Wintertime Strolling for Shallow-water Largemouth Bass

Wintertime Strolling for Shallow-water Largemouth Bass
Brady Cayton of Emporia, Kansas, with one of the largemouth bass that he caught by strolling a Z-Man Fishing Products green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to a 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head Jig.

In several of our Midwest finesse logs in November and December, we noted that we had spent a lot of time executing a presentation that is called strolling. 

After several of these logs were circulated on the Finesse News Network, Mike Poe of Siler City, North Carolina, who is one of the original members of the Finesse News Network, asked us two questions about strolling: "How does strolling work? What are you doing boat control wise? I envision a movement of the lure via trolling motor or drifting."

Because strolling has played such a critical role in our wintertime Midwest finesse presentations during the past couple years, Poe suggested that we should alert other anglers to its effectiveness. To accomplish that task, we pirated much of what we wrote in a column entitled "Six Midwest Finesse Retrieves."

Straightway, we must add a proviso by saying that we do not know if strolling is an effective wintertime tactic in reservoirs outside of northeastern Kansas and northwestern Missouri, and in waterways that are not graced with massive patches of curly-leaf pondweeds and coontail on the mud flats in the upper reaches of the feeder-creek arms. But we found it to be fairly effective at a power-plant reservoir in northeastern Kansas, where we have strolled several shallow bluffs, flat points, a submerged roadbed, and a shallow mud-flat that is embellished with a submerged creek channel.

Strolling is a tactic that we began adding to our repertoire after several of the flatland reservoirs in northeastern Kansas were waylaid by the largemouth bass virus, which caused the largemouth bass populations to plummet. At times — especially during the winter after the ice melts and until the water begins to warm up from the low 40s to the mid-40s and it is at its best in February — vast numbers of largemouth bass at these reservoirs spend a lot of time moseying around shallow mud flats. Some of these flats are massive, constituting the size of five or more football fields, and before the largemouth bass virus arrived, it was relatively easy to locate a large aggregation or two of largemouth bass on these massive flats. But as the largemouth bass population dwindled, it took a lot more searching and time to locate them. Ultimately, we found that strolling was an efficient method for locating, as well as catching, largemouth bass on these big and shallow flats, which are covered with two to eight feet of water.

Strolling is at its best when there are three finesse anglers in the boat. Then we execute the stroll by having the angler in the back of the boat make a long cast directly behind the boat. The angler who is in the middle of the boat makes a cast across the port side or left side of the boat at a 45-degree angle towards the back of the boat. The angler in the front of the boat, who is manipulating the electric trolling motor, makes a cast across the starboard or right side of the boat and at a 45-degree angle towards the back of the boat. The angler in the back of the boat holds his rod at the two- to three-o'clock positions, and the other two anglers hold their rods at the four- to five-o'clock positions. After the casts, the lures are allowed to drop to the bottom, and the electric trolling motor is used to propel the boat methodically and slowly around and across the shallow mud flats, as the lures are dragged or strolled along the bottom. Once the lures on the port and starboard sides of the boat get directly behind the boat, the anglers reel them in and make another 45-degree-angle cast and continue the strolling motif. After the angler in the back of the boat makes his initial cast, he doesn't have to make another one; instead, he strolls his lure directly behind the boat nonstop. At times, the anglers add some occasional shakes to their lures — especially when the lures are being strolled across some patches of budding curly-leaf pondweed or other kinds of submersed aquatic vegetation. And by allowing the line to flow quickly off the spool of the spinning reel, anglers can execute a deadsticking motif every once in a while.

Most of the time when we are strolling these mud flats, we find and catch the bass in three to five feet of water, and in the wintertime, we have found that a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ affixed to either a 1/32-ounce or 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig is the most effective lure to stroll. The second most effective lure is a shortened Z-Man's green-pumpkin Hula StickZ on a 1/16-ounce chartreuse Gopher jig.

This is a Z-Man's green-pumpkin Finesse ShadZ and a chartreuse 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. This is the best shallow-water strolling combo that we have used in northeastern Kansas. (In order to not harm the bass that we catch, we remove the barb from the hook, but we failed to do that with this jig.)

Once we locate a significant concentration of cold-water largemouth bass on these shallow mud-flats, we stop strolling and begin experimenting with the other five Midwest finesse retrieves. And if there are three anglers in the boat, none of us use the same retrieve until we discern which of the five other Midwest finesse retrieves is the most alluring. It is interesting to note that there were will be several February outings when we garner two and three strikes during a retrieve, and we are not able to hook a strike until we pause the retrieve and deadstick the lure for five seconds or so. Besides experimenting with all of the Midwest finesse retrieves, we test a variety of soft-plastic lures and colors until we can determine the most alluring of the lot. 

After we catch and release vast quantities of largemouth bass from one of these large aggregations, our catch rate will peter out. Once that occurs, we start strolling again until we cross paths with another substantial group of cold-water largemouth bass.

There will be outings -- especially as the water warms up and the massive concentrations of wintertime largemouth bass break up -- when we fail to cross paths with big groups of largemouth bass. On those break-up outings, which we also call scattering outings, we either stroll for single specimens or cast and retrieve for them. And if it is a cold and blustery late-winter day, we have found that strolling is an easier and more effective method to employ than casting and retrieving, but even then anglers should take some time to cast and experiment with the other five Midwest finesse retrieves at locales that are not extremely windblown.


In addition to strolling for wintertime largemouth bass, here are some other times that it be used throughout the calendar year:

(1) The stroll is an effective presentation to utilize whenever Midwest finesse anglers are plying extensive swaths of riprap, and along those stretches of riprap, it allures largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass.

(2) In northeastern Kansas, Midwest finesse anglers regularly resort to strolling on those days when the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass bites are difficult to locate and catch. 

(3) Whenever there are three Midwest finesse anglers in the boat, the angler in the back of the boat needs to spend some of the time strolling, and there will be days when that angler catches the bulk of the bass.

(4) It is an excellent presentation for novice or young anglers to employ. In fact, it is the primary presentation that several of our grandchildren use. Brady Cayton, who is featured in the photograph at the top of this blog, is one of our grandson, and across his 13 years, he has caught a goodly number of largemouth bass and other species by strolling.

(5) From a psychological viewpoint, we have found that it is best to sit down while strolling. Strolling is often castigated as a boring tactic -- especially when bites are few and far between. But for some reason, sitting allows anglers to be more patient and tolerant with the boredom factor, which can be very acute at times when anglers are standing and strolling and not eliciting many strikes. 

(6) On Jan. 9, Jeremy Smith and James Lindner of Lindners' Angling Edge posted an interesting Facebook video about catching shallow-water largemouth bass under the ice in Minnesota. Here is a link to that video:

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