Spring winds and drift socks

Spring winds and drift socks

The wind blows a lot in northeastern Kansas  this time of the year.


A look at the National Weather Service's forecast for Feb. 23 through Feb. 25, which is printed below, reveals how intense it can be.

"This Afternoon: Partly sunny, with a high near 60. Windy, with a west wind between 30 and 35 mph, with gusts as high as 45 mph. 


Tonight: Mostly cloudy, with a low around 30. Windy, with a northwest wind 25 to 30 mph decreasing to between 10 and 15 mph. Winds could gust as high as 40 mph.


Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 45. Breezy, with a northwest wind 10 to 15 mph increasing to between 20 and 25 mph. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph.

Friday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 22. Northwest wind between 10 and 15 mph becoming calm. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 50. Calm wind becoming south between 10 and 15 mph. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph."

When George Kramer of Lake Elsinore, California, saw this forecast, which was posted on the Finesse News Network, he wrote in an e-mail: "Pretty telling, '¦ I groused when it got to 9 mph yesterday afternoon with 81 degree weather."

The winter of 2011-12 has been exceedingly windy in northeastern Kansas.

Day in and day out,  however, spring and late winter are our windiest times, and fall is no piece of cake.

Traditionally our windiest spells run from late February into early April.  Then it erupts again in late October and howls into early December.

Many anglers aren't accustomed to handling the wind and are daunted by it. For instance, across the six-day span of Nov. 3-8, 2008, the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship, which was staged at Milford Lake, Kansas, canceled the practice day and two days of competition because of the wind.

The wind, of course, doesn't roar every day as it did during the B.A.S.S. Federation event and as it did recently on Feb. 23, when a few gusts wailed up to 39 mph. But throughout the year the average wind speed is 10.5 mph.   Therefore, we have had to learn how to deal with the wind.  In fact, we fished those days when the Federation anglers were kept at bay by the wind. Except in the winter when our bass are often concentrated and milling about in relatively confined areas, we normally use a drift sock anytime the wind blows more than 7 mph.

For years on end, Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Missouri, who is a veteran and talented professional angler, has preached about the virtues of using his trolling motor to maneuver his boat into the wind. That might be the proper method for a talented flipper and pitcher like Brauer. But for those of us who employ Midwest finesse tactics, we find that moving with the wind and using a drift sock is the best way to maneuver our boats and present our lures.

Instead of working with a Ranger Boats Z520 Comanche as Brauer does, many Midwest finesse anglers deal with the wind by using a drift sock attached to a relatively small boat.

For example, I fish in a 16 ½-foot Alumacraft Yukon that is powered by a 40-horsepower Honda tiller-steering outboard motor, and a drift sock can slow the drift down to nearly a snail's pace.

Here's how we use it: When we are casting and retrieving our finesse baits from the starboard side of the boat, we attach the drift sock to the stainless steel eye on the port side of the boat's transom. When we are working out of the port side of the boat, the drift sock is attached to the starboard's stainless steel eye. We use a 24-volt bow-mounted trolling motor to adjust the direction of the drift, and even the pace of the drift can be altered a touch with the trolling motor.

 Ten years ago, I purchased a 30-inch Cabela's Drift Sock for $25; nowadays it cost $43.  Throughout a typical fishing year, I use the drift sock about 60% of the time I am afloat.  In 2011,  I fished 127 times and used it 73 times.  This drift sock has been in the water for more than 2,900 hours, and it looks to be in sturdy enough shape to last another 10 years.

Even though it has been a windy winter, we used it only once during our first 13 outings in 2012. That outing occurred on Feb. 27, when we couldn't find a wintertime concentration of largemouth bass and the wind was angling out of the north and northeast at 7 to 9 mph. Thus we elected to use the wind and drift sock to help us search for the elusive bass.

As the March winds erupt and the wintertime concentrations of largemouth bass breakup and become scatter along vast stretches of shorelines and other locales, the drift sock will become one of the most essential elements in our Midwest finesse tactics.

This year Mother Nature exhibited her typical March vigor before the end of February. For example, on Leap Day at 1:52 p.m.,  the wind at the Lawrence, Kansas, Municipal Airport angled out of the west at 30 to 40 mph, and this gale even kept us at bay. This wind was the aftermath of a series of 14 tornadoes that waylaid parts of Table Rock Lake, Missouri, and other locales across the nation's Heartland.  That stormed caused so much damage that it forced the cancellation of the EverStart Series tournament at Table Rock.

Posted below is an encore edition of a story that we wrote for "In-Fisherman" magazine. It describes the way we dealt with the wind and caught an impressive array of fish in early November of 2008, when the windy weather checkmated the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship at Milford Lake. (It is important to note that we will fish much the same way on windy outings in March of 2012  as we fished on the windy outings in November of 2008.)

Midwest Finesse Fishing in the Wind

Kansas' waterways aren't suitable for bass tournament angling. They are, however, ideal venues for recreational anglers to catch an astonishing number of black bass, as well as an occasional lunker.

That fact was dramatically illustrated from Nov. 3 through Nov. 8, 2008, when the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship and Junior Bassmaster World Championship were staged at Milford Lake and Geary State Fishing Lake.

At the Milford event, 55 anglers caught only 41 bass across two days of fishing while battling trying weather conditions that were punctuated with wind gusts that regularly exceeded 30 mph. Most of the participants readily confessed that it was the most difficult event that they had ever fished; some even called it a nightmare.

At Geary 12 juniors competed for a day, and they inveigled only four bass.

The major problem that confounds tournament anglers at reservoirs across Kansas is that they are too small. For instance, Geary has 97 surface acres of water. Milfordcontains 16,020 acres, but its largemouth bass and smallmouth bass inhabit only a small fraction of that acreage. Therefore there is not enough acreage or fish to entertain 55 anglers at Milford and 12 anglers at Geary.

Another element that bedevils most tournament anglers on Kansas reservoirs is that most of them are wedded to power tactics. Even though many astute and successful tournament anglers such as Rick Clunn of Ava, Missouri, have concluded that power methods win the bulk of the tournaments that are staged across the nation, power is not the way for recreational anglers to catch bass in the confined waterways of Kansas.

Instead finesse methods are the most productive ones to employ — even in waters that are significantly stained, which typifies the bulk of Kansas reservoirs.  Knowledgeable observers suspect that the reason why finesse methods are so fruitful is that the reservoirs are small and the bass have been severely harassed by oodles of anglers for decades — especially at those reservoirs that lie along the I-70 corridor from Kansas City to Junction City.  Except for the stained-water conditions, it is similar to the conditions that confront bass anglers in Japan, where finesse tactics reign.

The effectiveness of finesse methods was exhibited when Steve Desch of Topeka, Kansas, Dick Bessey of Lawrence, Kansas, and I fished eight times for a total of 32 hours from November 3 to November 14. We fished two reservoirs similar to Milford and four similar to Geary, and we endured the same trying weather conditions that bewildered the anglers at the Federation and Junior championships. Twice we were a threesome, twice Desch and I were a pair, and Bessey and I fished together four times.

We fished from either 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. As a means to minimize the damage that we can render to the fisheries that we  regularly ply at the exurban areas where we live, we intentionally limit our outings to four hours, and throughout the calendar year, we fish the same midday hours while employing only finesse tactics. Moreover, we don't fish the same lake more than once a week.

During these eight outings in early November, we caught and released 172 largemouth bass, 170 temperate bass, 17 freshwater drum, 16 smallmouth bass, six rainbow trout, five crappie, and two channel catfish. Eleven of the smallmouth weighed from two to five pounds.  Thirty-four of the largemouths measured 15 inches and more, and the biggest weighed 3 3/4 pounds.

Tackle

All of these 388 fish were caught with finesse tackle that consisted of a bevy of six-foot, medium-action spinning rods and medium-sized spinning reels. Desch's reels were spooled with four-pound and six-pound Bass Pro Shops Excel monofilament. Bessey and my reels were spooled with either eight-pound-test Stren Microfuse or Stren Super Braid. To the braided line, a Stren J-knot attached a five-foot section of eight-pound-test leader made from Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

The spinning outfits sported a Strike King Zero, Strike King 4-inch Finesse Worm, 2-inch Yum Wooly Beavertail, 4-inch Yum Muy Grub, 2 ¾-inch generic tube, 3-inch Yum Dinger, 4-inch generic turbo-tailed grub, 1/16-ounce silver marabou jig and a 1/16-ounce olive marabou jig. The Zeros were trimmed from 5 inches in length to 2 ½ inches, and some of the Zeros and Finesse Worms were soaked in Gulp! Attractant.

The Dinger, Finesse Worm, Wooly Beavertail, Zero and turbo-tailed grub were affixed to a red 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Jig Head.  The Yum Grub was attached to a red 3/32-ounce Gopher Jig, and a 1/16-ounce homemade jig was inserted into the tube.  All of the hooks were exposed.

It should be noted that even though the hooks are exposed, these lures are snag resistant. But we never penetrate brush piles, laydowns and flooded timber with the jig; instead we fish over and adjacent to them.

Green pumpkin and watermelon with red flakes were the most effective hues of the soft-plastic lures, but at times a pearl Zero bewitched many of the largemouth bass.

Dealing with the wind

We bass fish year-around in northeasternKansas, and we attempt to get afloat three to four times a week.  Though the wind doesn't howl every day, it is a common curse. Therefore, wind direction is always a primary consideration in our selection of a lake to fish. It rarely blows as ferociously as it did during the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation Championship when the practice day and two days of competition were canceled. But there are days aplenty when it reaches 15 to 20 mph with gusts that hit 30 mph, and  it can change directions in a wink, which is frustrating indeed.  Thus the wind  can present Kansas anglers with new conditions and different scenarios to surmount a couple times a day, as well as every day of the week.

In the bass-fishing world, it is fashionable for anglers to maneuver their boats into the wind as they ply a shoreline.  But we have discovered that by employing a drift sock we can fish shorelines at Kansas reservoirs more efficiently with our finesse tactics by moving with the wind — even when it howls, and as we move with the wind, we use our electric trolling motor to control the direction and speed of the boat's movement. The drift sock is attached to the boat's transom, and if we are casting from the starboard side of the boat, the drift sock is attached to the port side of the transom. By moving with the wind, our casts are more accurate, the bow in our lines is reduced and our retrieves are more effectively executed.

It should be noted that while the wind kept the contestants at the B.A.S.S. Federation at bay,  we employed our drift socks and caught bass galore.   We readily admit, however, that battling the winds that regularly crisscross the plains of Kansas isn't a delightful way to fish.  Therefore, we relish those rare days when the wind doesn't stir. Yet the only time that we have found that it is essential to slow the movement of the boat to a snail's pace is in the winter when the surface temperature ranges from 38 to 44 degrees, and then it's best to fish on the calm side of the lake or on a relatively windless day.  Thus, we rarely us  a drift sock in the winter.

 Location and forage factors

 At the two reservoirs that are similar toMilford, the same brutal winds that plagued the B.A.S.S. Federation anglers wind sequestered us to plying riprap causeways, jetties and dams. The surface temperature was 57 degrees on November 6 and dropped to 53 degrees on November 10. The water was stained at both reservoirs to the point that we could see our lures only about a foot below the surface.  All the fish that we caught were in two to five feet of water.

At the four small reservoirs that are similar to Geary, the water clarity exceeded four feet at two of them, and a mild-mannered algae bloom limited it to about three feet at the other two. The water temperature ranged from 58 degrees on November 3 to 52 degrees on  November 14. A five-pound smallmouth bass was extracted from about 11 feet of water along a rocky bluff, but most of the bass inhabited lairs in three to six feet of water. Some of the bass abided around rocky environs.  Some bass were around a combination of rocks and thick patches of dead American water willows, where the bass were situated along the outside edge of the water willows. Others were around beds of coontail and bushy pondweed.  A few bass milled about over clay and silt-laden areas.

Some of these bass were preying upon gizzard shad and tiny bluegill, and some were foraging on a variety of invertebrates. From our experiences, invertebrates are the bass' primary forage year-around in Kansas.

Presentations

 Day in, day out, we work with five presentation styles that emulate the ways of shad, bluegill and various invertebrates.  We call them:  the swim and glide, hop and bounce, drag and dead stick, shake and drag,  and straight swim.  When we employ these presentations, we rarely probe water deeper than 12 feet, and we prefer depths of one to eight feet — even in the dead of winter.

Because our finesse tactics are based on a lightweight jig, neophytes often complain that they can't feel what the lure is doing and where it is — especially when it is windy.  And the no-feel element becomes so disconcerting that most neophytes give up before they master the manifold virtues of the no-feel presentation.

We didn't pioneer this technique. Its lineage stretches back several decades to the handiwork of the  original masters of finesse, such as Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri,  Charlie Brewer of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and Chuck Woods of Kansas City. For example, back in the 1960s Hibdon and Woods used to retrieve a small black marabou jig so delicately that it seemed hover in a state of suspension, and their presentation style was so subtle that it was devoid of the sense of feel. Hibdon used to call this lack of feel "the natural way," and he never embellished with any extra action. When Charlie Brewer retrieved one of his Slider Jig rigs, he used what he called a tight-line and do-nothing technique, which allowed the jig to fall and swim naturally while he held his rod steady and slowly revolved the handle of his spinning reel.

Nowadays, we still use the do-nothing presentation of Brewer, Hibdon and Woods  — especially when we are retrieving a grub. But more than ninety percent of the time, we shake our rods rather than hold them steady. Some times the shakes are slight and intermittent.  At other times they are vigorous and constant.  The secret of each outing often centers upon determining the type of shakes that are the most productive.

In our Kansas reservoirs, we always cast either to the shoreline or a bed of submerged vegetation. We prefer to make a 30- to 40-foot cast that is virtually perpendicular to the boat.  If an angler's cast lands too far ahead or behind the boat, the subtleness of his  retrieve gets impaired. And on a windy outing, it is often best to shorten the cast to less than 30 feet.

We execute the swim-and-glide retrieve by holding the rod at the two-o'clock position, but if the wind creates a bow in our lines, we drop the rod to the four-o'clock position. As soon as the lure hits the water, we begin shaking the rod as the jig falls towards the bottom.  We beginning the retrieve by slowly turning the reel handle when the jig is a foot from the bottom, and we try to keep the jig slowly swimming a foot above the bottom. The glide component comes in when we stopped turning the reel handle and allow the jig to move smoothly towards the bottom, and then we commence the swim when the jig is a foot off the bottom. On some shorelines that have erratic or regular features, it is difficult to keep the jig swimming a foot off the bottom; therefore, we have to test its depth by allowing the jig to glide to the bottom before we commence the swimming motif.

Our hop-and-bounce retrieve is achieved by holding the rod at the same position that we do on the swim and glide. After we cast,  we shake the rod as the jig falls to the bottom. Once it bounces on  the bottom, we hop it off the bottom by rotating the reel handle twice, and as it falls back to the bottom, we shake the rod.

The drag-and-dead-stick presentation is normally performed by the angler in the back of the boat.  He casts the jig towards the shoreline and allows it to fall to the bottom. His rod is held at the three-o'clock position, and he merely drags the jig slowly across the bottom as the boat moves along the shoreline. The angler often drags the jig until it is behind the boat. As he drags it, he occasionally shakes his rod, and periodically he takes some line off his reel, creating several feet of slack line, which allows the jig to lie dead still on the bottom for five seconds. This is our deepest presentation; at times it plummets into 12 feet of water or deeper.  It works best when the bass are tentative and feeding along the bottom.

The drag-and-shake retrieve is most effective when the bass are foraging primarily on the bottom. During this retrieve, the rod is held at the three- to five-o'clock.  The bait is moved by  slowly turning the reel handle as the angler subtly shakes the rod.

The straight swim is primarily executed with a 4-inch Muy Grub or a turbo-tailed grub. It is our long-cast tactic, and some casts reach 60 feet — especially when the wind is at our backs.  We retrieve it at a variety of depths and speeds, depending on the disposition and position of the bass.  It is particularly effective when bass are piscivorous and foraging on wind-blown shorelines, inhabiting massive patches of submerged vegetation, or pursuing suspended baitfish across massive clay or silt flats.  We occasionally enhance the retrieve with some shakes and subtle pauses, but we primarily swim it, as Charlie Brewer would, while holding our rods from two to four  o'clock.

When all is well at the reservoirs that stipple northeastern Kansas, these no-feel finesse presentations will garner more than 25 black bass strikes an hour, but even during the most trying circumstances, we normally elicit 10 black bass strikes an hour. In our eyes, it is a delightful way for recreational anglers to pursue black bass, as well as a potpourri of other species, in small, stained and heavily fished waterways all across the continent.

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