Wintertime Slabbing

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Heat up your cold weather fishing by mastering the heavy-weight bait.....THE SLAB!

Most anglers hang up their gear as the last few autumn leaves drop from their branches and the crisp fall air turns to the cold of winter, only to dream about what the distant spring will bring. For some, however, blustery conditions are not a signal to stop fishing, but a time to modify tactics. Choose the right one, and the action will keep you braving the weather all season.

An excellent cold-water technique, and one that often out-fishes all others during late fall and winter, is vertically jigging heavy slabs of metal designed to imitate baitfish - better known in bass fishing circles as slabbing.

Slabs have lots of potential when the weather heads south, but haphazardly dropping one to the bottom is a sure-fire path to frustration. There are several basics methods, and a few details you must master before you can consider yourself a proficient slabber. Luckily, it doesn't take long to learn to fish these molded pieces of steel properly - especially when instructed by one of the best there is at Slabbing up bass.

1. Know When To Slab

Slabbing is like all other bass fishing techniques - if you do it long enough you will eventually catch a fish or two. There are times and situations, however, when specific baits and approaches out-perform all others. Knowing when to Slab is your first step toward success.

Any time the water dips below 60 degrees is a good rule-of-thumb for pulling out your Slabs, but don't rely completely on temperature, because schooling fish are the key. "Let the bass tell you when they want it (Slab), because there are times when they'll school up and eat Slabs, even when the water is still in the 60s. When scouting for fish, look for concentrations of bass on points and in the backs of creek channels – when you find them there, it's time to Slab ‘em up.

2. Proper Gear, Proper Rigging

You locate a school of bass, tie on a Slab, drop it to the bottom and catch fish, right? Maybe. But having the right gear and rigging your Slabs correctly will increase the odds of filling that livewell.

Start off with a six to seven-foot rod, and make sure it's ultra-sensitive. Bass seldom whack a Slab, so you will need to be able to feel the subtlest changes in your bait's action. I would suggests spooling your reel with 15-pound test fluorocarbon, unless you're fishing deeper than 60-feet, when braided line will provide a little more sensitivity. Super sharp treble hooks are also a must - for added action use one with a bucktail dressing. The bucktail actually slows the action of the Slab.

3. Simple Colors

The real attraction when it comes to Slab fishing, at least to bass, is the flash that these lures produce. For the most part, White Slabs are a good choice. But at times, fish seem to want  Chartuse  - especially whenever clouds are blocking the sun."  There's really no need to be extravagant, but if you want to try , Chrome, or nickel plated, orange or any other color for that matter, go ahead. The most important thing when it comes to Slab fishing is confidence, and if it works for you, use it.

4. Understand Your Electronics

You can buy the best electronics in the world (and you definitely have to own quality equipment for this type of fishing), but if you don't know how to use your sonar you probably won't catch many bass. "It's paramount to have top-of-the-line electronics for Slabbing, because with a good fish-finder you can actually tell if a bass is looking at your Slab, and you should be able to see them hit it about half of the time."

Set your electronics with the "grayline" feature turned on and a tight school of bait will show up as a dark splotch with a gray band running through it. Be ready for fast action if you see larger fish (bass) hanging below, or to the back of the school. When I have a big ball of bait go across my graph, I usually get bit after it moves off the graph. Bass trailing a ball of bait pick-off weak or injured fish as they drop out of the school - don't crank in your lure just because you don't see the bait anymore.

5. Find The Bait

Once you're comfortable with your electronics, it's time to find some baitfish - particularly bait that bass are corralling into tight balls, and may emhasize the word tight. Don't waste your time on scattered baitfish, regardless of how big the school, because there is nothing trying to eat them.

Start your search at major points leading into creeks, and while keeping an eye on your sonar, crisscrosses the channel and work toward the back. Try to notice where the bait is holding, whether they're suspended, on the bottom or right on the bank. If you don't find bait in the main channel, check secondary points and feeder creeks.

6. Locate Ambush Points

Schools of baitfish are always on the move, and although it's possible to follow a ball of bait around, knowing where bass hold to wait for food to come to them will save you a lot of trouble. This is especially true when fishing several different areas, or on multiple days - you can go directly to a spot rather than spending time searching an entire area.

Key ambush points to look for include break lines, rock piles and submerged brush or trees that lie along creek channels. Remember that one of my favorite areas is where feeder creeks drop into main channels. There are times when you have to wait for the bait to show up, I have waited for the bait to show up for two hours. The bait finally came through, then the bass came through and I caught ten keepers in the amount of time it would take you to snap your fingers."

7. Look For Reaction Strikes

Even though Slabs are typically used when the fishing is tough, they are still reaction-type baits that capitalize on active bass. But dropping your Slab to bass feeding on tight schools of bait does not guarantee a strike. When fish know there is something wrong (like this thing isn't real), they get a negative cue and will not eat. Compare this behavior to bass exposed to countless presentations in casting tanks at fishing seminars - they may follow the presenters offering closely, but rarely hit it.

Watch your sonar closely and you may see a fish move to your Slab on the initial drop, and then disappear. When you see bass exhibiting this behavior it's time to reel in and try again. I'll hop it. only a minute or two, but if nothing happens I bring it up, move a little bit then drop it right down again and hope to get that reaction strike. A lot of folks over work a slab, looking for that reaction strike, when just holding the slab a feet off the bottom produces fish!

8. Tune In To Your Bait's Action

Different Slabs have different actions, dependent on their weight and shape, and it's up to you to rely on the bass to let you know what they want. The action of Slabs fall into two categories, Those with a straight drop and ones that have lots of wobble." As examples,  a standard Hopkins Slab sinks fast with a straight drop type of flutter, while the shape of a Sooner Slab has a very distinctive wobble as it falls relatively slowly. When bass ignore what you're using, throw them a curve by changing to a different type of Slab. I change from the Regular Sooner to the Sooner Sidewinder changing the speed of movement.       

  Sooner Slab Page

9. Never Lose Contact

Very Important for Sucess! Ninety-nine percent of pick-ups come when Slabs are fluttering to the bottom. And fish don't hold on long! If you don't keep in contact with your Slab, you may never feel a bass take it. Every Slab has its own characteristic feel. Be comfortable with each type that you own, so you'll sense even the slightest change - always set the hook if you feel anything different.

Even with the most sensitive equipment and excellent technique, some Slab bites are so light they are undetectable to the touch. You have to know what depth you're in, and if that Slab stops six-inches, a foot, even three-inches early and your line starts to coil on the water, you set that hook." Any delay may cost you a fish.

10. Experiment With Different Techniques

Some anglers claim that the little things don't make a difference. But bass are finicky, and how you work a Slab, often times, does matter. Slabs are versatile - work them subtly, aggressively and every way in between, until the bass tell you what they want, that day.

The most refined method of Slabbing, and the one that takes the most faith and patience, is dead-sticking. If the water is real clear, get the Slab down there, rip it up a couple of times then let it lie there - the fish know that thing is there and eventually eat it right off the bottom or hanging a few feet off the bottom!"

There are occasions when bass want a Slab that is hopping up-and-down only an inch or two, and other times when fish want it ripped up several feet. A lot of the time I do a double clutch - jerk, jerk, or I'll jerk a foot and drop it, jerk six-inches and drop it, then jerk two-feet and drop it." Regardless of the cadence you use, the important thing is to mix it up until you know what the bass are looking for. The proof is in the livewell! Just For Fishn'
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