All you warm water anglers that thought you had to hang up the sticks from Thanksgiving to March, I have an alternative! Some people feel the warm water season has passed and are waiting for the first safe ice to form in the mountains. There is one technique that shines once the water drops below 55 degrees: ďSlabbingĒ or vertically jigging heavy metal straight below the boat. This technique is effective anytime you have fish gathered on bottom structure such as humps or channel slopes, usually in water 30-50 feet deep. But, it really shines during this time period! While most boat anglers are familiar with this, very few embrace it. It is something they are willing to try as a last resort when all else fails.
Why is it so effective now? Our own Pueblo Reservoir
is a classic example. The lake has turned over and walleye
and even wipers
to a lesser extent are schooling on hard bottom areas, usually near the deep channel. This is one of the most predictable patterns of the whole year! The colder water temps have now started to kill off the huge surplus of gizzard shad that made fishing so tough during the summer. They now start dying and fall (flutter) down to a wide range of species, which are more than happy to pick off an easy meal! Pueblo rarely freezes and boat anglers have many mild days during winter to get out and fish. You can also extend the season by traveling south into New Mexico and fishing classic plateau and canyon reservoirs like Ute, Conchas, Caballo, Elephant Butte and Meredith in west Texas.
Most good walleye anglers have a few spoons in their arsenal in case they are forced to slab, but lately it seems blades and jigging raps have become the rage as many have found success with those. But donít forget spoons! There are days when the flutter of a quality spoon will trigger fish that might not bite the other baits. A perfectly fluttering spoon is deadly on most game fish. When shad are the forage, the classic shad shaped Bomber Slab spoon, Hopkins Shorty and the PK Spoon are essentials in every warm water anglerís box! I carry all three, but if I had to choose just one it would be a 1 ounce PK Spoon. Nothing matches the perfectly balanced flutter of a properly jigged PK Spoon. The Ĺ ounce version is my and many other peopleís favorite ice fishing spoon also. To be ready for any condition, I carry a large assortment of sizes from a half ounce up to one and a half ounces for my customers and myself.
While a lot of people use the same jigging rods for spoons that they use for other techniques, I prefer to use tackle that is perfectly matched for the job of popping a one ounce spoon off the bottom in 50 feet of water. And, while a lot of people slab with spinning tackle, I prefer bait casting reels with a flipping switch. The flipping switch allows me to drop a PK Spoon to the bottom by just pushing the thumb bar. As soon as the spoon hits bottom, I lift my thumb and the reel engages again. No bail to mess with when fingers are cold. I pair them with 7-foot-long, medium heavy trigger rods. This gives me plenty of back bone to set the hook in deep water and keep fatigue from setting in by using to light and over matched tackle all day! This setup also doubles nicely as effective bouncer rods in the spring and summer.
In my opinion, the most overlooked aspect of slabbing is the line. I started slabbing about 15 years ago at Glendo Reservoir
in Wyoming. This was before the new array of braided lines dominated the market. One kind gentleman I was fishing with was getting five strikes to my every one! He asked me what pound test mono I was using. He went on to explain that anything under the diameter of 10 lb. test would make the one ounce spoons we were using drop like a rock, instead of fluttering like a dying shad. So while braided lines are great for strike detection on a semi slack line as the spoon falls, make sure it is at least the diameter of 10 lb. test mono! I now fill my reels with 50 lb. Power Pro and a 15 lb. fluorocarbon leader. Not only does this allow you to pop a heavy spoon aggressively if need be, but also lets you recover a lot more snagged spoons than light line.
Finally, is the stroke. I usually start with a hard pop and then experiment with strokes of lesser intensity and let the fish tell you what they like. I also make sure every couple of strokes that my spoon or blade hits bottom and causes bottom sediment to puff up and cause a commotion. Keeping a semi-tight line as the spoon sinks is critical! It is your only chance of feeling a light bite on the way down. Many times, you will find that the fish are just there on the up stroke. Winter slabbing is a great way to beat the winter doldrums and catch some fish. Besides big walleye and smallmouth, donít be surprised if a big channel cat
shows up! Also, if white bass
are present this is one of the best ways to catch them in winter. So, donít hang up the sticks just yet, because some of the most predictable fishing of the year awaits! Not to mention there will be no line at the boat ramp. Itís the season for slabbing!Originally published on Born To Fish Media 2/15/16.
Neal Wilkinson is owner/operator of Rocky Mountain Adventure Guides
as well as the founder and operator of Wiper Addicts.