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The Cold-Water Cycle

Water Temp 49 degrees 5-10 LM caught on
3/4 oz. White Project Z ChatterBait
5" Pearl Scented Jerk ShadZ

Recently many of my Facebook friends posted comments such as: "Last trip of the year, Time to winterize the bass boat, See you in the spring after Ice-Out" Or, one of my favorite, "What a way to the end the year"... As they hold up one of their largest bass caught all year?

I know what you're thinking..."Maybe they're hunters and traded the cold chilly water for a warm padded tree stand, or as one friend replied to me, "You don't understand, because you don't hunt! It's the trill of the hunt that excites us!" The truth of the matter is I totally understand and appreciate their choice. Especially, when they invite me to the game dinners. However, I like every die-heart bass angler that choose to pursue Black Bass during the cold-water winter cycle, get just as excited when our hunt produces cold-water bass.

To be successful this time of year it's imperative that bass anglers become active students of 'The Cold-Water Transition Cycle'. The key factor to this period rotates around water temperature! Take for example the comment, "I'll see you in the spring after Ice-Out". Come March or April the water temperatures more than likely will be within the same temperature range as in November and December. Remember bass are cold water creatures, meaning the warmer the water temperature the more active the bass verses the colder the water temperature the less active or more lethargic bass activity. 'A-Student Anglers' keep a daily log based around water temperature, weather conditions, bass activity, baits, techniques, depths and locations that were productive.

A rule of thumb during 'The Cold-Water Transition Cycle' for November: "As water temperatures drops below 55-degrees, techniques require slower and more precise presentations." This is when savvy bass anglers rig their rods with jigs and more jigs! And, when it comes to retrieve speeds and jig trailers...Less is Best! This is the time of year to land a trophy bass and the best high percentage bait is a jig.

Where to Start:

  • If you have kept a log turn back to your most recent on-the-water information and start here moving deeper as needed. Remember water temperature is a key factor so if you do not have a log or waypoints on your sonar, then you have to rely on your memory! Returning to areas that were productive during the early spring would be my recommendation, and key in on areas with baitfish.

Important Equipment:

  • Sonar with Down-Side Scan ability. This will save an enormous amount of time allowing you to place your baits in high percentage areas like those with baitfish.
  • Dress warm in multiple layers, have several pairs of warm gloves in case one pair gets wet. Face shield hats and ZMan beanies protect you plus keep you warm especially when running from spot to spot. (No need to put the pedal to the floor!) Apply sun tan lotion to your face for protection from the sun and cold windburns.

Bundle up dress in layers, wear sunglasses and keep your life jacket on.

  • Have a comfortable Life Jacket and keep it on at all times.
  • Use landing nets this will keep your hands dry. While a fish-Grip to hold your bass aids in hook removal...Avoiding unwanted hooks in your hand.
  • Catching bass from deep water at times will cause their air bladder to expand, not allowing the bass to descend in the water. This effect is called 'The Bends'. Unless you deflate the air bladder the fish will die. Having a 'Fizz Needle' on board can save the bass. FISH LIFE produces an excellent Fizz Needle.

Types of Jigs & Trailers:

Vibrating Jigs 3/8 & 1/2 oz.

  • Z-Man ChatterBait Jack Hammer: The ChatterBait Jack Hammer has a side-to-side hunting action mimicking baitfish, while at the same time helping you to locate isolated pieces of cover. What I like about the Jack Hammer is how quickly and easy it is to detect the blades vibration. The Jack Hammer is my preferred vibrating jig for visible cover such as docks, downed trees, and channel/contour drop-offs. I keep my colors simple; Bruised Green Pumpkin, White and Green Pumpkin Shad

  • Technique & Presentation: Rigged to 6'6" to 6'10" medium/heavy bait-casting rod and secure to 12 lb. fluorocarbon I allow the Jack Hammer to fall on a semi-slack line concentrating on the blades vibration. Any change may indicate a bite, remember the water is cold and most bites will be very soft and subtle. Once the bait hits bottom I impart a very slow retrieve just off the bottom. All I want is to feel the blades vibration, if the Jack Hammer hits cover give it a quick upwards jerk and then let it fall to the bottom. Pause for a moment then repeat the same slow retrieve.
  • Trailers: Since I am basically utilizing the Z-Man Jack Hammer as a very slow moving swim jig, my choices of trailers are baitfish profiles with very minimal motion. They are as follows: 4.5" RaZor ShadZ, 5" Scented Jerk ShadZ, and 5" StreakZ. My colors harmonize with each ChatterBait Jack Hammer: The Deal, Pearl, and Smoky Shad.

  • Z-Man ChatterBait Freedom 3/8 & 1/2 oz.: When it comes to dragging and kicking up the bottom, few baits compare to the Z-Man ChatterBait Freedom! With its swinging head design paired with Z-Man's stainless ChatterBlade, the ChatterBait Freedom is a very versatile tool year round. However, during the Cold-Water Transitional Cycle most anglers leave this outstanding Z-Man ChatterBait stowed, forgetting about the ChatterBait Freedom's inherent abilities, such as the interchangeable design allowing to easily change hooks. (Long Neck VMC Hooks are required for best results.) I go with two color choices: Threadfin Shad for baitfish and Bluegill for baitfish or crayfish imitations.

  • Technique & Presentation: Rigged on a 6'10" to 7' medium/heavy bait-casting rod and secured to 12-14 lb. fluorocarbon, or at times braided line and a fluorocarbon leader helps to make long casts. Allow the ChatterBait Freedom to fall on a semi-slack line with sudden line stops or movement which will enticed suspending bass and be prepared to set the hook with a sweeping motion. Once the bait lands on the bottom let it sit still allowing the Z-Man ElaZtech buoyant properties to slowly float up with a natural motion. There are five moving elements within the Z-Man ChatterBait Freedom all of which impart a natural action. 1. The Z-Man ChatterBlade, 2. The Swinging round-pointed jig head, 3. The Z-Man silicone skirt, 4. The interchangeable Swinging VMC hook and 5. The Z-Man ElaZtech trailer. It is imperative that you SLOWLY Crawl or Drag the ChatterBait Freedom, allowing only the baits built-in properties to apply movement. I prefer to drag the bait with my rod verse reeling. This allows me to feel the blade vibrate ever so slightly, and the jighead telegraph up the line. Yes, this is a painfully slow technique, but the results can be rewarding. To downsize the ChatterBait Freedom's profile start by removing the 5/0 VMC long neck hook. VMC has five size #6319 XL Wide Gap Worm hooks: 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0 and 5/0. I usually go to the 3/0 hook size, trim the skirt and when using a crayfish style trailer trim it to match a smaller profile. When using the 5/0 or 4/0 size hook I throw the 1/2 oz. model and turn to the 3/8 oz. model when down sizing.
  • Trailers: With the very slow dragging technique used during the Cold-Water Transition it's important your baits impart as little swimming action as possible. The Trailers I like include; 5" StreakZ, 4" Punch CrawZ, BatwingZ and one of my favorites Palmetto BugZ as the bulky body pairs perfectly with the VMC Wide Gap Hooks.

  • Z-Man Project Z ChatterBait 1/2, 3/8, 3/4, 1 oz: When it comes to Cold-Water and the Z-Man Project Z ChatterBait I have only one color rigged in two sizes with the same color trailer.... All due to having outstanding success with the same color, trailer and technique over and over again! My color choice is 3/4 & 1 oz. Pearl Ghost, with Z-Man's 5" Pearl Scented Jerk ShadZ trailer.

  • Technique & Presentation: Equipped with a 7' M/H or H baitcaster rod, I secure my Project Z ChatterBait with 14 lb. fluorocarbon. Making long cast onto deep-water humps and long tapering points, I allow my Project Z ChatterBait to fall to the bottom. Pointing my rod tip in the direction of my bait on a tight line I pause for 10-15 seconds. This in turn allows both the Z-Man skirt and Scented Jerk ShadZ to impart lifelike movement. I then work the bait back to the boat by a stoking or hopping presentation. More often than not on the last stroke before reeling in I once again allow the Project Z to lie on the bottom for 10-15 seconds before reeling in. This technique was shown to me a long time ago by a fishery biologist, while fishing for smallmouth bass during the Cold-Water Cycle. The secret to success with this technique is the colder the water the longer the pause. You will become amazed that a bass will inhale your bait while lying motionless on the bottom. Another advantage of Z-Man ElaZtech plastic... It always looks alive, even when just sitting on the bottom!

Flipping Jigs 3/8, 1/2, 5/8 oz.

  • Z-Man's David Walker CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig: When it comes to understanding jigs both in design and productivity, Z-Man Pro Staffer David Walker is among the very best Jig Anglers competing in the Pro circuits! While Walker's CrossEyeZ Flipping jig bares the label 'Flipping', it is also an exceptional casting jig, especially, during the Cold-Water Transitional Cycle. The unique head design allows the CrossEyeZ jig to slide and glide over bottom cover exceptionally well. Which comes into play bottom bumping deep-water humps, climbing over and around rock laden deep flats at a snails pace! Available in three jig weights, I start off with the 3/8 oz. size and graduate into the heavier 1/2 and 5/8 oz. as I explore deep water. I personally believe the heavier size CrossEyeZ jigs produce better contact with the bottom allowing me to work my jigs slower as I feel the bottom. I prefer to stay with three colors depending upon the water clarity, weather conditions and prominent forage. Bruised Green Pumpkin, Hot Black and White Lighting.

  • Technique & Presentation: This time of year I am fishing deeper and extremely slow, therefore having a longer rod length increases my hook-up ratio. My choice is a 7'1" M/H Fast Action St Croix Legend Tournament Bass Series bait-casting rod. www.stcroixrods.com To increase the sensitivity and keep in contact with my CrossEyeZ Jig, I spool Seaguar 30 lb. Smackdown green braid with either a 10 or 12 lb. Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon leader. As with the Z-Man ChatterBait Freedom my jig presentation is exceptionally slow, I move my jig with my rod by pulling it to the side. With the aid of my Lowrance sonar I concentrate on targeting specific pieces of cover, making contact as often as possible. Line detection may at times be the only indication of a bite. When in doubt set the hook with a long swiping upward motion. If you have difficulty feeling the bottom move up to a heavier jig size. One technique that has produced is hopping or stroking the White Lighting CrossEyeZ Jig paired with a 5" Pearl Scented Jerk ShadZ. At times I will utilize a crawling and stroking retrieve together, especially when baitfish are present in the area. If the bass are taking your jig when stroking, remember to apply a pausing application after each stroking action.
  • Trailers: Once again it is imperative to attach trailers that increase the profile without increasing or over powering the jigs movement. I keep my trailers to three choices: 4" Z-Man Palmetto BugZ, 3.5" BatwingZ and 4" Punch CrawZ

Power Finesse Jig 1/4 & 3/8 oz.

  • Z-Man's David Walker CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig: The CrossEyeZ Finesse Jig is an excellent down size version of its big brother the CrossEyeZ Flipping Jig. While the Flipping version is equipped with a 4/0 VMC hook it's little brother has plenty of hooking power with its 2/0 Mustad Flipping hook. Boosting a similar unique head design as the Flipping model, the CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig employs the same outstanding ability to dissect cover. With a small bulky profile the CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig is more apt to entice a bite from finicky lethargic Cold-Water bass.

  • Technique & Presentation:When bass stop taking my larger profile Cold-Water baits, it's time to switch to the smaller Z-Man CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig. I will have the 3/8 oz. Finesse model rigged on a 7'1" M/H Fast Action St Croix Legend Tournament Bass Series bait-casting rod, with the same Seaguar braid and fluorocarbon line setup. However, the 1/4 oz. Finesse model will be rigged on a St Croix 7'1" Mojo Bass M/H Fast Action Spinning Rod. My jig will be tied to a 10 lb. Tatsu Fluorocarbon leader attached to Seaguar 30 lb. Smackdown Braid. All my presentations will be the same as they were for the larger CrossEyeZ Flipping Jigs. Once again remember the importance of pausing and allowing the inherent buoyant properties of Z-Man ElaZtech to convey the natural movement of your CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jigs skirt and trailer.
  • Trailers: My choice of Z-Man trailers will be down sized to match the smaller Finesse model profile. My trailers choices: 2.75" BatwingZ, 4" Punch CrawZ and 4" CrawdadZ. One important factor with both the 4" Punch CrawZ and 4" CrawdadZ. I cut the tail sections of these baits with scissors (Makes for a clean cut) so that they are go just pass the end of the skirt.

Cold-Water Tips:

  • Pre-rig your rods at home before hitting the water along with a few extra.
  • Spray your rod guides with Reel Magic, aids in casting.
  • Keep an extra pair of clothes along with shoes and a towel stowed in your boat for unplanned wet emergencies!
  • Having a 5-gallon bucket filled with sand in your tow vehicle will make launching and taking your boat out much safer and easier on icy ramps.

Remember 'Just Have Fun'
Billy 'Hawkeye' Decoteau

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