Articles by John Neporadny Jr. - December
Suspending stickbaits for Lake of the Ozarks hibernating
By John Neporadny Jr.
The older I get the colder I get.
So in recent years I have become more of a fair-weather
fisherman and my winter fishing trips on Lake of the Ozarks have been cut
drastically. However when the weather is tolerable for my old bones I will get
out on the water and throw my favorite wintertime lure—a suspending stickbait.
The suspending stickbait has always been special to me
ever since the first time I tried it with Bruce Gier, a renowned stickbait
specialist at Lake of the Ozarks. Gier introduced me to the suspending stickbait
on March 9, 1989 when the water temperature at Lake of the Ozarks ranged from 37
to 43 degrees that day. We caught 14 keepers that day sweeping a Spoonbill
Rattlin’ Rogue weighted down with lead wire. The bass were suspended 4 to 6
feet deep along docks and edges of milfoil beds on secondary points. That
memorable day and the cold-water tactic Gier showed me was recorded in my first
article ever published in Bassmaster Magazine.
Lure manufacturers have eliminated the need to wrap wire
or glue lead tape on stickbaits by making suspending versions of the original
floating models. Most of today’s suspending stickbaits are neutrally buoyant
when they hit the water, but there are times when I still have to add a
SuspenDot or SuspenStrip to make the lure suspend properly. Before we moved to
our house on the lake, I used to test the neutral buoyancy of my lure by
dropping it into a bucket of water chilled down to the same temperature as the
lake water. However now I just walk down to the dock and drop my stickbait into
the water to see if it suspends.
Lure sizes, colors and styles have changed dramatically
since those early days of suspending stickbait fishing, but the logic behind
this tactic has remained the same throughout the years. Get the lure down to a
certain depth (usually 4 to 8 feet deep) and let it linger in that strike zone
with an occasional series of soft twitches or a short sweep of the rod. The
technique works best in clear water, although I have had some success with bone-
or purple-and-chartreuse stickbaits in stained water.
The style and size of stickbait I use in the wintertime
depends on the water temperature. Most of the time I use a 4- or 5-inch
medium-diver stickbait, but when the water temperature drops below 40 degrees I
will also throw a stickbait with a spoonbill to probe deeper water. In the late
winter and early spring as the water temperature climbs above 45 degrees I will
switch to a 5 1/2-inch Rattlin’ Rogue to tempt the larger prespawn females
looking for a magnum-sized meal.
Color choices on my home waters of Lake of the Ozarks
seem to vary from year to year. One year a brown-and-white Rapala Husky Jerk
worked best for us, but the next year a ghost shad Bass Pro Shops XPS Suspending
Minnow seemed to be the hot lure. The last couple of years I’ve had success on
a brown-gold Ima Flit and purple/chartreuse Spro Lures McStick. Following a
basic formula usually helps me decide which color to start with on any given
day. If the water is clear and it’s a sunny day, I opt for chrome, clown or
translucent hues, but if the weather is cloudy or if the water is off-color I
prefer stickbaits in bone, purple-and-chartreuse, brown-and-white or fire tiger.
The weather also dictates the gear I use for my
stickbait tactics. On extremely windy days or if the air temperature is below
freezing I opt for spinning tackle because I can throw the lightweight stickbait
into the wind without backlashing and the larger guides on the spinning rod and
the open spool of the spinning reel prevents the guides and reel from icing up—a
common occurrence with baitcasting equipment. In most situations, I work the
stickbait with a 5 1/2-foot medium-action Berkley Lightning Rod (with pistol
grip) and a Shimano Curado baitcast reel. I like the shorter rod because it
allows me to point the rod downward and twitch the lure without the rod tip
hitting the water. I also prefer this rod because its light weight reduces
fatigue in my wrists after hours of jerking the stickbait.
Since I normally fish stickbaits in clear water, I scale
down to 8-pound test monofilament, but I also try 10-pound test if I want my
stickbait to stay higher in the water column. If I want the stickbait to dive
deeper I tie it on fluorocarbon since this line absorbs water better and tends
to sink. I have occasionally caught bass on a stickbait that slowly sinks, but
most of the bites I trigger with a stickbait come when the lure has neutral
buoyancy or barely rises. I also like to make sure my stickbait sits level
horizontally or with its nose slightly pointed downward, which I achieve by
placing weight near the bill of the lure or putting a larger hook on the front
I usually vary my retrieve depending on the weather and
water temperature. When I use the deep-diving stickbait in extremely cold water
and bright sunshine, I crank the lure down with about five or six turns of the
reel handle and then employ a series of rod sweeps (moving the rod about 1 foot
at a time) and pauses of about 10 to 15 seconds. Anytime there is a chop on the
water, I opt for the medium-diver, which I also crank down to where it reaches
its maximum depth and then I give the lure two to three slight twitches of the
rod tip before letting it sit for five to 10 seconds. A trick I have learned
from stickbait specialists at Table Rock Lake is to pull the lure a couple of
inches after a long pause to imitate the struggles of a dying shad.
The biggest bass I ever caught on the Lake of the Ozarks
was an 8-pound, 1-ounce largemouth that fell for a suspending stickbait. That’s
probably why the suspense of watching my line as I pause my stickbait warms me
up on a cold winter day because I know that next bite could be from a trophy
For information on lodging and other
facilities at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free vacation guide, call
the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or
visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at www.funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny's book,
"THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide" are available by calling
573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.