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By Pete Rosko
Find the structure to find the fish! Casting a Sonic BaitFish (SBF) into rocky cover can be extremely productive. To reap the reward, however, a disciplined rule must be followed.
This technique was detailed in last month’s Mack Attack Magazine (Oct. 2022) titled “River Fishing the Sonic BaitFish (SBF) with a ‘Rifle.’” Whether fishing rivers, or large expanses of fresh or saltwater, this technique will catch fish when all else fails. This is especially true when fish turn negative because of deteriorating weather patterns.
This past month in Port Angeles (Wash.), I hit the road for Lake Erie walleyes, which is about 2,600 miles away. It was October 4th when I finally arrived at the Tibbels Marina in Marblehead, Ohio. My good friend and skipper for the next several days, Capt. John Tibbels, greeted me with bad weather news.
Just before I arrived, gale-force winds raged for two days. The storm pushed cold water from its deeper eastern end into its shallower and warmer western basin. The result was a water temperature drop of almost ten degrees, as well as muddy water. The fish went into shock!
The first day out greeted us with calm winds, but extremely dirty water over a large area of rocky bottom with depths ranging between 14- to 20-feet. The usually active VHF radios were eerily quiet. We were slow-drifting in a mix of about 20 trollers and other drift boats. The anglers on our boat were casting a variety of spinners and spinner worm harnesses.
For almost four hours, there was no news of any fish being caught. That’s when I changed from being a deckhand to grabbing a spinning rod. One of my favorite metal jigs on Lake Erie is a Sonic BaitFish 1/2 oz. Glow Chartreuse. I made a cast directly down-current to a visual surface target where the boat was headed over rocky structure.
That first cast produced a 24-inch walleye before I had a chance to start bottom-bouncing the jig back to the boat. Because of the muddy water, and low morale of the boats around us, I was actually shocked at catching that walleye. The day ended with the metal jig catching its limit of walleyes. Conversely, my fishing buddies, who were randomly casting spinners tipped with a nightcrawler, never caught a walleye.
The second day went basically the same as the first. Never had I ever recalled my buddies ever being skunked on Lake Erie. But, those two days were some of the very worse conditions in the 75 years that I have fished due to the magnitude of the sudden drop in temperature.
When the walleyes and other fish experience this weather phenomenon, their refuge is absolute bottom, preferably in heavy structure. Keep in mind, trolling and random casting are horizontal presentations. Fish will not rise out of their structure to strike a lure out of their comfort zone.
Conversely, the casting technique with a metal jig (SBF) is primarily a vertical presentation. It’s like a Montana ferret going down a hole in search of prairie dogs in their tunnel system. Especially during periods of calm water, methodically bouncing a SBF through structure holding fish is deadly, even when negatively affected by poor water conditions. This is the only technique that can reverse an otherwise hopeless day on the water.
This casting technique is best accomplished with spinning tackle, including a reel filled with 20-lb. braided main line. I, personally, use Suffix braid with 2- to 3-feet of 15-17 lb. Suffix fluorocarbon leader attached to the braided line on one end and a duo-lock snap (enclosed in the SBF package) to its terminal end. This snap should be attached to the nose of the SBF to maximize its action.
My lightweight spinning rod is a 6- or 6 1/2-foot long with a fast-action tip and medium-heavy butt section (G. Loomis IMX). It is the same rod that I use for casting small Sonic BaitFish and heavy enough to handle Chinook salmon. This rod has excellent sensitivity for me to feel a small SBF being gently bounced through the rocks. This is critical for knowing where you lure is and what it’s doing! You cannot feel this with a flimsy rod spooled with stretchy monofilament main line.
Once you cast your SBF down current into the direction of your boat’s drift, permit your lure to reach bottom on a tight line. Then, methodically bottom-bounce your SBF back to the boat by working your rod only with your wrist — no arm or shoulder action. Interchange a lift of the rod tip with a half or full turn of your reel, depending on the speed of your drift or the speed of the current. Again, it is critical to keep feeling bottom until your lure reaches and passes your boat until bottom is no longer felt.
At times, fish will follow the lure and the strike will occur when your lure reaches the boat and its swim-jig action becomes a pure vertical jig action — the very best action to trigger strikes.
Because your lure’s hook is constantly striking hard structure, the hook point will be dull. To test your hook sharpness, if the hook doesn’t stick into your fingernail, as it slides across the nail, it must be lightly sharpened with a fine-tooth file until its sharp point is restored.
In case your lure becomes snagged, wait until your boat passes over the opposite side of the snag where it can be recovered. A lighter-weight SBF will flutter and swim though the structure. A heavier SBF will dive and snag in the structure. Fish with the lightest-weight SBF that can still be easily cast and easily felt, working against the structure.
Always try to keep your rod tip pointed at your down current target while casting and retrieving in order to keep a tight line. This maximizes your feel of the working lure and your hooksets. It’s like aiming your rifle at a specific target. Pointing your rod tip sideways to the target results in reduced feel of what your lure is doing. Casting in the direction where your boat is headed will cause your lure to reach bottom faster than any other directional cast. I have used this technique effectively in depths ranging between 5 and 75 feet of water. When the wind comes up, or when the current runs stronger, this technique will save the day.
As Jerry Wright said to me, “once you start fishing like this, the results will blow your mind!” See you next month. — Capt. Pete Rosko