DEAD STICKING JERKBAITS for EARLY PRE-SPAWN BASS – by Don Wirth

DEFINITION – DEAD STICKING is the act of presenting a soft plastic lure either by casting or a vertical drop and allowing the bait to remain motionless for an extended period time before retrieval.

I read on a forum some folks using a term “DEAD STICKING” and really had no clue what it referred to so I did what any other angler would do, I headed to GOOGLE and found the article below by DON WIRTH in the BASS PRO SHOPS archive. Keep in mind the article below refers to DEAD STICKING JERKBAITS but you can also¬† DEAD STICK SOFT PLASTICS such as the ZOOM FLUKE, GARY YAMAMOTO SENKO’S, YUM DINGERS and BASS ASSASSINS. In fact while I wasn’t aware the technique had a name I was DEAD STICKING the SEBILE MAGIC SWIMMER SOFT PRO with great success in 2010. We will save the DEAD STICKING SOFT PLASTICS post for another day.


DEAD STICKING JERKBAITS

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

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

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


Lou Treat’s Cold-Water Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jim Duckworth’s Rough-Water Method

Lebanon, Tenn., bass guide Jim Duckworth (615/444-2283) is on the water at least 325 days a year. Spring in Tennessee often means volatile weather, and most anglers head for calmer water when the wind whips up. But Duckworth uses the wind to his advantage, employing a dead-stick surface tactic that’s nothing short of amazing.

“One March day, I was guiding a novice bass angler on Dale Hollow Lake,” Duckworth recalled. “The wind was blowing 35 mph and waves were crashing into a main-lake point. I threw a crankbait against the bank a couple of times without getting a strike, then my client cast a floating jerkbait into the waves. His reel backlashed, and as he was picking at the line, his minnow sloshed back and forth, back and forth in the waves.”

Duckworth helped his client straighten out the bird’s nest. “I had his rod sitting across my lap while working on his reel, when suddenly it almost flew out of the boat. I grabbed it to discover a bass had hit the floating minnow.” Jim quickly handled the rod back to his client, who boated the bass of a lifetime: a 6 pound 2 ounce smallmouth. The pair spent the rest of the day seeking out the roughest banks and points, dead-sticking floating minnows in the waves. “We caught two more big smallies, a 4-pound spotted bass and a 6-pound largemouth — all by just letting the waves wash the lure back and forth.”

Since that happy accident, Duckworth has spent considerable time playing with this do-nothing jerkbait method on windy spring days. “It works best in water ranging from 49 to 58 degrees, on shorelines with a 45-degree slope,” he’s found. “Bass use these steep banks as migration routes from deep to shallow water in spring, and pick off crayfish and minnows as they travel. I believe they use the wave action to their advantage when feeding and will grab an injured minnow that’s bobbing in the breakers.”

Here’s how to execute Duckworth’s dead-stick method:

1) Jim likes a 6-foot, medium-action rod with a Shimano reel and 8- to 12-pound Excalibur Silver Thread line for jerkbaits.

2) Use an unweighted lure such as a Floating Super Rogue or Rattlin’ Rogue. Try flash color patterns on sunny days, flat colors in cloudy conditions.

3) Cast the lure about 3 feet from the bank into the heaviest waves. Lower the rod and peel off some slack. “The line shouldn’t go tight until a fish takes the lure,” Duckworth noted. Let the lure slosh back and forth in the waves for at least 30 seconds to a minute — longer if necessary.

5) Watch the lure. If it disappears, or if you see a bass take it, reel quickly until you tighten down on the fish. Don’t set the hook. “The strikes are usually very light; sometimes the bass swims up, closes its mouth around the lure gently and moves away slowly,” Jim has found. “The fish may just flash on the Rogue and gets hooked on the outside of its head; a hard hookset will rip the bait away. The lure’s hooks are so sharp, you’ll stick plenty of bass by just tightening down.”

High-percentage areas for this unusual method include stumpy points, rock transitions and — Duckworth’s favorite — deep chunk-rock points at the mouths of tributaries. It’s less effective on flats and slow-tapering points where wave action is not as intense.


Mark Davis’ Bedding-Bass Method

Bass pro Mark Davis helped pioneer the use of suspending jerkbaits on the tournament trail. The Mt. Ida, Ark., bassin’ legend has won two B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year titles and a Classic, and credits suspending jerkbaits for much of his success. He even uses ’em when bass are on their spawning beds, a time when most other pro anglers reach for a tube bait or lizard.

“Sight-fishing a suspending Rogue is the most exciting bass fishing imaginable,” Davis insisted. “Seeing a big fish actually take the bait is something you’ll never get used to — it makes my heart pound just talking about it!” No wonder — Mark has caught largemouths to 9 pounds using this tactic.

The pro knows that spawning occurs in waves, not all at once. When the water warms to around 55 degrees, some bass — often the biggest ones — begin moving into sheltered coves and quiet tributaries to spawn; bedding continues until the water temp has reached around 70 degrees.

Davis prefers the Suspending Super Rogue under stable weather conditions, and the smaller Suspending Pro Rogue under frontal conditions and in exceptionally clear water. His favorite colors are clown, silver/blue back and log perch (a brownish, opaque pattern). If the water is stained, he’ll try a hot color like fire tiger. Mark uses a 7-foot Falcon medium-action baitcasting rod, Shakespeare reel and 10 pound Super Silver Thread line for jerkbaits. Here’s his method:

1) Wear Polarized sunglasses and stand up so you can spot the nest. If bedding fish are visible, keep a safe distance from them and make a long cast past the nest.

2) Jerk the lure sharply 2 or 3 times until it’s over the nest, then kill it.

3) Barely twitch the rod tip while keeping your eyes on the lure. “You don’t want the bait to move forward, just rock in place,” Davis said.

4) Alternate twitches with dead-sticking. If the bass mouths the bait, use a side-sweep hookset. If the fish appears uninterested, come back to it later, or try another color pattern.

Davis uses a variation of this method when bass are bedding deeper and out of sight, a common scenario early in the season and in gin-clear lakes. He casts the Rogue to likely spawning areas such as open pockets in grass and tributary pockets in approximately 6 feet of water. “Jerk the Rogue down once or twice so it’s suspending about 2-3 feet down,” he said. “Often you’ll see the bass rise up and eat it.”

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