I was a snowbird on the wing, fleeing a frigid Midwest winter. And the snowflakes had followed me into the Deep South.
The thermometer read 25 degrees when we awoke and had soared to a balmy 27 degrees by first cast. Our rod guides were frozen four deep within minutes, and, yes, our iced lines rubbing against the levelwind sent snowflakes flying from our reels.
"Well, you wanted a cold weather pattern," said Mark Davis, host of the Big Water Adventures television show. "You got it!"
Word of Davis' deep thumpin' spinnerbait approach to cold weather largemouth had reached me through the angling grapevine. The big guy and I made plans to put the technique to the test at Great Southern Outdoors, a private hunting and fishing plantation south of Montgomery, Ala.
Our targets were big females in one of the GSO impoundments. The water temperature had been 47 degrees the prior afternoon. The forecast held 25 mph winds and a high of 40 degrees.
The technique is designed for conditions when fish are bottom oriented — holed up during the coldwater period or after a severe cold front, or holding in staging or jump-off areas outside spawning grounds. The tools are heavy spinnerbaits with large blades that give off vibration even at slow retrieval speeds. Our choice was a 1-ounce Booyah Double Willow Blade, which Davis had modified by replacing the No. 3 1/2 and No. 6 willow blades with a single gold Colorado blade (No. 7 to 9 sizes). He had also added a twin-tail worm trailer borrowed from a Booyah Boogee Bait. The combination of heavy bait and big thumping blade was essential to keeping the lure in the fish zone.
"When the water is cold like this, the fish will have a very short strike zone and will hold primarily on the bottom. There's no guessing how high the bass might be in the water column," Davis explained. "The one thing this 1-ounce spinnerbait is going to guarantee is that you maintain contact with the bottom from where the bait falls all the way back to the boat."
We started our hunt on a flat between a channel and a concentration of brush. The prior day, Davis had taken dozens of 4-plus-pound bass and two in the 7-pound range on the flat, but those fish vacated the area when the arctic blast hit. We blanked in two frigid hours that morning, then broke for an early lunch and hot coffee.
That afternoon, we took our hunt to the 5- to 7-foot channel adjacent to a major spawning flat. Davis positioned the boat for long casts up the slot. There, the big bass were feeling our vibes, and in short order we brought 10 bass of 4 to 6 pounds over the gunnel.
"You can yo-yo and (improvise retrieves), but that's not what we're doing," Davis explained while demonstrating his slow, steady retrieve. "What that 1-ounce bait allows me to do is just keep that big Colorado blade thumping and keep it riding right on the bottom. When I feel it digging in, I speed it up just a little bit."
If you're bumping a lot of fish and not getting bit, Davis suggests that you "just keep on playing around with colors" (chartreuse and chartreuse/white are his favorites) or alter the trailer, skirt or blade.
"In my opinion, dialing in is even more important in this kind of fishing than it is with typical spinnerbaiting because the fish get such a good look at the bait," Davis said. "It's right in their face, and something is going to trigger them, whether it's how the blade thumps or how quickly the blade is turning. You're not going to vary your retrieve much because your objective in cold water is to keep that bait moving (upright) slowly right along the bottom."
The only thing that will vary the speed of the spinnerbait blade is the blade itself, Davis said. If you want to slow the spinner's speed, upsize the blade.
Bluebird skies or no, sunlight favors the deep spinnerbait bite. "With dingy cold water, sun seems always to help, whether you're fishing below 15 feet or shallower than 10 feet," Davis noted.
In very dingy and cold water (which may be only 45 to 50 degrees in the Deep South), it's practical to equate water visibility with the fish's strike zone. "Typically, if you have a foot of visibility, you will have a 1-foot strike zone this time of year," Davis said.
Long casts are a plus. They keep distance between you and wary fish and enable you to keep the bait near the bottom for a longer period. But long casts and slow moving baits often add up to missed strikes.
Ratchet your gear up a notch for deep thumpin'. Not only do you need the muscle for heavier lures and heftier prey, but you'll want gear that will enable you to feel the vibration of your bait and make up for lost response time on a hook set, too. Davis opts for a Pflueger Supreme reel and All Star Platinum rod spooled with a premium monofilament. "Fluorocarbon or braid with a mono leader may be the best solution for a guy having trouble setting the hook," he added.
Big bass often pummel these Colorado blade baits, driving the bait forward and taking the angler by surprise. Keep reeling on the heels of a hard hook set to keep the fish pinned.
"As I said, the cool thing about this bait is you know that the fish are on the bottom when the water temperature is this low," said Davis. "I'm going to bring the bait right past their face. They are going to have to eat it or get out of the way!"
TRICKING OUT YOUR SPINNERBAIT FOR DEEP THUMPIN'
Deep spinnerbait thumpin' may require fine-tuning colors and blades. Mark Davis tricks out the off-the-shelf 1-ounce Booyah Double Willow Blade spinnerbait, replacing the willows with large-to-giant gold and silver Colorado blades in a variety of finishes.
Blade selection: Davis carries a large tackle tray loaded with large Colorado-type blades, including an assortment of hybrids and variants. We used hammered gold blades and gold blades with a smooth reflective finish. "You want something that puts out a lot of vibration," Davis said. "There are Colorados. There are hybrid (Indiana/Colorado) blades. There's a cupped Colorado. I'm constantly mixing it up. You have to listen to the fish. When you are running over fish with the bait (and they are not hitting), you might want to go to a size bigger or size smaller blade. If the sun is out, try a hammered blade. Sometimes the little difference between a smooth and a hammered blade makes all the difference."
Blade size: "With willowleaf blades, guys know sizes. But with Colorado blades, they don't. The best way I can put it in selecting Colorado blades is to go down to a blade no smaller than the size of a quarter and up to the size of a 50-cent piece or silver dollar. Sometimes I go even larger."
Color: White or white/chartreuse is Davis' first choice in cold, dingy water. Water clarity and forage may dictate other skirt colors and patterns.
Trailer: Davis prefers the Yum Boogee Tail twin-tail worm from the Booyah Boogee Bait for his trailer.