The Art of Doing Nothing

I was about fourteen years old when I got my first baitcasting reel, and like many newbies, I had my share of “overruns” (some call them “backlashes”, us PROS stick to “overruns”). On one particularly tough day as I threw a plastic worm to the base of a dam on the water management impoundment, an “oopsie” occurred and I found myself picking at loops while my lure sank to the bottom. As I picked at them for probably a minute while muttering a few choice and probably inappropriate words, those loops grew tighter and tighter. But finally, I made the one magic tug which loosened everything up and fixed the issue. I finally cranked up all the slack only to find a bass was making off with my Jelly Worm.

I told my buddy, “Wow, that was neat!”

A little bit later, and with no more bites at all, my fishing friend made a cast towards the same dam, and for whatever reason decided it was time for a dip of Skoal. He fiddled around with the can, finally got a “pinch between his cheek and gum”, tightened up on his Jelly Worm, and low and behold, a bass grabbed the bait. Wow.

Wait a minute. Maybe we were on to something?

As it turns out, we were. Our tough day turned around abruptly as we started letting our plastic worms set for several seconds before we began a retrieve. Many of the bass we caught picked up the worm before we did anything with it, and the time frame was generally the same. The rest of them hit the bait as soon as we moved it, but the bait had to lay inert for ten seconds or so first.

By the time afternoon rolled around the bass went back to biting “normally”, but I never forgot the lesson of letting the bait lie on the bottom for a spell on those tough days.

As it turns out, we weren’t the geniuses we thought we were. This technique is known as “Deadsticking” and was nowhere near new. But it is a great one at times.

The big thing about Deadsticking is knowing first, WHEN to do it, then HOW LONG should anglers let the sleeping bait lie? I’m sorry to say there are no set answers.

I have learned this technique works all year long. It’s as viable in the heat of summer as it is in the coldest part of winter. It works in all depths. I’ve done it with a jigging spoon in forty-five feet of water, and for a spawning bass with a plastic tube less than a foot deep. In fact, it can be used with a variety of lures, and is a go-to for me with the plastic worm, jig and grubs. What it does take is patience and confidence in the technique, and the only way to build confidence is for an angler to give it a fair shot.

Post-cold front conditions are probably the best times for an angler to give Deadsticking a try. The scenario above was under those conditions. Thunderstorms had blown through the night before, leaving mile-high skies (and high pressure) in their wake. By afternoon, when the bass started hitting more aggressively, the winds moved to the south, and a few puffy clouds moved back in, signaling the passage of the high pressure.

Of course, cool-weather cold fronts can have more of an effect on bass, so cool-water fishing lends itself even more to the Deadsticking method. In fact, it’s a rare day, when fishing cold water, I don’t incorporate some form of Deadsticking. 

Anglers fishing a suspending jerkbait in cold water, and letting it set for seconds upon seconds between twitches is nothing more than a form of Deadsticking. Another version is the old-fashioned method of letting a topwater lure set after the cast until “the ripples all disappear”. It’s all the same thing.

Deadsticking is not a technique for finding bass. Not in the least. Anglers must know bass are in the area first, or it may be a very long and frustrating day on the water. This method is best employed when anglers have been catching bass, and for whatever reason the bass have shut down. This is when Deadsticking shines.

Keep in mind, Deadsticking doesn’t necessarily have to be done at the very start of the cast. In fact, I include it as part of my retrieve by simply “killing” the lure and letting it lie for a bit, maybe several times during a retrieve. When I encounter an obstacle under the water, such as a rock, or a brushpile, anything I think may hold a bass nearby, is when I’ll stop my bait and try to wait out a bass.

This is also a killer technique when fishing pressured waters. When everyone else is chunkin’ and windin’, a lure left standing in a bass’s face may be more than a bass can stand.

Deadsticking. Doing nothing. It’s a proven idea I incorporate on a regular basis in my bass fishing. With a little patience, I think any angler will find it also works for them.

Oh yeah- that day with the plastic worms was not the first time this deal had worked for me. About a month earlier, fishing with the same friend in a small pond near where he lived, I got a backlash (yep, this one was a backlash) when my buzz bait caught some wind as buzz baits sometimes do. It stopped its trajectory, but the spool on my baitcaster didn’t and I had a spaghetti mess. I picked at it for several minutes before I got it figured out, and when I had reeled all the slack up, well, you guessed it- I had a bass chomping down on my Lunker Lure. At the time I chalked it up to dumb luck, or maybe a dumb bass.

But now I know better.

See you on the water,

Dale Verts

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