No-Sweat Smallmouths

In cooler weather, deadsticking is the way to catch bass without even trying.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Bass fishing is an action sport that has developed into a game played with 225-horsepower metal-flake hydrofoils capable of skimming a lake's surface at 80 miles an hour. Bass anglers regularly race into an area, rush up to the front deck, cast, cast, cast and then zoom off to the next honey hole. These guys use baits that spell action in large capital letters. Spinnerbaits with moving blades and gyrating skirts, buzzbaits that squeak and spin, topwaters that dance and spit and crankbaits that vibrate and bounce off obstructions. Action, action, action.

Amid the fast-paced, cast-a-minute crews, however, is a crowd that has adopted a technique that flies in the face of conventional bass-fishing wisdom. These anglers have found that sometimes the best action for bass-especially smallmouths-is no action at all. The technique is deadsticking.

A Trick for Shy Bass
The drill is simple: Toss out a soft-plastic lure and let it sit. After a while, move it a hair. Then let it sit some more. That's it-no practice required. Most veteran smallmouth bass anglers have learned to incorporate deadsticking into their repertoire.

"All the pros are doing it," says Kevin VanDam, who won the Citgo Bassmaster Classic for the second time in July. "Deadsticking is especially effective when you're fishing in deep water and there's twenty or thirty feet of really clear water. The important thing is that the fish have to see the bait."

VanDam says the do-nothing approach is best suited to when the bass bite is tough, when the post-cold-front skies are high, the barometer is stationary and fish are sulking. The tactic works in waters that regularly receive significant pressure. VanDam learned the finer points of deadsticking by watching how bass react to his baits in various situations.

"I've watched fish go over and look at a bait," says the Michigan pro. "You'll see them edge up to it, get a little close and just sort of study it. Then sometimes, when you pop it or work the lure or jiggle it a little bit, they back off. It's like it spooks them or something. So you just throw the bait out there so you know they can see it and let it sit. You just let their own natural curiosity get the best of them."

Do-Nothing Baits
VanDam swears by tube baits for deadsticking because they have a built-in action, even when they're lying dead still on the bottom.

"Tubes are best because those tiny tentacles move a little bit all the time by themselves," he says. "That in itself gets a lot of fish to bite. But you want a quality tube bait with a well-shredded skirt so the tails move around with no action at all." When VanDam decides deadsticking is the only way to catch bass, he'll generally toss a bait out and let it sit for about 30 seconds, then twitch it slightly. If that doesn't trigger an immediate strike, he'll let it sit for another 30 seconds before bringing it in and casting to a different spot.

[pagebreak] Drift and Drag
Jeff Snyder, a well-known smallmouth specialist from Ohio who fishes Lake Erie, uses a do-nothing approach when fishing isolated humps and reefs that rarely see other anglers. Snyder calls his approach "drift and drag." Cast out a tube, a curly-tailed grub, a spider jig or even a Carolina-rigged plastic worm and then hold on. Snyder lets the wind do most of the work, using his trolling motor and sonar equipment only to stay over the structure he wants to fish. Sometimes he goes a full five minutes between casts as he lets the bait sit. Only when there is no wave action or current is deadsticking unlikely to work. Snyder says that's because bass rise up in the water column off the bottom under such conditions.

Lure Options
Deadstickers attempt to match forage in size, color and shape with their baits. For the most part, however, tubes, grubs and spider jigs will do the job.
Use only as much weight as is needed to get a bait to the bottom, advises Snyder. Finding the proper leadhead jig is a matter of trial and error, with more weight necessary in deeper water or heavier seas. For the most part, a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce jig will perform properly.

Some anglers prefer to use more weight because it keeps them in better contact with the bait or because they're fishing deep water where a fast fall is desired to get the bait to the bottom quickly and also to attract the attention of smallmouths.

Timing Is Everything
According to VanDam and other pros, deadsticking usually works best in cold water, when bass are in the metabolic doldrums. But it might work just as well in the post-spawn, or during the hottest part of summer when bass are also in a negative feeding mode.

"There are going to be those days when bass are very active and want the bait moving and hopping erratically," says VanDam. "If you're fishing on those days, you might catch a lot of bass in a hurry. On the slow days, though, deadsticking is definitely the way to go, especially if you're fishing clear water for smallmouths."

The Loca-Scope
Before there was GPS, before there was sonar, there was the Loca-Scope, a short-lived device that was used to mark great fishing holes through triangulation. The device, manufactured in the 1940s by a Minnesota company named National Manufacturing Inc., had a black plastic body and was equipped with a prism-mirror system.

The user held the Loca-Scope at chest level, looked down into the top opening and saw reflections of distant objects 180 degrees from each other. The theory was that an angler who found a hot fishing hole could take landmark bearings that would help him find it again.

There were a couple of problems with that, however. It presupposed that the user would be able to see any landmarks. If he was fishing a few miles offshore in Lake Erie, for instance, the Loca-Scope would be useless. Also, the angler would have to employ a compass to position himself exactly in the original spot and take into account the distance between the two objects he was using for landmarks. Finally, there's the question of why the angler would need a Loca-Scope if it was possible for him to line up two or more landmarks in the first place. Originally the device sold for a few dollars; now it has a collector's value of about $15 to $20. -Colin Moore