Spring is when the big bucketmouths move into shallow waters and lay their eggs. But there are always sows hanging away from the beds that aren’t such easy pickings. Here’s how to put those fish in the boat.
The water temperatures were just about right, hovering between 54 and 58 degrees.
Still, Marc Lowenthal kept looking up, hoping the sun would break through the cloud cover.
“If that sun would come on out, the water would warm up quick,” the Prairieville angler said.
Lowenthal worked a line of flooded cypress, casting a soft-plastic lure amongst the trees and letting it sink to the bottom.
But the lure didn’t fall quickly; instead, it fluttered, shimmered and wiggled, easing through the water column until the depths swallowed it up.
The lure, a Reaction Innovations Dominator, is designed to drive bass nuts. It’s somewhat like a lithe Senko, tapering off to a limber tail that provides a lot more action than a regular stickbait.
Lowenthal hit every tree and laydown, just as any self-respecting South Louisiana angler should.
However, he also thoroughly worked the water between, behind and in front of the trees, making sure that he put the lure near every single laydown on the bank.
In the warming water, fish should have been moving up from their deep-water winter haunts. And those were the fish Lowenthal was after.
“Weightless plastics are mainly for when you’re fishing fish that are moving up, that aren’t actually spawning,” he said. “They’re just cruising.”
Once fish lock down on beds, the Dominator generally goes back into storage.
“When they move up on the beds, I prefer something with a weight so I can aggravate the fish by hitting them,” he said.
But it was still a bit early for many fish to be on the beds, so he was looking for those bass staging in anticipation of the full spawn.
Lowenthal skimmed the Dominator over a small falldown, letting the lure slither down until a chunky Lake Verret bass sucked it in.
A few seconds later, Lowenthal pulled his rod tip up and to the side, and the fish was dragged to the surface — where it flashed the angler before letting go of the lure and streaking away.
“They usually eat it real well,” Lowenthal said, shaking his head, adjusting his lure and pitching it back out.
When he approached the back of the canal, where the visible cover didn’t extend onto the shallow flat in the corners, Lowenthal didn’t troll right up to the tree line. Instead, he worked the jumble of logs and stumps scattered around the flat.
“When you get back here, where there’s not a lot of visible laydowns, that finesse stuff really works,” he said.
The fish, Lowenthal said, would be cruising the flat before they locked down on beds, so fan-casting his weird-looking bait would be the ticket.
“They’re hanging out around that stuff you can’t see,” he said.
When that lure dances through the water near a submerged top or old, rotten stump, any bass watching goes batty, unable to resist the seductive charms of the bait.
Lowenthal said it’s especially productive on those submerged tops, when the lure falls into the branches.
“You sort of jiggle it, and then pop it out of the top,” he said. “Sometimes, popping it out gets a reaction bite.”
There really isn’t a lot to fishing weightless — you simply put a soft-plastic worm, tube, creature bait or Senko-like lure on a hook and throw it out.
The key is to let the lure do the work.
“Let it go to the bottom, pick it up and do it again,” the angler advised.
And by “pick it up,” he means simply that.
“You don’t want to jerk on it,” Lowenthal said. “You don’t put a lot of action to it: It’s more picking up and letting it fall.
“You can actually overwork the bait.”
Lowenthal would cast his lure, keep his rod tip at about a 45-degree angle and watch his line.
If the line ran to the side, he knew there was a fish on the other end.
But when it hit the bottom, the line would go slack.
Then he’d simply lift his rod tip (not jerking), and the lure would dart to the surface of the water.
His rod tip would fall to 45 degrees again, and the lure would wiggle its way to the bottom.
Of course, if a fish hit the lure and didn’t run with it, the line would get slack in it — just like the lure had reached the bottom.
So it was important for Lowenthal to know the water depth and how long it took for the lure to fall to the bottom.
That’s the basics, but Lowenthal said there are other factors to keep in mind when using this technique.
Water clarity probably is the most important of these.
“I like that clear water,” Lowenthal said. “It’s a sight bait, so you need the water to be pretty clear.”
He compares the desired water conditions to that needed to effectively work hard-plastic jerkbaits.
“If you can catch them on a Rogue, you can catch them on this,” he said.
Water depth is next on the list — you generally won’t catch many fish in deep water.
“You’re fishing very shallow water,” he said.
Lowenthal usually won’t fish the lure in water more than about 3 feet deep.
“You can see the fish a lot of times cruising,” he said.
That’s particularly true when fishing lakes around the state, where water in the shallows gets very clear.
But even in areas like the Atchafalaya Basin, where water often is clean but stained, Lowenthal knows his rig can be productive.
He simply has to give the fish a little leg up on finding his lure.
“In dingy water, I’ll add a rattle,” he explained.
He uses small glass rattles, and just sticks them into the thickets part of his lures.
There also are times when Lowenthal will break his shallow-water-only rule.
“I will fish it weightless on a grass line,” he said.
That’s because he knows fish will tuck into the grass and wait to ambush passing baitfish.
“I just fish parallel to the grass, and let the bait fall right next to it,” Lowenthal said.
Fish will dart out, grab the lure and head for the thick cover again.
Another key factor is wind, which can ruin the technique.
“You get that big loop in the line, and it’ll drag that bait around,” Lowenthal said. “It kills the action of the lure.”
So if a breeze picks up and starts sweeping his lure around, Lowenthal has two choices — switch to a more-conventional weighted bait or add just a bit of lead to his lure.
The latter often is his choice when bass haven’t moved up to spawn en masse.
“On windy days, it won’t blow the bait all around,” he said.
However, he doesn’t Texas-rig his lures.
“You want the lure to fall horizontally, not vertically,” Lowenthal said. “That horizontal fall is more realistic, more natural.”
So Lowenthal uses hooks equipped with light weights — 1/32-ounce lead on this day — on their shanks.
Mustad produces two models of weighted hooks: the Ultra Point Impact (stationary weights) and the Ultra Balance Wide Gap (moveable weights).
The former comes in weights as light as 1/32 ounce, while the latter feature weights a bit heavier.
Although Lowenthal on this day was using the hooks with stationary weights, he said the moveable weights come in handy.
“You can move that weight anywhere you want to balance out the bait,” he said.
The heavier weights also allow anglers to overcome stronger breezes.
Obviously, there’s a trade-off when weighted hooks are used.
“The bait falls faster,” Lowenthal said.
And that comes in handy when the fish aren’t ultra-finicky and an angler doesn’t want to fish at a dead stop —normally a requirement when weightless lures are used.
“I like to use the weighted hooks because sometimes I don’t have the patience to wait on those weightless lures to fall,” Lowenthal chuckled.
But anglers should note that unweighted hooks also can change the fall of the bait — if the hooks are too heavy.
“A heavy-wired hook can make the lure fall faster,” Lowenthal said.
So he carefully matches the hook to the lure to ensure that the fall isn’t too fast.
Line twist can be maddening on featherweight lures, since there isn’t any weight to balance the lure out and make it run straight.
So Lowenthal takes some precautions to reduce the twisting.
Instead of simply threading his hook on like a conventional Texas rig, with the eye of the hook just inside the plastic lure, he runs the hook about a quarter of the way through the bait.
“A lot of people put swivels on (weightless baits), and I sometimes do, too,” Lowenthal said. “But when I run that hook way back there like that, it prevents a lot of line twist.”
But there’s another advantage to having the hook set back on the bait.
“They get the hook quicker,” he said.
Line test also is an issue to be considered.
“If you get too heavy, it affects the action of the bait,” Lowenthal said.
Therefore, he uses line no heavier than 14-pound test, which allows the lure to maintain its tantalizing fall.
That means he has to be careful when he sets the hook.
“When you’re fishing like this, you don’t want to just set the hook real hard,” Lowenthal said. “You just want to lean into it, sort of like a Carolina-rig set.”
So the motion is up and to the side, sweeping the hook into the the fish’s mouth.
To help reduce the chances of breaking off, he also uses softer rods.
“You don’t want to get too heavy because the line is so light,” he said. “You’ll snap the line.”
But he normally has plenty of time to think about how to sweep the rod, since most hook sets don’t come immediately upon seeing a bite.
“I like to let them take it,” he said. “They usually won’t let go.”
Accomplishing that delayed set can sometimes be nerve-racking.
“You can actually see a lot of the strikes,” Lowenthal said. “They’ll come up and grab it.”
So he has to fight his instincts to set the hook.
Waiting a few seconds combines with the fact that his hook point is well back on the bait to up the odds that the fish will have the lure and the hook in its mouth before the hook set.
But if the strike isn’t visible, don’t expect to feel many strikes.
“It’s very subtle,” Lowenthal said. “There’s usually no line sensation.”
That’s because the lure is fished with slack in the line to provide the proper action, and fish generally just snap the lure up and swim off.
The last issue with which to deal is lure color, but Lowenthal said that’s pretty straight-forward.
“It’s the same principle as when you fish a worm: You fish the dark colors on dark days and the light colors on light days,” he said.
So when he’s fishing on a sunny day, Lowenthal will likely use Merthiolate, pink or white.
On dark, dreary days, he switches to watermelon, green pumpkin and black.
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