Go Vertical For More Mid-Winter Bass

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

First find some fish-holding structure, then show its residents something they can’t refuse. If successful vertical fishing sounds simple, it’s because it is.


On a calm and sunny winter day in the south, it’s fairly typical to find groups of enterprising anglers in aluminum boats sitting on top of offshore structure, reeling in slab crappies. Every once in while, one of the “pesky” local largemouths will grab hold of a little crappie jig, and stretch the attached 6-pound-test around an old post oak tree. And then it’s back to the tackle box. Listening to crappie anglers describe those chunky green fish as “pesky” as you struggle to get a bite, is a clear indication of the effectiveness of vertical presentations when the water is cold. Why is vertical better in cold water? The colder the water, the less fish want to move and work for their food. A bouncing morsel that moves up and down is simply much easier to capture than one that’s swimming away.

Your electronic “eyes under the water” are a huge part of successful vertical fishing. You must know what is around you, and under you, in order to target these cold-water vertical fish.  General areas to look for in winter and early spring are points, creek channel bends, and offshore humps. Any cover that can be found in these areas will likely hold bass. Road beds, trees, brush and rock piles, and ledges are all good types of cover to look for. Fish-holding depths will vary depending on the lake and water clarity, but will typically range from 15 to 50 feet.

Once the water surface temps reach the low 50s, there can be groups of bass found away from the bank. Schools of bass can range from just a few to dozens, but they will almost always be grouped tightly in colder water, and very close to the cover. Bait balls in the general area are also key to locating a school of fish that will actively feed. Idling around the lake for a few minutes after launching your boat will give you a good general idea of where the bait fish are positioned in the water column. Looking at the pattern of the specific depth range of where baitfish and other species are holding, you can find structure that comes up and meets those depths. Once you have located a school, it’s a good idea to use your ScoutLook Fishing app to create a waypoint where you originally found the fish. Having a starting, or reference point is helpful, as the fish may move slightly within a given area if there is no specific hard cover to gather around.

Sonar600Smart use of electronics can be critical to vertical fishing success. When sitting over a group of fish, they tend to look like flat lines rather than arcs.
The whole point of fishing vertically is to keep the bait in a small strike zone for longer periods of time. My four top lure picks for vertical fishing in cold water include: Jigging Spoons, the Buddy Blade or similar blade baits, Hair Jigs, and Drop Shot Worms.

I prefer lighter line for vertical jigging because of the prolonged direct visual presentation. I like 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon for most lakes, but in ultra-clear water it is better to go with 6-pound test. In my experience, spinning tackle is the way to go with vertical presentations. Not only is it easier for handling the light line and lighter lures, it is also more efficient in getting the bait down quickly to the bottom and keeping it there. Instead of having to manually strip out line from a baitcasting reel, a spinning reel bail can easily be opened to release line quickly. This is very handy if a fish happens to strike and miss a lure, and you pull it up out of the strike zone where they won’t chase. The ability to quickly open the bail and get the bait back in the “zone” will result in more hook-ups.

Another way to keep your lure in the strike zone longer is to use a shorter rod. I prefer using a 6-foot 6-inch medium to medium-light spinning rod. Unlike my other 7-foot-plus rods I prefer for long casting and dragging lures, a shorter rod will take up less line. This makes it easier to create the shorter hops necessary to entice a cold-water bass to strike.

Vertical fishing is one of the easiest techniques in bass fishing to master. In cold water, it requires just a little wrist movement to move the bait straight up and down. With spoons and jigs, release the bail and let the bait fall all the way to the bottom. Depending on how far the fish are suspended, reel up to that depth and start a jigging cadence. “Hop” the bait with short strokes up, and quickly return the rod tip down. You want your lure to fall with a slack line.  Try not to hop the bait more than just a few feet. The colder the water, the shorter the hops should be. Fish will usually strike on the fall. Drop-shotting requires a lot less movement: Just slightly shaking the rod tip every so often is the ticket. Remember, a rapidly moving worm in cold water will seem unusual, even out of place.

VeerticalLures600Spinning gear is quick and effective for fishing the lighter line that cold-water vertical presentations demand.
In most all cases, remember that it’s better to present the bait slightly above where you have identified the fish. Bass are better built to see and locate prey above their heads than below.  Boat control is a big factor for vertical presentations, so remember to keep an eye on your electronics to not only see the fish activity, but also keep track of the boat’s position over the original spot you marked.

Keeping up with barometric pressure changes and cloud cover is also important. Offshore bass will group tighter and become easier to locate during sunny conditions. I use my smartphone and ScoutLook Fishing app to keep track of current and upcoming weather conditions, as well as log in my favorite hotspots, and jot down notes that help me keep track of unique or unusual fish patterns on wide-ranging bodies of water.

If you haven’t tried fishing vertically, make it a point in the new year to get out and get comfortable with this deadly technique, and your arsenal of electronics.  It’s a dependable cold-water technique for just about every species, and will produce some chunky cold-water bass on some of the toughest winter days you will face.



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