In Southern California many of the lakes and reservoirs that are home to bass receive hatchery trout plantings. These plantings routinely occur during the cooler months of the year. Typically stocking will begin in November and last until spring. Bass have become quite aware of these plantings and the morsels they bring. After leaving the hatchery these trout have no idea what awaits them at their final destination. The arrival of the hatchery truck dumping trout into the lake must sound like a dinner bell for a largemouth bass.
Bass have become conditioned to trout and this food source represents a high calorie, high protein meal that fills their stomachs fast. Shortly after a trout plant you can sense a change in the mood of a lake. You can observe Osprey dive bombing the lake’s surface. You will see bass and stripers churning up the water with surface attacks. Seagulls will hover above looking for easy scraps from the carnage. I once witnessed a Blue Heron dive into a surface boil created by fish and came up with a trout in its beak. Occasionally you will also see what is referred to as a ‘Chaser’.
What is a ‘Chaser’? A chaser is a trout that is being chased by a predator fish. The term and how it is applied is a misnomer. The predator fish is actually the chaser and the trout is the chased. None the less the visual trout on the surface is referred to as a chaser. The chaser will appear on top of the water’s surface and it looks as if the trout is actually trying to swim into the sky in an attempt to flee from its pursuer. I once witnessed a ‘Chaser’ that made several attempts to escape. With each attempt it became apparent that this trout was slowing down. After a few yards of its third sprint across the top of the water’s surface there was an extremely loud slurping sound followed by a large swirl. Without ever seeing the predator fish the trout was sucked below the surface and was gone.
What Can a Chaser Teach Us?
A chaser is a clue to a deceptive illusion. A clue to one method of dead sticking, and a clue to why dead sticking a floater is effective. Sometimes the ‘Chaser’ is successful and gets away.
This pursuit scene certainly takes place subsurface and out of sight. So what happens when a chaser gets away? It can be left completely exhausted, out of gas, tired, on the surface floating and being pushed along by the wind and waves as it recovers.
How can we take the chaser scenario and use it to our advantage? When I work my floater that scenario is exactly what I think of. The tired trout is an easy supersized extra value meal sitting on top, an easy target. Where ever a floater goes it is in one of the largest funnels on any body of water, the surface.
The floater as a dead stick technique has many advantages. When the bass are telling you that they don’t want relatively fast moving bait, and conditions are tough the floater can attract attention when other retrieves are being turned down. The floater is on top, if your floater is a big bait, 8” or larger it has a large profile that is easily spotted, even from a distance. A floater moving slowly gives the bass a large window of opportunity to take notice. Place your floater in the right relationship to the sun and the large shadow of a big bait floater will also effectively help a bass locate your offering. Bass can come in at a slow pace to investigate, in other words during a tough slow bite, if the bass aren’t hitting your faster moving swimbaits, the floater matches the mood and the pace of the bass during these conditions.
Floaters should be used in conjunction with other swimbaits types and retrieves. The weather conditions and the mood of the bass can constantly change throughout the day. Those moods and conditions should be continually monitored and evaluated during a day on the water. This evaluation takes place by using a variety of swimbait types and retrieves. As much as this article is about the dead stick technique this article is not a recommendation to go out and solely apply only one technique. It is often said at the BBZ, and so very true, ‘listen to the fish’.
Speaking of deceptions I have experienced Osprey attempting to swoop down and snatch my floater of the surface of the lake. Be careful as interesting as it might be I wouldn’t want to hook up with a large bird of prey. Not for the sake of the bird or mine.
As long as everything balances, and I do mean everything, the same equipment you use for your big bait swimbaits is all you need for dead sticking a floater. Depending on the weight of the floater I use a Lamiglass XC807 Big Bait Special and a Shimano Calcutta 400TE spooled with 25lb. clear Berkley Big Game monofilament line. Fluorocarbon fishing line sinks and is not what you want when fishing a floater. With your bait on top and fluorocarbon line sinking, during the hook set the sinking line is creating a greater distance that the line needs to travel before you can move the lure and the attached hooks. Fluorocarbon line can diminish the power of your hook set when fishing a floating swimbait on the dead stick. I feel braided line with zero stretch doesn’t handle the shock well that a big bait places on equipment and fishing line. Even with the serious hardware attached to big bait swimbaits I suspect bass that attack swimbaits aren’t necessarily line shy. However I feel monofilament is less noticeable than braided line. In that regard I am just more comfortable with mono over braid as a line choice. Even if it makes no difference to the bass if it gives me comfort than that is reason enough.
I am not going to advocate one floating swimbait over another. Just about every swimbait manufacture makes a floating model. My goal is to help with understanding the technique. I do want you to think about one of the most important components of any swimbait technique it’s the profile of the lure. When considering profile I would encourage you to use a big bait. A big bait is 8 inches or larger. Big baits have great drawing power and when coupled with the dead stick technique you have a potent combination.
To a certain degree the term dead stick is also a misnomer; the reel handle will move, slowly but it does move. The pace of the retrieve will reflect this; very slow, the lure is moving like a tired trout, with an occasional twitch or a minor direction change but remember the illusion is “worn out”. If you have ever run a race; especially a long distance race and gave it all you had, try and remember how your body felt and how difficult it was to move once your muscles filled with lactic acid. Impart those same feelings into the action and retrieve of your floater.
Weather conditions should also influence the pace of your retrieve. The bass seem to favor windy conditions with a bit of chop on the water’s surface. Under these conditions I basically just keep up with the slack in the line created by the movement of the lure. Again with a periodic twitch or slight directional change, but the wind and wave action basically moves the bait.
Often you will experience calm conditions with no wind. These periods are tough with just about any swimbait technique. Remember tough conditions are a call for a floating presentation. You just need to alter the retrieve slightly when faced with calm no wind conditions. When the surface is flat calm I continually twitch the bait. With each twitch I move the bait forward and I must collect the slack line. My goal is not to increase the pace of the retrieve but to create small ripple rings surrounding the floater.
These rings create the same patterns you would see from a living fish floating on the surface of flat calm water. The tired floating fish is still alive and there would be some minor movement. Under calm conditions those minor movements would affect the water’s surface. During these flat calm conditions I believe those ripple rings create some refraction of light and help prevent a bass from getting too good of a look at your deception. Whether it is with small twitches or direction changes I create these movements with the reel handle. I use the reel handle this allows me to keep the rod pointed at the bait and in position at all times.
Whether it is a slow pace that keeps up with slack line, occasional twitches and direction changes or constant twitches there is more than one retrieve method. Examine the conditions and determine how slowly or quickly you feel you need to cover water. Just because it is a ‘dead stick’ technique it doesn’t mean that you can’t get around the lake and visit many places. Experiment with pace; listen to the bass and let them tell you what the best retrieve is.
The Hook Set
The same rod position and body mechanics of hook setting for floaters are no different than with any other swimbait technique. Boat position also has a direct connection to body mechanics, especially when the angler is on the trolling motor. With the boat out of position and your foot on the trolling motor peddle it places an angler in an awkward position, which cheats you when it comes to power and the hook set.
I have heard different opinions on how quickly one should swing and set the hooks when a bass hits a floating swimbait. Based on my experience and the numerous bass I have lost as a result of being too slow to swing I feel that once a bass attacks a floater you can’t swing too soon! Some say you need to wait until you feel the fish, then swing. For me that does not work, I believe if you wait a bass can drop the bait and it is over in a split second. Yes, it is possible to take a bait away from a bass. Bass will also attack from a multitude of angles and some are more favorable than others. Sometimes they simply just don’t have the hooks in their mouth and there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes bass don’t turn and swim away from you. When you feel the bass a second or so after the attack you feel them because they have the bait. In my mind if the bass has the bait at that point then the bass has had the bait all along and nothing good can come from waiting.
Second Acts Sometimes Do Happen
If you do have a hit and you swing and either the bass misses or you miss leave the floater there. It is hard to do but don’t let the excitement and disappointment of the missed fish distract you. Get the rod back to the ready position and gather up the slack line as quickly as possible. A second attack is very probable and will often occur. The bass on the first attack will possibly think that the prey fish escaped and sometimes look for it again or there could be more than one bass involved. I love it when bass compete with themselves so be ready. My first floating swimbait catch was hooked up after a second attack. Lightning might not strike twice but bass attacking floating swimbaits sure do.
This Bass Was Hooked After The Second Attack
The same areas that you would present your other swimbaits are the same places to employ a floater. Consider where you know or suspect bass are positioning. Consider the direction the bass are expecting prey to come from. Determine the wind and wave direction and cast your floater as far out in front of the area as possible so the deception ‘floats’ back into the ambush zone. The lessons of fishing uphill apply with floaters also. Pick your spots, examine the conditions and set up the angles.
Is This Just a Bass Trout Relationship?
Does this scenario only apply to trout? No, bass chase with varied results all types of prey. Hitch, gizzard shad, blue gill, baby bass, blue back herring, the list goes on. One can take this technique and apply it to any bass and prey fish relationship. Bass are opportunists; just because your body of water doesn’t have trout don’t think that the dead stick floater isn’t for you.
I often hear bass anglers refer to swimbait floaters as wake baits. Yes, a floater can be waked, as well as a fast sink swimbait, and a wake bait. I am not saying to never wake your floater or any other swimbait. Waking a swimbait certainly has its place and time, but this article is addressing the dead stick approach. Learn all the techniques and decide when to apply each one. If you consider a floating swimbait solely as a wake bait; you will be missing opportunities and in my opinion a brilliant technique that floating swimbaits were born for.
How Long Can You Take It?
For some this approach will seem too slow of a retrieve, but the bass should tell you what the correct pace is and not an angler’s temperament. When using swimbaits I have witnessed bass behavior and the size of bass that I believe I would not have seen otherwise. Dead sticking a floater is no different, except with the dead stick I usually get to watch for a longer period of time. It is truly exciting to watch large bass move in on a floating swimbait and certainly when you see them attack. One second you are looking at just the floater and the next second three of the largest bass silhouettes suddenly appear just below your offering.
When you are swimbait fishing and you are faced with tough conditions place a dead stick floater out over prime areas. The results can speak for themselves. Adapt this technique to the predator prey relationship at your home waters. Who at the BBZ is going to catch the largest bass on the dead stick floater?
The Dead Stick Floater Pays Off