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Wrangler Rugged Wear
Finessing Cold Water Bass

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Bill Hildebrand (right), a member of the Wrangler Rugged Wear Outdoor Advisory Team, and a fishing buddy with bass caught one chilly fall day on Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka
(Jan. 17, 2003)... Some professional anglers actually like it when the weather and water turn cold and the bass turn off. Like the top tier of professionals in any competition, they are practitioners of the philosophy expressed by the old saying, "When the going gets tough the tough get going." But that’s not the only thing that separates winners from losers.

Whether fishing, golfing or swatting badminton shuttlecocks, winners know that in decent weather anybody could get lucky and win. But in nasty weather, especially the bitter, cold kind of nasty weather, most competitors lose focus and, losing focus, they lose tournaments. This process of self-elimination narrows the field of competitors and tilts the odds toward the diehards.

"When someone tells you the bass won’t bite because the water’s too cold, just ignore them," said Woo Daves, Spring Grove, Va., winner of the 2000 BASS Masters Classic. A bundled-up Daves won that Classic by facing down a very cold, rough and windy Lake Michigan during a three-day northeaster. Daves and other cream-of-the-crop anglers, also members of the Wrangler Rugged Wear¨ Outdoor Advisory Team, can testify to this from their trophies, cash, prizes and experience that bass do bite in cold water. They all agree; you just need to apply a little finesse.

Out of a mental playbook that could fill the encyclopedia of bigmouth bass, Daves volunteers these cold water bass tips: On rivers, fish backwaters and reverse currents where the water’s warmer and the bass don’t have to fight the current. In deeper water, run to long flat points or channel bends. Cruise around and watch your depthfinder for signs of baitfish. "Find the bait; find the bass," said Daves, who has two favorite presentations. One is a "-ounce Bass Pro Tungsten Spoon, jigged vertically. The other is a dropshot rig, a ¸-ounce weight on the bottom and a dropper hook about 12 to 18 inches up the line. Daves dresses it with a short, plastic worm and fishes it slowly, v e r r r y.

Mark Raveling of Spring Park, Minn., pro angler and inventor (Raveling Outdoors’ m-ywedge Motor Support), preaches slow fishing, slow to the point of no rod movement at all. Deadsticking, it’s called. His favorite pattern is a steep drop-off close to a feeding area. He’ll fish a plastic worm with a mushroom jig head. Or, he’ll switch to either a Rapala jerk bait or to a Shad Rap or a Storm Wiggle Wart. These baits crank down to a certain depth and remain at that depth until the angler winds them back to the rod. Here’s the drill: Crank it down. Wait. Wait some more. If you get a fish, stay put. There are more fish where that one came from and they’re suspended at the same depth.

Deadsticking gets another vote from Minnesotan Tony Capra. His cold water bass favorite is a ’-ounce Jungle Jig with a crawdad fished in very slack current. "Just let it sit on the bottom for two or three minutes. Fish will come over and pick it up," said Capra, co-owner with his dad and brother of Capra’s Sporting Goods in Blaine, Minn. Capra’s other favorite deadsticking lure is the Rapala Husky Jerk, a hard-body lure with neutral buoyancy so it suspends at a certain depth. Capra looks for what he calls "black bottom bays." These are areas of the lake with dark bottom caused by decaying vegetation, usually old fields of lily pads that die in the winter.

Sometimes nature is a contrarian, and so is Bill Hildebrand of Champlin, Minn., radio talk show host and a regular on the Minnesota Pro-Am Bass Tour. "Typically when cold weather hits, anglers downsize and slow down; I do just the opposite," said Hildebrand. Hildebrand "targets the aggressive fish" on the other end of the bell curve. He stays on the move, covering a lot of water with a ¸-ounce spinnerbait or a lipless crankbait.

It’s all relative, of course, but bass get the chills in the southland, too.

Wrangler Rugged Wear team’s Wade Bourne of Tennessee, host of Advantage Outdoors radio and television programs and a freelance magazine writer, recently wrote an article about what he describes as the "most amazing cold water bassing system I’ve ever seen." It’s called the Float-N-Fly. Awkward to cast, it nevertheless catches lots of bass, especially smallmouths out of deep reservoirs. The rod needs to be 10-feet long because the float is positioned 10 feet up the line which tests at just four-pounds. The lure: a tiny jig. You cast it toward shore, but not too close, and reel the jig in slowly, all the while jiggling the rod tip. Bourne said it makes the jig look like a frantic minnow or a boomer dancing to a Jerry Lee Lewis song. The angler could get lucky.

John Phillips, a freelance writer out of Birmingham, covers professional angling like dew covers Dixie. Phillips seconds the motion about the slowly-fished dropshot rig. Phillips also comes down on the side of fast fishing, too, recommending a buzz bait fished in February before the weather warms. This tactic is based on the notion that yours may be the first buzz bait a hungry bass has seen in four or five months. Since that bass is hungry, he will not be denied. Phillips says fish the water near concrete and wood structure on sunny days. It holds the heat and the heat holds the bass. Also, anchor up carefully and fish the warm water discharges from power plants.

So, you hear the water’s too cold and the bass aren’t biting? Members of the Wrangler Rugged Wear team beg to differ. Follow their tips and techniques to catch cold water bass. Just don’t follow them to their favorite spots.
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