when water temperatures are at their lowest. When the water is cold, fish become lethargic. They must eat but they prefer a meal that remains somewhat stationary rather than something they must chase down. Thus the reason that 1.5 inch soft plastic shad imitations held motionless near the top of big schools of white bass provided so much excitement at Cedar Creek Lake last week.

Since the water began cooling this past fall, guide Jason Barber has been putting his clients on regular limits of white bass using this deadsticking method. As winter progressed, the bite got even better. With a colder than normal winter, Barber’s favorite method of catching winter white bass was still going strong on our recent outing and the guide doesn’t plan to have to change his tactics for a few more weeks.

Barber eased the throttle back on his center console 24 foot Robalo and with its nose into a gentle southwest breeze, the comfortable fishing machine quickly lost its forward momentum.  We were out in the center of the lower lake and Barber began to study his sonar closely.  “This is close to the spot where I had 3 clients limit out yesterday in a couple hours fishing. Looks like the bait is still here and where we find the big balls of shad, the white bass are sure to be nearby.” says Barber as he eases the anchor overboard.

Barber prefers using lightweight spinning combos for this type fishing. The average white bass landed weighs about a pound but as we were soon to find out, there were plenty of fish of the magnum variety ready to nail our offerings. I had spooled my Enticer spinning reel from Bass Pro Shops with 8 pound line and I backed the drag off a bit so that I had a fighting chance to land one of those 16 inch two pound white bass if the opportunity presented itself.

“The trick to this type fishing is to learn to slow down,” tips Barber. “See that cloud of bait that goes from bottom up about 4 feet? The trick is to position our soft plastic shad imitations right on top of the baitfish. Once your bait is in place, keep it as motionless as possible. These white bass will readily take bait that they don’t have to chase.”

As I released the bail on the spinning reel which released the line, sending my bait to bottom, I heard a solid drumming sound coming from a boat positioned about a hundred yards away. Then, the drumming was MUCH closer. It was coming from our boat! Barber had a 6 foot piece of 1 inch PVC pipe with a tennis bass on the end. He had the pole vertical in the air and was thumping the bottom of the boat with an erratic cadence.

“Look at the graph,” instructs Barber. “See there are no fish below the boat. But just keep watching as I continue whacking the bottom of the boat. The sound imitates a feeding activity on the water’s surface and quickly pulls the fish in under the boat. There are lots of gulls, pelicans and cormorants on the lake right now and the bird are continually diving into schools of shad. I’m positive the disturbance on the surface pulls big schools of white bass right in under the boat, it’s like ringing the dinner bell! On the weekend, when lots of fishermen are on the water, it sounds like an Indian Pow Wow underway. Everyone has learned that this somewhat off the wall trick produces action, and it produces it quickly. If you’re not ‘drumming’, you’re just not going to catch many fish this time of year! ”  

Barber was in mid sentence when I felt the lightest of ‘pecks’ on my bait which was dangling motionless a few feet up from bottom, it felt like a crappie bite in very deep water. “You have to remember, Luke that these fish are just sucking the baits into their mouths. They don’t grab the bait and run with it like they do when the water is warm. The instance you feel the slightest tap telegraphed up your line, set the hook, hard!” About this time, the guide was doing battle with the first fish of the day, a 15 inch white bass that tipped the scales around 1.5 pounds.

When using this technique, it’s important that the bait is presented in a natural position, ninety degrees to the line. A conventional knot that cinches up tightly to the eye of the hook doesn’t work. If such a knot is used, the bait soon twists so that it is vertical with the line. When deadsticking, a loop knot which allows the bait to remain at right angles to the line works best.

I soon learned how to get the hook set on these tentative biting fish. The soft tap indicates the fish has sucked the bait into its mouth. A quick vertical rod of the rod gets the job done. I watched Barber as he kept his rod tip almost touching the water so that he would have plenty of vertical upward movement to his hook set. Once the hook set is learned, anyone can catch fish using this method. Barber says many of his clients are parents with kids.

With this recent blast or Arctic weather which will keep lake waters cold, Barber is expecting to introduce lots of youngsters on spring break to this style of easy but very productive fishing. I can remember just a few years ago when winter white bass anglers, myself included, continued to fish with lead slabs and worked them very slowly along bottom. We did catch a few lethargic fish but nothing like the action that I enjoyed last week deadsticking. In a month or so, white bass will actively be chasing shad all over the lake. They will be hot on the trail of fast moving schools of threadfin and gizzard shad. But as long as the water remains cold, I hope to put my new trick to use on several more outings for white bass. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! 

Guide Jason Barber can be reached online at www.kingscreekadventures.com or call 903 603 2047. 

Outdoors writer, radio host and book author Luke Clayton has been addicted to everything outdoors related since his childhood when he grew up hunting and fishing in rural northeast Texas. Luke pens a weekly newspaper column that appears in over thirty newspapers.