Fishing lures attract and catch game fish primarily because they mimic the actions and sizes of prey species. Lures that reproduce the natural movements of prey tend to be more productive than those that just give a general impression of something easy to catch and good to eat. The reasons some lures catch fish regularly and others that appear to be identical do not, is part of the fishing mystique.

Typically, it is the action, sound and size of a lure that determines its effectiveness. Color does play a part sometimes. These criteria apply primarily during the warm months of the year when game fish are most active. During that time frame, game fish are hungry and respond to a lure’s action with intensity.

When cold weather arrives, fish metabolism slows and action lures become less effective. Game fish continue to feed during the cold months, but with a more pronounced reluctance to strike lures that have a lot of movement. Therefore, anglers who want to continue to catch them during the winter have to change the type of lure offered as well as the way it is presented. This is the time of year when less becomes more and there is a term for it in the angling world: Dead-sticking.

Dead-sticking basically means tying on a lure and dropping it to a certain depth or to the bottom and leaving it there with no imparted motion. Think of it as bait fishing without the bait. Jigs, spoons and soft-plastic worms or minnow imitations are all types of lures that can be effective using the dead-sticking technique.

It sounds crazy, but the technique works for tempting tight-mouthed game fish of various species, when active presentations won’t produce.

Joe Read is a long-time striped bass guide on Lake Tawakoni (903-896-1380) and uses the dead-sticking technique to wrestle reluctant stripers from the depths. There are times when stripers are not in the mood to hit an active lure Joe advises, but will strike if the presentation is subtle enough. Joe relies primarily on Sassy Shad lures to put fish in the boat for his customers. When stripers are suspended and not responding to typical cast and wind presentations, using the dead-sticking technique has been effective for him and his clients.

What he does to make the method work is to rig up 4-inch Sassy Shads on a 1-2-ounce jig head, pull off enough line to place the lure just above a school of suspended fish, and then place the rods in holders and drift through the school. The movement of the boat gives the lure just a tiny amount of motion that recalcitrant stripers cannot resist.

Largemouth bass are another species that respond to the dead-sticking technique. Shad are the dominate forage species for bass in Texas reservoirs. During the winter months, shad form large schools and move to drop-offs and creek channels in deep water. They will remain more or less in the same areas all winter. Largemouth bass will follow them, picking off the weak, injured and slow. These schools of shad are easily discernable on sonar.

During warm seasons, bass will charge and stampede the schools, but in the winter they are more content to follow them around and prey on the weak members that get left behind. Those shad unable to keep up have one option: go to the bottom and find a place to hide. It seldom is an effective strategy, which is the reason dead-sticking lures is a productive method for catching largemouth bass in the winter.

Bass will patrol the bottom looking for those shad that are hiding trying to survive. Dead-sticking a lure just above or on the bottom mimics those unthrifty bait fish. The key is to fish under the schools of shad and not move the lure. To a bass on a hunger run, it will look like a shad is trying its best to remain un-noticed by not moving and staying close to the bottom. It takes a lot of patience to fish this way, but it works.

Dead-sticking can also be used as a strolling technique for largemouth bass. Strolling is a term coined by anglers to describe using a trolling motor set at a very low speed to impart action while dead-sticking a lure. Strolling also allows covering a specific area thoroughly.

Find a school of shad in deep water using sonar, then drop a spoon, jig or Senko-type plastic worm to a foot off the bottom and use an electric trolling motor to very slowly move around the area. Big bass are opportunistic feeders and this technique is a good way to catch them in the winter.

Crappie and white bass are also susceptible to this no-action type of lure presentation during the cold months. Many fishermen do not realize that winter fishing can be some of the easiest and most productive because some species are more congregated than at any other time of the year.

The key is to find where they are ganged up and remember that in order to catch them, less is more.

Barry St. Clair is a guest columnist for the Athens Daily Review. His columns appear weekly.

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