There’s a plug out there that you hardly ever hear about anymore and you certainly never hear about in the winter. It’s the Rapala Shallow Shad Rap. Instead of having a long plastic bill that takes it down like a traditional Shad Rap it has a short, straight bill that comes off the nose at a right angle.
This bait is a killer in cold water like we have now in New Jersey — water temperatures in between the middle and the lower 40 degree mark. It’s only a killer, though, if you modify it for true, early winter fishing.
I like the 5 and the 7 sizes. My modifications involve both the hooks and the eye. Out of the package a 5 comes with a belly hook and a tail hook. I upsize both. The belly hook gets a two size increase and the tail hook gets a one size increase. I use short shank VMC trebles. They’re heavy and the short shank keeps the hooks from tangling.
I add a split ring to the nose eye. Again, I go one size bigger than normal.
The reason for the upsizing of everything has nothing to do with the quality of the components that Rapala puts into it. They’re first class. I do it to add weight. That little bit of extra weight is just right for making the lure suspend on the retrieve. All I do is throw it out and slowly crank it back with about eight turns of my reel handle. Then it’s stop and start all the way back to the boat. Think slow and easy when you do that.
I do exactly the same thing to a 7 except that the factory hooks are bigger so my replacement hooks are bigger — up two sizes on the belly, one size on the tail and a sizeable split ring. My presentation is the same, too.
The attraction of a Shallow Shad Rap is that it’s a perfect imitation of a minnow. We all know there are a dozen or more different types of minnow-like forage in any given body of water. This bait is a pretty good imitation of all of them. It’s really versatile. And, with the added weight and suspension characteristics it’ll swim exactly like a cold water minnow, slow and hesitant.
Another thing I do is keep a pack of Storm SuspenStrips or SuspenDots handy. Sometimes it’ll need just a little more weight to hang perfectly horizontal in the water column. That matters. You don’t want your bait nose up or nose down. That doesn’t look right. Sometimes the full-size weights are too big. Cut them into pieces if necessary.
I don’t worry much about color. If the water’s clear, I’ll fish something natural looking. If the water’s stained, I’ll fish something with a little more color to it. They come in like 18 colors so you should be able to find something the bass like.
Keep this in mind: You don’t need to buy something new or modern every time you go fishing. Lures that are old to us aren’t necessarily old to fish. In fact, just the opposite is true. If it’s been in your basement or garage for a few years, they haven’t seen it at all. That makes it new to them. And, if necessary, you can easily modify them to make them do what you want.