By Dave Lefebre – December 11, 2019
Experience is something you truly need to become a good professional bass angler. A major component of experience is time on the water: the years and years of learning about fish behavior, and the subtle things needed to adjust correctly to continue catching bass under all conditions.
During the winter months, many of the top pros – when they aren’t hunting – still get out, fish, stay sharp, and continue to learn. Living where I do in Pennsylvania, that’s not something I can do (at least not on the open water). But, I do get out a lot and fish through the ice to stay sharp and on top of my fishing game.
I started ice fishing with my dad years ago as a kid – just tagged along for something to do in the winter to pass time. Now, I can’t wait to get out on the ice.
Ice fishing is like a chess match with the fish. Fish are fish, no matter what species you’re after. You can’t really tell what they are on your electronics anyway.
The chess match is figuring out how I can fish faster and follow the fish more effectively as they transition from one area to another. There’s so much fish movement: you can’t simply go to the same spot year after year and catch fish. It’s a dynamic and exciting way to fish. It never gets old, I keep learning and improving, and it helps me become a better pro angler.
The Advantages of Ice
I once thought that not being able to regularly fish open water during the winter was a disadvantage as a pro bass angler, but I realized it’s not. I flipped it around and have made it into an advantage.
One of the great advantages I have is that ice fishing makes me very well acquainted with my electronics. When my new Lowrance units arrive, I’ll first use them on the ice and not a boat. It’s stationary, almost a controlled environment. The screen looks like a simulation. This allows me to tinker with the gear and really dial it in.
Ice fishing equipment is so microscopic compared to open-water gear. When I’m using my electronics, I can dial them in to see the tiny jigs we use, to see that 3-inch perch, and be able to decipher what I’m looking at. Fishing through the ice offers a unique stillness – it’s an overexaggerated stillness that allows me to fine-tune things. It makes you want to totally master the fishing techniques and electronics.
When you fish open water, you can never recreate that perfect stillness in your technique. Even on the stillest day with no wind or current, there’s added motion. Just you moving in the boat creates more motion. What ice fishing helps you with is how to master that stillness so you can try to recreate it on open water.
Now, of course, there are lots of other cool things ice fishing has brought to the forefront, like cameras. I use this really cool MarCum camera with a remote control that’s connected through a phone app.
I’ll set the camera at a home base, which is the primo spot on the ice. Then, my friends and I will all head out and drill holes to fish around and find the active fish. All of us have access to the camera via the app. If something pops up, we can head back and fish that area. It’s really neat.
I believe that technology will end up advancing and becoming even more useful to open water anglers as well. I know some pros already use cameras during practice.
So, if you’re a bass angler in a frozen water location, get out on the ice and take advantage of what it can teach you. Fish are fish, so no matter what you’re catching, you’ll improve your bass fishing game. Just make sure you’re safe and wear things like a Striker snowsuit and don’t fish alone. Turn that frozen disadvantage to your advantage.
By Walker Smith
As much as we’re always on the water, the Wired2fish crew is always on the go. Whether we’re deer hunting, turkey hunting, kayaking or hanging out at a tailgate with buddies, it seems like we’re always outside. When I got the chance to test the Dakota Lithium Power Box 10, I immediately began thinking of all the applications it would have in my life. I had never heard of the company before and I’ve never owned something like this, so I really had no expectations. I went into this review pretty blind.
Todd and I have been using it a lot lately and have been quite impressed by how versatile it is. Quite honestly, I never thought I’d use this thing as much as I have; that’s no joke. If you’re an outdoorsman like we are, you should see what this small, compact box can really do.
I’ll break it down for you.
(1 of 7)EASY TO CARRY AROUND
Don’t let the rugged exterior of this device fool you. I figured it was going to be heavy and clunky, but the Dakota Lithium Power Box 10 only weighs 4 pounds. It’s nothing like I expected, to be honest.
It has a really convenient carry handle on the top of the box and I’ve been able to put this thing just about anywhere. I can fit it in my hunting duffle bag, my truck tool box and even the back compartments of my bass boat.
Whether I’m going to a cookout or to the deer stand, I have been carrying this little box with me everywhere.
(2 of 7)CHARGES ALL OF YOUR DEVICES QUICKLY
Like I mentioned earlier, we’re always on the go. I’m constantly riding around to different lakes and ponds to test new lures and shoot photos, so I’ve had a bear of a time keeping all of my stuff charged. I need to be mobile, but I also need to be close to my laptop at all times. If a breaking news story happens, Wired2fish needs to be the first to publish the article and that’s hard to do from a phone or tablet.
With dual USB charging ports and a 12-volt car plug, I’ve been able to get off the grid a little more without worrying about battery life.
Also worth noting is how quickly the Power Box charges everything. It’s not a wimpy charge like you get from those gas station phone chargers. From what I’ve experienced, it’s just like plugging your charger into the wall. Just last night while I was outside tinkering in my shop, I charged my iPhone from 12% to 94% in about 30 or 40 minutes.
(3 of 7)REALLY HANDY LED LIGHTS
This is a feature we didn’t really expect to utilize very much, but we were proven wrong. This Power Box has two super-bright LED exterior lights that act as a legit flashlight when you need it. There’s a separate switch for ’em, so they don’t always stay on. But Todd and I have used it while walking to and from the deer stand at dark and I’ve been using it around the yard in the evenings.
And because of its compact profile and weightlessness, it’s really no heavier than your heavy-duty flashlight.
(4 of 7)IT’S TOUGH TO KILL THIS BATTERY
The Dakota Lithium Power Box 10 can charge an iPhone more than 11 times, a laptop almost 3 times and even run a fish finder for more than 50 hours.
(5 of 7)MOBILE OFFICE? NO PROBLEM.
I have loved how mobile I can be now. No matter what, I have full confidence that all my stuff is going to be charged. I’m not one who is glued to my phone constantly, but man, I am pretty paranoid about it being fully charged.
What if I fall out of my deer stand? What if my 21-year-old bass boat breaks down 10 miles up a river? What if some sort of family emergency happens? I need to be able to contact my wife and first responders at all times, no matter how deep in the woods I am.
(6 of 7)WORKS EVERY SINGLE TIME
I have tossed this Power Box around in my UTV, truck and boat. It has been well used thus far and it works perfectly each and every time I plug something into it. I have developed a lot of confidence in it.
(7 of 7)FINAL THOUGHTS
Like I said, I had no idea this thing existed. But after testing it for a while and putting it through the wringer, I’m actually thinking about buying one for my dad for Christmas. With him being 67 years old and stubborn as a mule, I want him to have a full charge on his electronics when he’s in the woods or fishing by himself. For me, it’s a peace of mind thing.
Chatterbaits, spinnerbaits, and swim jigs are all designed to find bass fast—and make them strike. Which is the best? Here’s our take
By Pete Robbins
December 10, 2019
a collection of assorted bass fishing lures.
The author’s favorite assortment of spinnerbaits, swim jigs, and Chatterbaits.Pete Robbins
Although bass may group up offshore, or chase pelagic baitfish, for the hard core largemouth hunter in search of hand-to-hand combat, the most enjoyable times are when they’re pinned around shallow cover ambush points, waiting to feed. This can be just about any time of the year, from the pre-spawn through the fall, and under all types of conditions, so a one-size-fits-all approach to choosing your lure makes no sense.
Of course a topwater bite can be thrilling, and is often the only way to go around thick vegetation, but it’s also the first option to go south when conditions get tough. Pitching and flipping soft plastics and jigs can be super-effective, especially when bass are buried in cover or otherwise reluctant to chew, but they’re slow, time-consuming methods that don’t allow you to cover maximum water.
Into this mix enters a trio of lures that can be presented quickly, relatively weedlessly, and horizontally, aimed at finding bass fast and making them strike – the spinnerbait, the Chatterbait, and the swim jig. While there are times when all three will produce reasonably well, there are enough subtle differences to help you make an educated guess about which of the three will produce best. Add all of them to your arsenal, follow these guidelines, and be prepared to break the rules because many largemouths haven’t read the same textbooks as the rest of us.
The traditional safety pin-style spinnerbait is the oldest and most widely-used of the triumvirate. It incorporates a bent wire frame, with a leadhead and hook at one end of the “V” and one or two blades at the other extremity. Usually there is a skirt over the hook, although sometimes a soft plastic lure is placed there instead.
Spinnerbaits used for bass start with 1/8 ounce crappie-sized versions and go all the way up to the 2 ounce monsters that northern muskie hunters throw. Depending on the weight of the lure, the speed of the retrieve and the size and shape of the blades, they can be fished down to 30 or more feet, although in most cases they are best in water less than 10 feet deep.
A spinnerbait doesn’t need to be bumping bottom, or any sort of cover, to draw fish. The thump of the blades—big-cupped Colorados provide the most, willows the least, and Indianas somewhere in between—allows fish to track them with sight as well as with their lateral lines. That means they can be deadly in muddy water and can draw bass that are on the bottom or suspended up into the water column.
A spinnerbait with willow-leaf blades.
They’re at their best when there’s some wind, to break up the surface and maximize the flash, because in calm, clear water they resemble nothing found in nature. That does not mean they’re only good in stained or muddy water—but a clear water approach generally requires a faster retrieve. Sometimes it mandates an ultra-natural skirt, but smallmouths in particular like something gaudy. Don’t hesitate to use chartreuse or bubblegum in both blades and skirts, when they’re feeding heavily.
While a spinnerbait comes through most cover reasonably well, it typically does not do so as well as the Chatterbait or the swim jig. That’s partially because it has so many moving parts —clevises, blades, swivels and wire bends—and a piece of grass or other debris fouling up one element can mess up the whole cast. On the other hand, they create action and noise at just about any retrieve speed, so you can match the attitude of the fish and still keep a lure in the strike zone, often without changing baits, but sometimes by simply moving to a bigger or smaller blade size.
Because they are primarily meant to imitate baitfish, most spinnerbait skirts are in white, chartreuse, shad colors or some combinations thereof. Patterns like watermelon and pumpkinseed exist, but they haven’t gained much traction. Darker colors like black or purple are primarily known as colors for night fishing, especially with an oversized Colorado blade. One advantage that a spinnerbait has over its competitors is that a trailer hook can be easily and seamlessly added to counter short strikers.
Bass home in on Chatterbaits due largely to the vibrations the lures emit.
I use the term “Chatterbait” loosely, only because that brand name has become the generic, like “Coke” or “Kleenex.” More properly they might be called “bladed jigs” or “vibrating jigs.” Born in the Carolinas, they entered the scene a little over a decade ago and were immediately touted as “the lure to end spinnerbaits.” While that prediction never came to pass, indeed they have stolen much of their predecessors’ thunder, catching big bass across the country and around the world.
The Chatterbait marries a thin blade – often hexagonal or round – to a skirted jighead, often via two interlocking eyelets, but sometimes incorporating a split ring. This connecting creates drag on the blade when pulled forward, which results in heavy vibration. It’s tighter than that of a spinnerbait with big cupped blades, but the best among them often hunt. In other words, on a straight steady retrieve the lure will suddenly veer out to one side or the other before tracking true again. The strikes often come at the moment of deflection. Models in 3/8 and ½ ounce sizes are most popular, but they’re available in sizes as small as 1/8 ounce and up to over 1 ounce, which means they can be dragged across offshore ledges and humps, appealing to fish who’ve previously only seen jigs, worms and crankbaits.
A Chatterbait (top) and a swim jig (bottom)
Without less flash than spinnerbaits, these lures rely on a bass’ other senses to elicit bites, but part of their advantage is that they don’t need quite as much wind to be effective—they can typically get through heavy cover, particularly vegetation, with slightly more ease.
While whites and shad colors can be effective any time bass are feeding on silvery baitfish, the Chatterbait typically provides for a greater range of color options. Most pros rely most heavily on three—white/shad, green pumpkin/watermelon and black/blue. The skirt color can be offset or complemented by the soft plastic trailer on the back. The green shades, particularly with a touch of chartreuse, are especially deadly anytime bass are feeding on bream, and in addition to gold or silver blades, flat black can be best when the bite is tough or the water is dirty. A black and blue lure excels for the same reason a flipping jig in those same colors does—it represents the crawfish that bass gorge on to pack on the pounds.
Most trailers are either small boot-tailed swimbaits or craw imitators, although the original Chatterbait came with a small split-tail. Unlike a spinnerbait, a Chatterbait has little to no action of its own when paused or allowed to helicopter down in the water column, so if you plan a stop-and-go technique you’ll want something on the back that undulates on its own. You’ll also want to find a hook that has a keeper barb or some sort, or else use a drop of Super Glue, unless you want to be adjusting and replacing soft plastic trailers all day
One advantage of the Chatterbait over a spinnerbait is that it can be easily skipped, even by relative novices. If you want to place a vibrating lure into the furthest reaches of a boathouse or under some overhanging branches, that’s eminently achievable.
3. Swim Jig
A jig has long been many anglers’ “desert island” lure, the one they’d carry with them when forced to catch something to survive under terrible conditions. Most of the time, however, that meant either pitching it into heavy cover, bouncing it along the bottom, or a straight vertical drop to fish under the boat. The swim jig turns all of that on its ear, and makes the jig into a handy companion for a spinnerbait, vibrating jig, or lipless crankbait.
In many respects, it looks like a Chatterbait without the blade, a simple jig with a swimbait, grub or craw on the back, meant to swim through cover and pull bass out. For decades this technique was largely the province of two geographically distinct groups of anglers—one from Wisconsin, one from Alabama.
The former group used a pointy-headed “bullet” style jighead and a relatively light-wire hook. The latter contingent employed a more blunted head and a heavier wire hook, assumedly for dealing with bigger fish in heavier cover, although both do well in thick vegetation.
When the conditions slick off and get tough, and a once-superior spinnerbait or Chatterbait bite dies, a swim jig might be the next step down on the obnoxiousness scale. Unless equipped with a rattle, they make no noise of their own, and they depend on their trailers for action of the fall even more than a Chatterbait, but they come through all but the heaviest cover with greater aplomb. In fact, you can skitter one over thick pads or matted grass to replicate a frog or small terrestrial animal in a manner that a spinnerbait could never dream of. Unlike a spinnerbait or most Chatterbaits, the typical swim jig has a weedguard, which makes it even more snagproof.
Like the Chatterbait, white, green and black/blue are the primary colors, but a few strands of accent colors can be added to match any forage. Many of the mass manufacturers make their skirts out of silicone, which offers the greatest variety of color options, but old-school rubber is making a comeback among anglers who believe that it has more action. The choices are endless. The most popular sizes are ¼ to ¾ ounce, and a bigger jig can be made to ride higher in the water column by a bulky trailer.
With each of these three lures you can use fluorocarbon or braid (or even monofilament), although the purists resist using braid with a spinnerbait and they’re split with regard to the other two lures. A “broomstick” style rod won’t telegraph strikes or allow for precise casts – you’ll need something with enough backbone to hoist big fish out of cover, but enough tip to make pinpoint presentations. The rod you use with braid might need a little bit more give, while fluorocarbon users can get away with one that’s a little stiffer. What you can’t get away with, though, is leaving any of these three options at home.
With the water temperatures getting colder and the bass getting lethargic it might seem like going finesse in the winter is obvious. It is to some, not so much to others. I’m in the first group.
Here’s my game plan:
First off, let’s wrap our heads around where the bass are going to be found in the winter. If you’re fishing a river with current in it, they’ll be in the deepest places where there is no current. If you’re fishing a reservoir, they’ll be on or close to the main lake or creek channel. In a natural lake they’ll often go to the deepest and steepest banks in the lake.
Once you know where to look for the bass it’s time to start thinking about how to catch them. I’m going to give you my four choices of lures — two reaction baits and two slower baits. They aren’t the only ones that’ll work, but they are the ones that have produced consistently for me over the years.
The Silver Buddy comes first in the reaction bait category. It’s a simple blade bait that was designed by Buddy Banks and Billy Westmoreland for winter fishing on Dale Hollow Lake.
The most effective way to fish it is to make long casts and snap the bait up a foot or so off the bottom before you let it fall back down on a semi-slack line. Most of your bites will come on the fall. The vibration of the blade bait makes them react, and the falling bait looks like a dying shad.
I fish Silver Buddy’s on a Cashion Drop Shot Rod, a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel, 12-pound-test Sunline X-Plasma Asegai braid and an 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader that’s between 15 and 20 feet long.
My second offering is usually a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce spoon fished vertically. I fish a spoon like a Silver Buddy. The basic difference is that with a spoon you can get it directly over the fish you believe are down there. I say believe because sometimes they’re sitting with their bellies right on the bottom. Sometimes you can’t see them even with Lowrance electronics.
I fish my spoons on a Cashion 7 foot, medium heavy casting rod, a Daiwa Tatula 100 reel with a 7.3:1 gear ratio and 12-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon.
My slower bait selections start with a Missile Jigs Ike’s Micro Jig. I let it drop down to the bottom and then drag it along real slow. Think about the fact that nothing in cold water moves very fast. Your jig shouldn’t either. This jig is special because the skirt slowly flairs and moves like no other bait when it’s worked slowly.
I like to fish my Micro Jig on a Cashion Micro Jig Rod with a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel spooled with 12-pound-test Sunline Xplasma Asegai braid and a 15 to 20 foot, 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader.
I also fish a Damiki rig in the winter. It starts with a Damiki 3-inch Armor Shad jerkbait rigged on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig head. It’s best fished vertically. All I do is drop it down and hold it real steady a few feet off the bottom. Most winter bass are feeding up. If they’re in the area, they’ll come to it. It can be a really cool way to catch them because you often see the bass come up to the bait on your electronics before they even bite it.
I fish the Damiki rig on a 7 foot, 6 inch Cashion Spin Bait Rod. My reel is a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel spooled with 12-pound-test Sunline X-Plasma Asegai braid and a 15 or 20 foot 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader.
Go armed with these four baits this winter and you’ll be in good shape. I know it’s cold, but if you catch a couple of good ones you’ll warm right up.
Would you rather catch 100 small fish or one big one? If you are fishing for glory, one way to weed out the little ones is using a big bait. Not only do big fish look for large meals, but a bigger lure will keep smaller fish from getting in the way. We’ve loaded a box with five of our favorite mega plastics. Glory not guaranteed.
Hogy Pro Tail
$6.99 | hogylures.com
From mountain lakes to the coast, big striped bass are looking for a big bait. Hogy’s Pro Tail swimbait has a wide profile and slow, rhythmic swim. Work it at any level of the water column by changing the retrieve speed.
Striped bass, and other predators, often feed at dawn and dusk. Hogy uses ultra-violet, heavy-duty plastic for improved low-light visibility. High-quality, VMC hooks have been tested on the meanest sea monsters.
Ron-Z Original Series
$8.00 | ronzlures.com
When you spot a huge, brown cobia cruising just below the surface, try not to freak out. Cast a Ron-Z Original Series a few feet ahead of the fish and draw it into view.
Calm your nerves, as the cobia swipes at the lure. If it misses, pause the retrieve and let the lead head dive. When the line goes slack, come tight. You got a cobia on!
Owner 3X hook makes sure the trophy stays glued. Ron-Z’s famous wedge-shaped lead head and streamlined rubber tail streaks through the water and dives fast.
Z-Man StreakZ XL
$4.99 | zmanfishing.com
Who said a big guy can’t be sensitive? Z-Man’s StreakZ XL is eight inches long, but the 10X Tough ElaZtech rubber jiggles like jelly to seduce finnicky largemouth bass. Rig on a jighead, weightless, weedless hook or behind a Carolina or Texas rig.
Pause the StreakZ and the ElaZtech does the rest. The slightest touch sends gyrations up the tail. The StreakZ XL is salt impregnated to add weight for longer casts and quicker descents.
Sebile Magic Swimmer Soft
$7.99 | sebile.com
A weedless jerkbait is perfect for pulling largemouth bass or speckled sea trout out of the grass. Sebile took the concept and pumped it up. The Magic Swimmer Soft is a 4 1/8-inch jointed soft plastic jerk bait with a recessed, weighted, weedless hook hidden inside the body.
Perfectly balanced to hover in the water and dart erratically. When a fish strikes, the rubber body slides up the line and out of trouble. Rig it Texas or Carolina style for a deadly bottom bait.
Live Target Swimbait
$10.98 | livetargetlures.com
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, mullet, menhaden and croaker must be flattered with Live Target’s Swimbait. Designed to be anatomically correct with color schemes perfectly matching an actual baitfish, the Swimbait looks like the real deal.
The true test is in the water. Making a bait look like a fish is easy but moving like a fish is tough. Live Target’s oscillating tail swings with a tight vibration giving the bait a life-like wobble. Big lures are easy to snag, Swimbait’s heavy-duty EWG hooks is protected by a dorsal fin doubling as a weed guard.
Plano Custom Divider Stowaway
$13.99 | planomolding.com
Plano’s Custom Divider series is designed for big plastics. In addition to straight dividers, the Custom Divider has angled dividers to create more space for odd-shaped lures. Clear plastic provides plenty of light and heavy-duty construction will secure heavy hardware.
The low-profile latches flip down to avoid accidentally opening the box. The Custom Divider comes in a variety of sizes, go with the Ruststrictor model for an added layer of corrosion protection.