Early and late in the season when water temperatures are low fish will act lethargic and be quite picky when it comes to presentation. Savvy anglers recognize these situations and tailor their presentation to suit these fish. For these situations, two presentations fished together actually shine the brightest.
It’s important to note fish are ectothermic. This means their metabolism is at the mercy of their environment. When the water is cold, their metabolism is going to be slower and they will be less likely to chase prey. When the water is warm their metabolism will be higher, and they’ll be burning more calories and have more energy to chase.
The cold water makes fish sluggish, so your presentation has to be sluggish too. Slower speeds and smaller profiles are going to be the best option. This may seem like a situation that calls for slowly dragging jigs or bottom bouncers. This can be a tough call for anglers, so why not do both? The advantages of each presentation are going to appear and help scratch out fish on difficult days.
There are going to be two main keys to your bottom bouncing set up. The first is you’re going to want a heavier bouncer. I favor 2-3 oz bouncers as this keeps my presentation vertical. It may not seem necessary to use such heavyweights in shallow to moderate depths at slow speeds, but it greatly helps keep all of your lines in order.
When it comes to selecting your snell, less is more in these situations. Usually, I’ll split the bouncing rods in half. Half of my rods will feature a plain hook and a small bead, while the others will have a small bead and a .8” Mack’s Lure Smile Blade. I vary my colors up for the Smile Blade rods, but Pink, Chartreuse, and Silver are generally apart of my starting line-up. I pay attention to what color blades the fish are preferring, but also what color jigs. Once I’ve determined the top colors, I will begin switching the other setups in the boat to that color.
When it comes to snell length I favor a shorter snell. This is the most important factor in the entire presentation. The bottom bouncing rods are going to have their baits above the bottom. The bouncer will drag along, and the baits will float up a few inches off the bottom. The jigs are going to be working the bottom. These two presentations occurring side-by-side helps cover both levels the fish may be at.
Veteran Missouri River angler and guide, Mason Propst, is a huge believer in dragging jigs along with your bottom bouncers. In fact, he says it’s critical to get more bites. “When it’s super tough I feel like 4 out of 5 bites come from the dead jig,” Propst says. It’s for this reason that when fish are being passive and bottom oriented, he plays to what they want.
While the baits of the bottom bouncers ride slightly higher in the water column, the jig simply drags along the bottom right by the fish’s nose. There’s nothing to overthink here, it’s all about having as passive a presentation as possible. “My best bite usually comes from sticking a heavy jig straight down with a minnow just letting the boat do the work with it,” Propst says.
Experiment with the color of your jigs as well. Much like with the Smile Blades finding the right color can produce more fish. The simplicity of the jig keeps it a smaller, more passive profile, but the little color it adds can be just enough to draw attention to your bait. The ticking of the jig across the bottom can create just enough of a disturbance, coupled with the extra color, to attract the attention of nearby fish.
Propst favors the same spinning rods he would use if he was vertical jigging or pitching. It truly is one of the easiest ways to fish jigs. Once you have a bite just set it like you normally would. “Just raise the tip and start reeling,” says Propst.
Another approach to these situations is to actively pitch jigs as you troll along. The slower speeds make it easier to keep your line at an appropriate angle and it helps cover water you normally wouldn’t be hitting.
Whether you are fishing a drop-off or flat adjacent to a stump field don’t be afraid to pitch jigs into that shallower water or thicker cover. Even if you are working across a large, expansive flat anything you catch will be a bonus and also give you an idea of where to begin your next pass.
Often times some of the best flats are adjacent to thick stump fields. While actively trolling through these may be a disaster waiting to happen, a jig skipped appropriately through may not spell catastrophe, but rather extra fish.
Other situations you may encounter is trolling along a break-line, where you can pitch up into shallower water. On cold days, if the sun is shining into 1-4ft of water that area will warm up and you may find active fish soaking in the heat. If you discover fish up in this area with a couple of casts, it may be a good idea to put the other rods away and spend the rest of the day pitching the shallows.
One thing I like to do is pay attention to my graph to know if there’s anywhere I can “follow up”. If I pass over a pod of fish I expect to bite, and nothing comes out of it I’ll cast a jig and minnow directly off the front of the boat in the path I just came. I’m able to know approximately where those fish are, and I’ll give the fish another look. If they have been acting positively all day, I may skip it through them aggressively-if not I’ll simply drag it through again.
When the bite is tough sometimes you have to throw the kitchen sink at them. In this case, that involves jigs and bouncers all in one presentation. It may take a little practice and experimentation to get the line angles and layout correct, but once you do, you’ll have the best of both worlds when it comes to presentation. When encountered with negative fish and difficult conditions, you will probably find that bottom bouncers and jigs are indeed the perfect marriage. Good fishing!
By Nick Harrington