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Cold fronts had been bombing my Midwestern home for the past two weeks, a couple of stable days followed by a blustery cold front, dropping temperatures up to 30 degrees. I thought to myself how much longer can this @#%*@#% weather pattern keep up? To top off the sluggish fishing, the power plant was down for boiler repair. This meant no hot water from the plant to counteract the fronts. To wrap it in a nutshell, the fishing was getting slow and slower by the day. The only thing this weather pattern was helping was my chances for a good parking spot at the usual crowded ramp.
The tried and true presentations were still holding their own on the reluctant smallies. Small hair jigs, such as the WAZP Bucktail jig in 1/8 and 1/4 oz. size, tipped with a Power Bait, or even better, a large fathead minnow, and believe it or not, small streamers below a fixed float had produced some nice fish on very windy days. These presentations will work day in and day out, but it is a type of fishing that takes so much patience and time that it often beats you mentally to the point of saying it is more work than fun.
I needed a presentation that would get to the deep fish quickly and still keep in touch with the slow finesse type of baits the fish were keying on. I did not want to work with small, soft plastics because they take a lot of maintenance. By maintenance, I mean resetting the bait on the hook to keep a natural even descent, something that can be disheartening to say the least with cold wet fingers. Crankbaits were the answer.
In order to get to the depth the fish were holding, I needed to use a medium to deep diver which is fine for aggressive fish, but not so fine for fish that were in a neutral or lethargic state of mind. Deep cranks were somehow the answer just not the cranks used to hit these depths. The main downfall of deep diving crankbaits is that it takes a constant flow of water across the bill to maintain these depths. In other words, speed on the retrieve. This defeats the purpose of the slow presentation I was looking for. Let’s look at this again. We needed a small, finesse crankbait that would get deep quick but still could be worked slowly. I stared at the literally hundreds of crankbaits in my tackle arsenal, along with my master copy of the Bass Pro catalog. All of the baits would fit into a couple of the categories, but not one could do everything I needed them to. I would find a small bait that could be worked slowly but would not attain the depth, or a bait that was small enough to be considered finesse size that needed too much speed to get deep.
Countdown type baits are small and could be worked slowly, but need too much time to get deep. This dilemma was not one that could be solved with a magic bait. That meant it would have to be defeated with my ever present box of tricks. This is indeed a box of tricks. It is my rig box. A box that contains countless swivels, hooks, beads, floats and just about anything to alter or change the way a bait looks or works. You know, like the ever present plastic box in your garage you go to as your last resort to find that washer, nut, bolt, or piece that you cannot find in any hardware store. This box has saved many tournaments and even a few shows from being complete disasters. Kind of like the family joke my father used to, and still does believe in, “If it cannot be fixed with duct tape, it can’t be fixed.” Now you wouldn’t laugh if you new how many times we were saved by this simple roll of tape. Why it could mend broken rods, patch holes in the boat, even give the women folk a sense of privacy at the camp latrine. Now you know who taught me that with a little ingenuity anything is possible.
I already use small stick baits on 3-way rigs in the river. This is one of the most deadliest presentations for sauger while trolling. But I needed something I could cast. That’s when I happened to flip over the channel on the television and see one of the televised BASS tournaments. I cannot remember who the fisherman was, but he was explaining how he had won the tournament using a Carolina rig and soft plastics. Bingo. There was the rigging I needed. By using a small floating stickbait in place of the plastic lizard, I could get all of the characteristics I was looking for. I immediately set about building the rig, a 1/2 ounce egg style slip weight followed by a #7 swivel. To this, I tied a 30 inch 10 pound Silver Thread AN40 mono leader, and last but not least, I completed the rig with a Bass Pro XPS 3 inch Extreme minnow. I quickly rigged two additional rods with primarily the same rig, one with a shorter leader, and one with a smaller bait, a 2 1/2 inch Excaliber minnow.
The next day brought the same weather pattern I had grown to hate, but today was different. I had a whole new presentation to throw at the tight lipped little #@#%#@’s. I dropped the 225 Merc into gear and motored out to the submerged creek channel where I had marked some bait the day before. After a little time spent marking the edges of the channel with a floating buoy and confirming the drop-offs were still holding baitfish, I pulled my rod rigged with the secret weapon from its rod sock and began casting. After several casts without a hit, I started to doubt this presentation that was going to make my life gravy with my clients. Then it happened, a small strike or was it a rock. It doesn’t matter. I kept moving down the drop-off trying different speeds, stop and go, steady, slow. I was running out of ways to work this rig. That’s when I started to work the rig the same way I work a Rattlin’ Rogue later in the spring. The old faithful jerk and pause was the ticket. One hundred yards left and I completed the run with four nice smallies and one walleye.
Since that day, I have made a few modifications to the rig, leader length, weight, and rattles. But if I told you all of them, it would take a lot of fun out of digging through that old plastic box in the garage!
SEE YA’ ON THE WATER!
For guided trips you can call 309-347-1728 or by sending e-mail at email@example.com. Predator Guide Service is a multi-species guide service fishing several central Illinois lakes and rivers for muskie, striper, small mouth, and walleye e-mail me at .firstname.lastname@example.org
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