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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Sports

Jim Gronaw: Blade-baiting winter bass has my interest | COMMENTARY

No doubt, it’s cold out there.

No, not deep-freeze, paralyzing stuff, but cold enough to make a fisherman want to sit home and enjoy a warm living room and watch YouTube fishing videos while sipping a hot tea. Me, and a few other local crazies, we’d rather at least “try” to catch a few fish. Try and success are two different concepts.

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Winter fishing in much of the Mid-Atlantic freshwaters can be quite a funk. Skim-ice forms overnight and, if we’re lucky, might melt or get chopped up by prevailing winds during the day. Water temperatures remain in the mid- to upper-30s and finding open, fishable water can be challenging. To the bass fisherman, this can be “no-man’s land,” a time when fish are lethargic and difficult to catch.

For years, even decades, I have read and viewed where mid-south anglers used blade baits to consistently catch winter time largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass from TVA impoundments by jigging them vertically over schooled fish that were munching on zombie-like, cold-shocked shad that were easy targets in the cold waters. Makes sense, as all the bass I had ever caught through the ice had taken small spoons intended for panfish.

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But watching some videos on blade bait tactics piqued my interest just enough to give it a try.

Initially, our biggest problem was finding open water. Yet my first fish of 2021 was a fine 18-inch largemouth that smacked a Damiki Vault caught on January 2nd and thus became my first blade bass ever. The Vault is designed to cause heavy vibrations as does the classic Silver Buddy of mid-south fame. Primarily, these lures are used vertically. However, we have found that they can be presented in a horizontal fashion with long casts to the basin areas of local farm ponds. In the ½-ounce weights, these lures cast a mile and sink quickly to the bottom. We actually caught a few fish by keeping a tight line on the initial “drop” from the cast as bass would hit them on the fall.

Once the lure hits the bottom, we begin a steady “lift and drop” retrieve where the bait is ripped upward with the rod-tip approximately 10-12 inches and then allowed to fall on a tight line. On the lift you will feel the tight vibrations of the blade bait, a triggering effect to attract the fish. Often, as you maintain a tight line on the fall, a bass will hit the lure and your rod will continue on down and the next lift will result in a bucking, hooked fish. Long casts and moving around is needed to cover as much water as possible as winter largemouths tend to roam in basin areas of small lakes and ponds that are absent of structure or weed growth.

I thought for sure that this type of aggressive retrieve and speed would be far too active for winter bass in 36-degree water. But watching the behavior of bass on Garmin PanOptix units on various winter and ice fishing videos convinced me that when fish are in an active feeding mood cold water does not matter nor prevent them from a “quick strike” attempt at various lures or live baits.

Could it possibly work in my local waters? We just had to try it.

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So, armed with several Damiki Vaults, Silver Buddys and Rapala Rap V’s in the half-ounce size, we set out to find open water and try a “new to us” technique for winter bass. So far, so good. On five separate trips we have not been skunked yet. The worst trips resulted in but one fish and two or three missed strikes. Our best effort was an eight fish day where we had a total of 18 strikes on the blade baits. That’s pretty impressive when you consider 38-degree water and factor in 20-mph wind chills with gloved hands and watery eyes.

I told you this involved local crazies.

By far, the Damiki Vault in black gold produced the most fish including several 17 to 19-inch bass and my new winter, open-water PB at 21-inches and well over five pounds.

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Some fish swiped at the baits, getting hooked on the outside of the mouth or near the mandible. Others had the entire lure deep into their mouths. All were vibrant, healthy fish with crisp markings and reddish tooth pads. Bass look so cool coming from cold water environs.

We pitched our blades with the use of a duo-lock clip that comes with each lure and fastened it in the front eyelet of the bait, which promotes maximum vibration. We used 15 or 20-pound braid with a 12 or 15-pound monofilament leader or fluorocarbon if you prefer. These baits attract bottom debris and dying weeds with their exposed hooks so clean them off as needed. Sensitive rods are a plus as many strikes occurred at the furthest extent of the cast, prompting quick, responsive hooksets.

In lakes and ponds where algae and weeds still remain these lures won’t fair well, gathering gobs of green goo and assorted salads. Chucking them long distances for a few hours at a time can be a physical effort, especially in the cold.

Plan trips to coincide with the warmest part of the day and take advantage of a warm winter rain. Bundle up, and good luck!


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