Slow Retrieve Techniques
"If you want to catch fish this time of year, you've got to slow down your retrieve." That quote could be attributed to one of thousands of guides or anglers along the Texas coast. During seminars, in print articles and on television shows - everyone gives the same generic "work it slow" advice, generally leaving the angling audience wondering, "What the #@%$ does 'slow' mean?!" After all, slow can mean a lot of things and without a relative scale, it is almost impossible to determine exactly what someone means when they say "fish slow."
However, although the message may be muddy, the underlying principle holds true. During winter's final stanza, fish are lethargic and anglers must work at a more casual pace. So, here's a few pointers to help you understand exactly how slow is slow.
WALKING THE DOG
Walking the dog during the winter months could best be described as walking a dog with a bladder problem - the pauses are longer and more frequent than the steps.
As a rule, winter means using big walking plugs like the Heddon Super Spook, Bomber Badonk-A-Donk and MirrOlure She Dog. These full-size plugs accurately imitate the mature mullet that are the target of most speckled trout and redfish this time of year. Their length also lends itself well to a 'sloppy' retrieve - that is, a wide sashay as opposed to a tight side-to-side motion.
In order to accomplish this sloppy sashay, use slow lift of the rod tip as opposed to a sharp twitch. Also, it is imperative to move the rod tip a greater distance during the side-to-side motion. And, keep in mind, it is winter, which means a slow retrieve, so don't worry about continuously moving the plug. Rather lift the rod to one side, then pause a second or two before moving the rod - and thus the plug - to the other side. It's also not out of line to allow the plug to sit motionless for up to 10 seconds. In fact, some violent strikes can occur when the lure has been sitting still for an elongated period.
A great way to tempt trophy trout during the winter time is wakin' a bait just below the surface. The best lures to use for this duty are lipped floater/divers like the Cordell Redfin and Bomber Long A. In general, these lures are meant to dive as deep as 3 feet. If they retrieved extremely slowly, they will stay just inches below the surface. But, in order to be able to achieve a consistent diving depth of scant inches with various retrieve speeds, it is best to modify the plug by cutting the lip. Typically, a lip length of about 1/4 inch works best.
Since modifying a lure in this manner is irreversible, I've come to favor using the 4in1 Lure Saltwater Stickbait for this purpose. The 4in1 fishes like a traditional floater/diver, except it four interchangeable lips that allow anglers to vary the baits diving depth from 1 to 11 feet. Often times the smallest lip is serviceable for waking. However, I still prefer to trim it. But, with the 4in1, I only alter one replaceable lip, not the entire lure and replacement lips are a lot cheaper than replacement lures.
Regardless of which model is chosen, waking is a great way to cover wide swatches of water. To wake a bait, cast as far as possible, then, with the rod tip held high, begin a slow, steady retrieve. Slow in this case means taking 2 to 4 seconds per revolution of the reel handle with a 5.1:1 retrieve ratio reel. Pausing the bait from time to time can be beneficial, but at this speed even a continuous retrieve can draw plenty of action.
Although I have never had the privilege of fishing with DOA Shrimp creator Mark Nichols, a mutual friend once said of the first time he fished with Nichols, "he paused so long before moving his shrimp I thought he was dead." And, Nichols himself has told me to do "as little as possible" when retrieving a DOA Shrimp. The technique certainly works, but it can be maddening for anglers accustomed to actively retrieving a bait.
Actually, although dead-sticking is considered a "do-nothing" retrieve, it does involve some skill. The overall concept of dead-sticking is to allow the lure to fall as naturally as possible through the water column. That's why natural imitations such as DOA Shrimp are natural fits for this technique. However, dead-sticking is usually most productive around structure - grass, shell, pilings, rocks, etc. To be effective, anglers must have a deft touch and be able to lift the bait above grass and other objects while still allowing it to appear natural.
To dead-stick a bait, anglers should hold the rod high and maintain just enough tension on the line to be able to feel - or 'remain in contact with' - the bait. If fishing around vertical structure such as pilings, allow the bait to drop on a somewhat slack line so it does not pendulum back toward the rod tip. When fishing over horizontal structure such as grass, drop the rod tip in order to allow the bait to touch down on the top of the structure then use a methodical lifting motion to cause it ride up in the water column. The reel handle should be cranked just fast enough to allow the lure to continue moving forward.
A technique developed by fishermen to use primarily with spinnerbaits, slow rolling involves using a slow, steady retrieve and utilizing the inherent 'lift' of a spinnerbait's blades to keep the bait just above the bottom and/or objects. Although there are some saltwater situations that are conducive to slow-rolling spinnerbaits, when fishing in the brine, slow-rolling is most effective when employing a paddle-tail soft-plastic lure.
The back-and-forth motion of a paddle-tail creates the same type of 'lift' as a spinnerbait's spinning blades. The bigger the tail, the more lift is created. For slow rolling, a substantial piece of plastic like the Texas Tackle Factory Big Mino (Killer Flats Minnow XL) works best. Depending on the type of terrain being covered, the Big Mino can be rigged with an open hook jig head, weightless with a worm hook or on a weedless head like the TTF Texas Weedkiller.
To properly execute a slow roll retrieve, allow the bait to sink to the bottom immediately following the cast. Then, with a low rod angle, begin cranking the reel handle just fast enough to get the bait moving forward. Although it takes a little practice, over time you should develop a feel for the bait and be able to keep it moving just above the bottom or a grass bed, oyster bed or other obstructions.
Stand up rigs are seldom used by Texas bass fishermen and almost never employed by Texas coastal anglers. However, when used properly, they can be deadly effective on speckled trout and redfish.
Simply put, a stand up rig utilizes a uniquely shaped jig head to allow the lure to stand erect at about a 45-degree angle from the bottom. Heads such as the TTF Reef Walker and Stanley SwimMax are two good heads to use for stand up rigs. Lightweight soft-plastics like the DOA CAL Series Curl Tail Grub and the YUM 4-inch Wounded Tube are good bodies for a saltwater standup rig, as their light weight and small diameter allows them to stand easily. Heavier or wider baits have a tendency to 'flop over,' pulling the jig head with them.
To use a standup rig, anglers should exercise a combination of an active and a 'do-nothing' retrieve. To begin with, the lure should be cast to a specific target - either in front of a sighted fish, into a sandy pothole, alongside an oyster reef, etc. The bait should then be allowed to settle to the bottom and remain stationary for 5 to 10 seconds. While at rest, water movement will cause the bait to rock back and forth. After allowing the bait sit for this period of time, use a series of quick jerks of the rod tip to 'hop' it forward a foot or so before allowing it to sit still another 5 to 10 seconds. This process should be repeated throughout the retrieve.
Although spoons aren't typically thought of as winter baits, they can be really effective on cold water flats when used properly. This is especially true when fishing the shallows on bright winter days.
When utilizing a spoon during the winter, anglers should strive to keep it near the surface, causing it to resemble a waking mullet. In order to accomplish this, a spoon with a fairly slow fall rate and wide wobble are necessary. The Nemire Red Ripper spoon is ideal for this duty. Since the Red Ripper is retrieved 'fat side first' it is easier to keep at or near the surface than other spoons.
To get the spoon near the top and keep it there, anglers should start by making a long cast. Begin cranking as soon as the spoon hits the water. To maximize the retrieve over the length of the cast, reel rapidly at first to get the spoon moving upwards. Once the spoon breaks the surface, slow the retrieve to the point where the spoon is struggling to stay near the top. A high rod angle can also assist in keeping the spoon near the top during a slow retrieve.