I was filming soft plastics underwater, recording their response to different water conditions and actions, when I noticed a common thread among my best winter lures. In water from 40 degrees to just above freezing, soft plastics with design characteristics producing subtle movement while at rest catch the most fish. Once I made the connection, I started to seek out baits with similar characteristics. I call these super-responsive plastics “passive action”.
Baits for winter smallmouth
Some categories to consider are paddle-tail grubs, plastics with extremely sparse silicone skirts and small, boot-tail swimbaits with thin tail sections. Each time I visit the river, I take a minute to observe how my lures respond to the current. If the tail or appendages move subtly while the bait is at rest, then it’s a keeper. For winter fishing, the best lures are two to three inches long.
Rod and Reel
Spinning gear is best for passive action. A seven-foot, fast-action rod rated for lures in the eighth to half-ounce class will allow the angler to feel the light lure and a slight bite. Load the spinning reel with 20-pound braid and add two feet of 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon is more sensitive than mono, improving response time to a subtle take.
Exposed hooks and exposed lead are my rules of thumb. I like football or flat-bottom jigheads with thin wire hooks. The exposed lead makes it easier to feel every nook and cranny on bottom. The exposed, thin-wire hook improves hook-up on light-biting winter bass. The flat jighead allows the buoyant soft-plastic tail to stand on the bottom, making the lure’s profile and passive action more visible.
Presentation is where the rubber hits the road and the bass hit the net. Move the lure with the rod tip, not the reel. Only use the reel to take up slack after dragging the lure across the bottom. For best results, move the rod tip from 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock on each drag. The drag is what I call the “attraction” phase of the presentation. Between drags, take long pauses of at least five seconds. I refer to the pause as the “trigger” phase. Cold water bass are notorious for tracking the bait as it moves and then attacking on the pause. Watch the line, if it bumps or moves to the left or right, set the hook. Winter bass cannot ignore passive action.
Slow and low, that is the tempo | Featured photo: Juan Veruete