A lot of people quit fishing when it gets really cold. Some of them are out hunting or pursuing other hobbies. Others stay away because they think that wintertime fishing is a slow and often unproductive activity. They’re working under the misconception that fish don’t feed a lot this time of year and that you have to find some magic piece of deep water structure to have success.
I operated under that same belief for a long time, but in the last five or six years I’ve come to learn that you can still find fish that are shallow and aggressive all year long. Something that’s helped confirm that to me is ice fishing. I haven’t personally done any ice fishing, but I’ve talked to my buddy Mark Zona, the KING of the ICE, about this every winter, and he’s always texting me pictures of big bass on frozen lakes in Michigan!
When he came down to Guntersville a few weeks ago to film a show with me, we talked about ice fishing at length, and it amazes me how many bass Zona catches in frozen water! We even decided for our show on Guntersville, rather than pursuing “traditional” winter patterns down the lake, we’d go way up the river to a flat in the back of a creek. The water was only 43-45 degrees, but the fish were smashing a lipless crankbait and thrashing all the way back to the boat like it was spring. It was further proof of my “ICE” theory, that bass are more resilient, and they feed more in the wintertime than most of us give them credit for.
When you think about it, it makes sense why those fish were there. We all know that bass push the shad up in the backs of creeks in the fall. Many of them subsequently leave, but some of them – both the bass and shad – end up spending the whole winter there in small depressions on those flats. In that situation, there are feeding spurts throughout the day, and if you hit it right you can mop up.
My favorite tool for those situations is a lipless crankbait, and for the past two years now, I’ve been relying on the Livingston Pro Ripper. It’s a half-ounce model, and at first it appears quite similar to many others on the market, but the key is the electronic baitfish sound (EBS) inside. I know that many of you are probably still skeptical about how effective this sound can be, so let me tell you my story.
Twenty-six months ago while I was pre-fishing at Grand Lake for the 2013 classic, I met Robert Casteneda from Livingston Lures at a gas station/restaurant. Robert is the inventor of the sound technology in the lures, and he explained to me how it worked, and that the EBS sound was an actual recording of a baitfish in distress captured by the Texas State University biology department. That got my attention, so I agreed to take some of their baits and test them in a Bass Pro shops tank where I could immediately see if bass would respond to this sound. What I witnessed totally blew my mind!
Every fish in the tank instantly acknowledged the unpainted Pro-Ripper as I dropped it to the bottom. Every fish in the tank of all species came running to the sound and surrounded it as it lay still on the bottom of the tank. Then every time I would move it, they’d attack it. Next, I took a regular lipless crankbait and dropped it to the bottom, and like usual, there was no response from the fish, they actually ran away from the area. That’s when I became a believer in the sound technology and I was 100 percent on board with Livingston to help create the new Team Livingston Series of baits.
I just worked the Bass Pro Shops Spring Classic this past weekend in Nashville, Tenn., and it was amazing on the tank demos again. Once people see the sound in action in the tank, they believe just like me.
This past weekend, I used the new Livingston Schoolmaster in the tanks. I cast it out and as the sound activated, every bass in the tank headed over that way, some of them even came from all the way at the other end of the tank. It’s not just bass, either – it’s crappie, stripers, bream, anything that swims, proving that game-fish are naturally programmed to feed when they hear a distressed bait fish sound. They all surrounded it as usual, and then they started to peck at it. When I tried to retrieve it, one would grab it every time. When one would let it go, another one would latch onto it. Seeing this happen every weekend at my seminars has really increased my confidence, and once again shown me that if I want to get better and catch more fish, I’ve got to continue being a student of the bass and stay open-minded to technology and new ideas that stretch our “old knowledge.”
It is only going to get more advanced in the future, for 2016 they are already working on an app for your smartphone that will enable you to program the lure to the specific sound you want, utilizing all of the new sounds they have recorded, like blue-back herring, trout and bluegill. They’re trying to get it ready in a prototype phase for those of us on the team now, and I hope they get it perfected sooner rather than later because I’m convinced it will give us an edge.
While I struggle with change like every angler, I’m also learning that in order to be successful you have to embrace change and embrace technology. The competition is getting tougher and tougher, and on many waterways our fish are more educated than they were just a few short years ago. Something new comes along every few years in this sport. It is up to us to determine if it can help us catch more fish. That is what is so great about our sport, it’s always changing and there’s never a dull moment. I’m convinced that you have to keep a teachable spirit to improve!
I’ll be preparing for Classic practice to start Friday at Hartwell, and I’ll be back with a report next week.
Good luck and God bless!