Oklahoma may not be obviously linked to Frost Belt states like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine, but it has hosted some of the coldest tournaments in Bassmaster history. Three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier James Elam of Tulsa knows that while fishing in shorts and flip flops is fun, careers are built on the nasty weather days when no one wants to be outside.
“I’ve seen a little bit of it all,” he said. “I’ve fished in some bad, bad stuff.”
That gets him acclimated for tournaments like last year’s Elite Series event on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake, where it was “15 degrees and blowing 15, and it definitely wasn’t sunny.”
Knowing that he can’t stay home when inclement weather strikes, he’s developed strategies that enable him to cope with the ugly stuff. The proper clothing is of course one critical element that most anglers consider, but fewer take note of how the elements should influence their choice of rod and reel.
For example, Elam said that earlier in his career he experienced problems with the drags of low grade reels locking up on a hook set in the cold.
“You’ll be jig fishing and when you set the hook it’ll just be dead weight,” he said. “You break off a lot of fish that way.”
That’s why he’s a stickler for using only reels with butter-smooth drags. He’ll also keep his combos in the rod box or in rod wraps until he needs them, the better to protect them from freezing. In super-low temperatures he’ll put Vaseline in his rod guides to keep them from freezing.
Other pros achieve the same effect by spraying the guides with a pump silicone spray, which is less likely to jam up than an aerosol version, and if they’re fishing braid they’ll put it on the line itself to prevent it from retaining water and sealing their rod guides or levelwind shut with ice.
Elam dotes on the Shimano Metanium MGL baitcasting reels in the cold weather, the 150 with its 6.2:1 gear ratio for winding baits like crankbaits and spinnerbaits, and the 8.5:1 gear ratio 150XG model when he’s fishing slower baits.
“I don’t like it any slower than 6.2:1, because when a fish bites I want to be able to catch up to him,” he explained. “I can slow down with that 6.2:1 ratio. Not only is it a really solid reel, but with the lightweight Magnunlite spool it casts incredibly well.”
When it comes time to switch to spinning gear, he favors the Stradic CI4+.
“It’s all I use because it’s so reliable. It casts well and the Shimano folks have virtually eliminated any line twist.
Indeed, anglers who strongly prefer to strictly use either baitcasting tackle or spinning tackle aren’t going to like his suggestion, but Elam said that a major reason he’s able to overcome the elements is because he takes pains to switch back and forth between the two types of tackle.
“Half the rods on my deck will be spinning and half will be baitcasting,” he said. “When I’m using a baitcaster, I’m winding with my right hand. Then after a while I’ll switch to a spinning reel, where I use my left hand. By rotating back and forth I’m able to combat the cold so it doesn't seem as brutal as that day on Cherokee.”
With that in mind, here are two other Elite pros’ favorite wintertime combos that you might want to integrate into your own arsenal: