Keys can vary from lake to lake depending on location, but I will get a general sense that winter is here from the baitfish and the bites of the bass,” he said. “My first indicator is when I have been getting bit shallow and that starts to die off. When that happens, I will start idling around and use my Humminbird electronics to look for the bait. When I see the bait has moved out in that 20 ft range and deeper, I know that the winter pattern has started.”
FIND THE FISH
When the time has come to adjust for these colder months, Gagliardi’s focus will turn from the shallower coves and creek backs that he was fishing in the fall to the path that the bait will use for their winter migrations. “Your major shad movement for the fall would’ve been in the bigger creek arms and they aren’t just going to swim from the creeks back out to the main lake,” he explained. “So, I am still going to be fishing the creeks, but in deeper positions that the fish will travel on. There are a lot of stops for them to make in the creeks and they follow it like a highway to their winter stops. If there is a creek back that you have been catching some fish on and then all of sudden they’re gone. Just follow that creek deeper to the first little niche.”
TIP: Some of the first places that I find fish are in the creek channel drops, out there in the middle where there is still a defined channel. When fishing the channel drops, key in on the edges of those drops.
When determining the depth to fish, Gagliardi observes the water clarity of the area. “In a clear impoundment, the fish will be deeper and in a river-type lake, with a little bit of color they won’t go as deep,” he said. “Spotted bass will be deeper than the largemouth, so if there are spots in the lake, you might want to spend a little time looking at areas that are deeper than you think they will be.”
Gagliardi’s cold weather strategy includes a jig, a spoon and a dropshot. He uses the spoon and the dropshot interchangeably when marking bait on the bottom. “If the fish are more aggressive and down there feeding on that bait, the spoon is a good way to catch a lot of fish quickly, but if the bite is slow, the dropshot may be a better choice,” he said. “A lot of times the spoon bite gets real good in early winter, when the fish are still in the creek and there is still a lot bait there. If I am not fishing bait and focusing on cover and structure then I will use a jig or the dropshot.”
“A plain, old Hopkins spoon is hard to beat, but there are a lot of good ones out there, even the spoons people are making out of their garage are good,” he said. “It is a presentation that is so deep, I really don’t think the fish see it that good anyway. I think its success has more to do with the weight of it. As long as you are fishing with one that has the right size and the right weight, it will work.” Because the spoon is predominately bait oriented, Gagliardi chooses one that offers a similar profile to the predominate baitfish, typically opting for a 1/2 oz to 1 oz spoon. “Ninety percent of the time, I am seeing the fish or the bait or both on the graph and droppin’ straight vertical to them,” he explained. “There are times when I will pitch it out 30 ft or so, but you’re really apt to get hung up when you do that, so there really has to be nothing on the bottom if you fish it that way.”
TIP: If the bottom is clear on shallower drops, position your boat away from the drop and pitch out to it, hopping it down, to avoid getting the boat on top of shallow fish.
“I let the spoon get to the ground and I then instead of ripping it off the bottom, real hard and real fast,” he said. “I fish it with a short flick of the rod, lifting it up 8 or 10 inches, definitely less than a foot and let if fall back down on slack line. I am movin’ only the rod tip by poppin’ my wrist a little bit.”
Gagliardi fishes the spoon in this manner, with a more subtle presentation to decrease fatigue. “I’ve found that they will bite it just as good without puttin’ as near as much effort as you think you have to,” he said. “I like be able to fish it longer, before it starts hurtin’.”
He uses a 7′ medium-heavy rod and ties on with Gamma Edge 14-lb fluorocarbon. “I like a heavier rod to have a pretty good backbone,” he added. “When the fish are out deep, I want a stiffer rod so I can get a hook in ’em long enough to crank down on ’em with my reel and tighten down on ’em.
If there is no visible bait, Gagliardi will turn to a football jig or a Buckeye Mop jig. “This is when you’re just fishing, not looking for fish, but just fishing a rock pile or a brush pile on hard bottom,” he said. “In these cases, I really like rock, any rock. It could be pea gravel, chunk rock or boulders, any rock will do. I am just droppin’ it down and tryin’ to imitate a big crawfish.”
He suggested fishing the jig painstakingly slow. “The colder it is, the slower I fish,” he explained. “I may be moving an inch at a time.”
TIP: Make a full cast past the structure, reel back and then slow down the action when nearing the target.
“With the mop jig, there are big, long, heavy rubber strands,” he said. “Let ’em work for you. That strands on the jig come to life even when you move it an inch or two. When you pause, the strands begin to pulsate as it balloons and that is when you get the benefits of it, making for a big crawfish profile down there. Anytime you can get a bait that is moving, when you’re not moving it, that is a big deal. If you’re throwin’ a topwater and you pause, you just sit dead in the water, lifeless. There is nothing to make a fish think it is alive, but with a jig, it comes to life when it is stationary. That is what will get the strike.”
His jig size depends on depth. If he is 20 ft or shallower, he will go with a 5/8 or 1/2 oz. If he is fishing in the mid 20’s or deeper, he will go with a 3/4 oz jig. His colors for winter are brown or black, black/blue and green pumpkin. He fishes a jig on a 7’6″ heavy flippin’ stick with 16 to 20 lb fluoro.
When the jig bite gets tougher and they fish are not aggressive enough for the spoon, Gagliardi will bring in the dropshot. “A dropshot is an effective lure when around baitfish or when fishing structure,” he said.
He fishes his dropshot on a 6’8″ or 6’10” medium-action Team RainShadow rod. His dropshot setup includes a 1/4 to 3/8 oz cylinder weight, 2/0 offset worm hook and a 4 to 6 inch RoboWorm. “I always gravitate to the green or brown family,” he said. “I keep my bait 8 to 18 inches off the bottom.”
He uses braided line to a fluoro leader, marrying them with a modified Albright Knot. “I fish 6 lb braid to a 6 lb fluoro leader in gin clear water,” he said. “If visibility isn’t much more than 4 or 5 ft, I will throw 10 lb braid to an 8 lb leader. If I am not casting, I will go long with the leader at 10 to 12 foot, so I can break off a few times before putting on a new leader, but if I am casting, like in shallow water, I keep it at about 8 ft, so it doesn’t get caught up when I am reeling.”
TIP: Be prepared to slow down the action of the bait, as the weather gets colder.
He varies the action of the dropshot depending on the target. “When I’m working a general area with the dropshot, I do more holding it still and mostly let the boat and the bottom create the action, letting the bait meander along, doin’ its own thing, but if I am droppin’ down on a fish, I will shake it.”
Anthony Gagliardi has earned the coveted titles of both the FLW Tour Angler of the Year (2006) and the Forrest Wood Cup champion (2014). He has 5 FLW tournament wins, 21 top-10’s and has amassed just under $1,900,000 in FLW career earnings. He is currently designing his own signature series of rods with Team RainShadow.