Vertical Fishing Techniques for Winter Specks
texas saltwater fishing, texas fishing, wadefishing, wading, bay fishing, speckled trout, redfish, snook, tarpon, texas redfish, texas speckled trout
As winter's chill sets in, most speckled trout can be found stacked up, lazing lethargically, in the deep holes and channels in bays up and down the Texas coast. Although there are a variety of ways to get baits and lures to the bottom, one of the most productive - albeit overlooked - methods of fishing during the dead of winter is to `go vertical.'

Traditional freshwater and offshore vertical fishing work just as well on inshore fish during the winter months. However, many Texas bay fishermen are unfamiliar with the subtleties of vertical fishing techniques. But, although they may seem foreign, most vertical fishing methods are relatively simple and easy to master. By taking the time to experiment with a few vertical presentations, Texas bay fishermen easily boost their catch rate this winter.

Drop-Shotting - This technique took the bass fishing world by storm a few years back. Although it sounds exotic, drop-shotting is actually pretty basic. And, when fish are stacked up over deep water structure, drop-shotting works just as well in the bay as it does in a lake.

The essence of a drop-shot rig isn't much different than the standard `bottom rig' used by bay fishermen for years. Typically a bell sinker is tied at the terminal end. The bait is attached directly to the main line anywhere from 12 to 20 inches above the weight (actually, the hook must be tied on first, via a cinch or Palomar knot).  

In the bass fishing world, many anglers have switched to specifically designed drop shot weights. These weights aren't tied on at all. Rather, they are meant to slip onto the line and are held in place by a small knot. This allows the weight to be easily moved up the line without retying the whole rig.

However, no special weights are necessary to make the drop-shot rig work. The key is to have the weight below the bait. This serves to hold the bait directly above the intended target.

One note on terminal tackle for a drop-shot rig. Although any single hook and any bottom sinker will work, special drop-shot hooks like the StandOUT Inshore BaitShaker make it a lot easier for novice drop-shotters to ensure their hook extends from the mainline in the proper manner.

A drop-shot rig can be retrieved in a variety of manners. The most common technique is jigging with a vertical lifting and lowering of the rod. However, if a strong current is moving through the area, a `do-nothing' retrieve is often the most effective, as the tide will give the attached lure just enough action to tempt lethargic fish into biting.

As far as baits to use on a drop shot rig, a soft-plastic jerkbait is probably the best choice for winter fishing. However, tubes, grubs and various other soft-plastic baits can work well also. DOA Shrimp also produce well when rigged drop-shot style, particularly if a `do-nothing' retrieve is employed.

Vertical Live Bait Rig - This is essentially a drop-shot rig with one difference - and an important difference at that. The hook is attached to the main line via a staging and three-way swivel. The reason for this is simple. Live bait, unlike artifical lures, moves on its own accord. The staging allows the bait to move some distance from the main line. And, as the baitfish or shrimp is swimming, the line can become irrecoverably tangled if not attached to a swivel.

The vertical live bait rig is excellent for working over deep bottom structure or along channel edges. If this rig is employed around standing vertical structure such as pilings, however, make sure to use a short staging to prevent the bait from wrapping itself around the structure.

Jigging Spoons - One of the most basic and effective methods of vertical fishing involves using the simple jigging spoon. Unlike wobbling spoons, which are concave and meant to be cast, jigging spoons are typically flat. They may be thin or wide and are usually affixed with a single treble hook.

These spoons are designed to be jigged up, then allowed to `flutter' back down on the drop. At this time, most jigging spoons manufactured for saltwater use are done so with offshore anglers in mind. However, inshore fishermen can make due with a variety of freshwater jigging spoons such as the Cordell CC Spoon and Bomber Slab.

Since the bay waters in winter are typically clear, reflective finishes such as silver and gold are usually the best. But, on days following a hard blow, when the water remains off-color, opaque finishes such as white, black or chartreuse can produce better.

Drift-jigging Lipless Cranks - Lipless cranks like Rattle Traps and Cordell Spots can be worked in the same manner as jigging spoons. But, when covering deep horizontal structure such as a deep reef or a flat with scattered shell, drift-jigging is a great option.

As the name implies, drift-jigging is done by employing a vertical jigging retrieve while drifting, as opposed to be anchored or tied up. One important thing to remember when drift-jigging: unlike the traditional manner of fishing forward of a drifting boat, when drift-jigging, anglers should deploy their baits behind the boat. Since casting is not involved, the wind isn't really an issue. What can become an issue, however, are drift socks, which are also used on the windward side of a drifting boat. So, if the wind is strong enough to use a drift sock, make sure you have adequate space between your line and the sock while jigging.

Of course, when drift-jigging with a plug dangling treble hooks, the threat of `hanging up' does exist. So, make sure you know the depth of water you are fishing. You can easily measure the distance you drop your lure be pulling line off the reel in arm lengths. Although most of the fish may be holding on or near the bottom, you need to leave enough space between your plug and the bay floor to make sure the hooks don't grab hold.

One distinct advantage of utilizing lipless crankbaits, whether with standard vertical jigging or drift-jigging, is their ability to `call up' fish. Most every model of lipless crankbait is manufactured with a rattle chamber. By using a sharp, upward motion when jigging, the bait will make enough noise to get the attention of nearby fish.

As is the case with jigging spoons, lipless cranks with reflective surfaces produce best with clear water and bright skies, whereas painted baits work best when the water is off-color.

Vertical jigging with soft-plastics & bucktails - It doesn't get much simpler than this. Basically, all anglers need to do is grab their favorite soft-plastic or bucktail jig, drop it to the bottom and begin working the rod up and down. This technique is particularly effective when fishing alongside vertical structure such as docks and pilings in deep water.

Unlike casting jigs on the flats, vertical fishing is no time to skimp on the lead. In fact, in this instance, using a heavier head is an advantage. For one, the lure needs to be heavier enough to cut through any prevailing current and get to the bottom. Secondly, a heavier jig is easier to feel, making it easier to both work the lure and detect strikes. For vertical jigging 3/8 and 1/2-ounce heads are not too heavy.

In addition to soft-plastic jigs, anglers can fare well with bucktail jigs. Although bucktails are standard issue in other areas of the Gulf Coast, Texas anglers rarely use them. However, when trying to finesse finicky fish into striking, the natural motion of bucktails is hard to beat. Models such as the 1/2-ounce Blakemore Roadrunner, which incorporates a small spinner that adds flash to the breathing bucktail skirt, often prove difficult for fish to resist - even when they're not actively feeding.

Of course, there's more to it than just moving the rod up and down. Well, actually, there's not. But, the manner in which the rod is moved can drastically change the results. Like any retrieved, vertical jigging can be altered. Sharply moving the rod upward, then allowing the bait to slowly fall back down on a slack line is usually the best way to draw reaction strikes. A methodical lifting and lowering of the rod, keeping the bait on a taut line the entire time, is generally the best method for luring lethargic fish into striking. However, anglers should experiment with various speeds and actions until they are able to illicit a strike.

The other thing that anglers should experiment with is depth. This actually holds true for all types for vertical fishing. Although winter fish are often found on or near the bottom, they may be suspended at any point in the water column on a given day. Unless you spot fish on a depth finder or happen to know the depth of a thermocline, it is usually best to begin your retrieve near the bottom. But, if too much time passes without a strike, move the bait up a couple feet in the water column and continue to repeat this pattern until the fish are located.

One big advantage to vertical jigging is the ease of controlling the depth of the retrieve that is inherent to this style of fishing. Basically, anglers can allow their baits to fall to the bottom. Then, but counting the turns made with the reel handle, they are able to know exactly where the bait is in relation to the bottom. It is important to keep track of how many turns of the reel you make, so you can place the bait at the same depth once the fish are located.

Circle hooks and vertical fishing - One other advantage of vertical fishing is that it lends itself well to the use of circle hooks. This applies when using either artificial or natural baits. Most often when vertical fishing during the dead of winter, fish don't aggressively strike. Rather, they grab the bait and move away, applying a steady pressure as they go. This is the ideal setup for using circle hooks.

In fact, because the winter bite is so subtle, using a light-wire circle hook such as the Daiichi Circle Chunk Light will actually improve your hookup ratio in many instances. And, as is always the case, the use of circle hooks will drastically reduce the mortality rate of released fish.

If after reading all of this you've come to the conclusion that vertical fishing is far too simple to be effective, you're half right. Vertical fishing is one of the simplest and easiest forms of fishing to master. But, that doesn't mean it's not effective. In fact, once you try vertical fishing for winter trout, you'll likely agree that a simple approach is often the best path to success.
texas saltwater fishing, texas fishing, wadefishing, wading, bay fishing, speckled trout, redfish, snook, tarpon, texas redfish, texas speckled trout