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Finesse Icy Water

December Open Water is bone-chilling cold air temperatures can freeze water on your rods ferrules

Presently December weather conditions in the Northeastern section of the United States offers anglers a variety of water locations when it comes to deciding which body of water to target. River systems offer open water, larger and deeper lakes all appear to be wide open as well. While, smaller lakes show signs of scattered thin layers of ice, they too may be fished.

However, be forewarned water at ramps most likely will have a thin layer of ice when launching. Push poles or oars will aid in opening the ice for travel, while a bucket of sand spread on icy ramps makes for easy and safe launching or retrieval. (Most ramps will not have sand anglers need to bring salt-free sand with them.)

My survey has revealed December northeast water temperatures vary depending upon the size of the water impoundment. Remember larger/deeper water areas warm up slower and cool down slower, while smaller/shallow bodies of water do just opposite they will warm up faster but cool down faster. Lake Cobbosseecontee in Maine and the St. Lawrence River in upper state New York for example are registering water temperatures ranging in the mid-high forties, yet smaller lakes seem to be settling in the high thirties to low forty-degree range. Bottom line for anglers all species are becoming more lethargic, this in turn calls for anglers to make adjustments to changing conditions.

There are three basic techniques I turn to when water temperatures register within the high thirty to low-forty degree range, and all three include downsizing baits, line, and lure presentation!

1. Finesse Drop-Shot:

Trick ShotZ

Color Choices:

Match the prevailing forage, shad, perch, gobies, alewife's etc.
Bad Shad, Green Pumpkin Goby, Meat Dog, White Lighting, Coppertreuse


I spool my spinning reel with Seaguar 15 lb. Smackdown Braid (4 lb. Mono EQV. Dia.), and tie this to a #6 Barrel Swivel. The barrel swivel eliminates line twist plus adds a slight amount of weight allowing the drop-shot rig to fall a bit faster. I utilize Seaguar Finesse Fluorocarbon 6.2 or 7.3 lb. for my leader, which is usually the length of my rod.

Here is where I vary from the traditional drop-shot hook! I want my Z-Man TRICK SHOTZ to have more of a horizontal posture with a slight upward vertical rise on the flat tail section. I achieve this with a Drop Shot Fish Head hook size large for either the 3.5" or 4.2" TRICK SHOTZ. Leader length depends on where my Lowrance sonar reveals the location of the bait/bass. I prefer a 'Tear-Drop' style weight varying the weight size to the depth and wind conditions.


Before making a cast, spray your line and rod ferrules with 'Reel Magic', this in turn will help eliminate the build up of ice on your rod ferrules plus allow your line to flow smoother. (Repeated applications will be needed) My Drop-Shot rod is St Croix's 6'10" Medium Light Extra Fast Legend Tournament Bass Series, rigged as listed above. More often than not I maneuver my Bass Cat directly over my target, open my bale and then watch my bait on my Lowrance sonar as it falls to the target. Once on target flip your bale with your hand, not the handle of your reel. (Turning the handle will but a twist in your line, another reason for the barrel swivel.) Tighten the slack line pointing your rod down and to the side. Remember it's cold and you will be wearing gloves, all of your sensitivity will be from your line to your rod. (www.stcroixRods.com)

Watch for any line movement, as most bites will be so soft you will not feel them. When a bite is detected, your rod is in position for a smooth sweeping hook-set. Water cannot be compressed it is displaced therefore there is always underwater movement. Add in the inherent buoyant properties of ElaZtech plastic and your Z-Man Trick ShotZ has a very natural realistic action. If you just hold your rod still and don't impart any rod movement!

Rigged on the Drop Shot Fish Head hook the Trick ShotZ tail entices with a gentle quivering waving action. When reeling in your bait, stop and pause as you retrieve it through suspended bait/bass. Many times this dead sticking stop will encourage lethargic bass to take your bait.

River Smallmouth bass drop-shotting, December water temperature 42 degrees

2. Finesse Shakey Head:


The 3" ribbed body of the TRD HogZ is extremely versatile small creature bait. Designed with all the features of larger creature baits. The TRD HogZ makes for the perfect Finesse Shakey head bait when impelled on the Z-Man 1/10 oz. NEDLOCKZ HD jigheads. When water temperatures drop into the low forties and high thirties, most plastics become stiff and lifeless. Not so with Z-Man ElaZtech plastic they continue to remain alive, imparting supple natural buoyant movement.


An excellent drop-shot bait, the slender shad profile of the Z-Man Finesse ShadZ has become one of my favorites Z-Man Finesse baits when rigged on a Finesse ShroomZ Jighead. The slightest movement causes an enticing wiggle on the slender tail.

Watch this Z-Man Video and you will see why!!!


2.75" TRD TubeZ is my third choice for Shakey Head Finesse baits. Like the TRD HogZ I pair the Z-Man TRD TubeZ with NedlockZ HD jigheads. The Mustad hook on the NedlockZ HD is extremely sharp with excellent holding power. Additional attracting features include a hollow body that emits bubbles on a spiral fall, while the salt impregnated soft body with ElaZtech tentacles come alive just standing vertical on the bottom. Like it's cousin the TRD HogZ the TRD TubeZ works best when applying a dead-stick application.


Mention the word Ned Rig bait, the Finesse TRD is first in line. Measuring 2.75" the straight body has an irresistible feature that simply appeals to all game fish. There is literally no wrong way to fish the Finesse TRD. However, during the cold lethargic period dead-sticking the TRD by allowing the ElaZtech plastic buoyant properties to naturally raise the Finesse TRD will encourage more bites.

Note: I have found Largemouth bass prefer the Green Pumpkin Orange TRD's.



As with my Drop-Shot technique I highly recommend using spinning tackle for several reasons. Obviously, light line applications work much better and smoother with spinning gear, plus spinning reels eliminate using your hand on the reel when casting, thus keeping you much dryer and warmer. Sensitivity plays a major role in your hookup ratio spinning gear increases this when wearing gloves!

My choice of rods for all four finesse jighead baits is St. Croix's 7'1" Medium Fast Mojo Bass spinning rod. The longer length allows for longer cast plus more parabolic action to play out hard fighting smallmouth bass or an occasional walleye on light line! Once again I spool Seaguar 15 lb. Smackdown braid as my main line and tie directly to 6 lb. Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader the approximate length of my rod. However, if I am targeting largemouth bass within deep green vegetation, I change my leader to 8 lb. Tatsu. The extra strength allows for popping or shaking these jighead baits out of the vegetation with fewer breakoffs. (www.Seaguar.com)

I try to target all my cast to specific structure changes such as a flat with a sudden drop-off, humps, tapering points, isolated rock piles or large boulders and as I mentioned above deep green vegetation...This area can be very productive especially if it has rocks or you mark baitfish on your sonar!

Again, watch for any line movement, as most bites will be so soft you will not feel them. When a bite is detected, have your rod in position for a smooth sweeping hook-set. Remember water cannot be compressed it is displaced therefore there is always underwater movement. Let the inherent buoyant properties of ElaZtech plastic in your Z-Man baits apply their magic with natural realistic action.

3. Finesse Jigs:

Power Finesse Jig 1/4, 3/8 oz.:

Z-Man's David Walker CrossEyeZ Power Finesse Jig

When cold water temperatures drop-into the low forties-high thirty degree range never under estimate the power of a Finesse Jig to change a slow day into an awesome day! During the cold 'Icy Water' period on two separate outings a small finesse jig worked painfully slow by dissecting every minute piece of cover simply inching it along the bottom worked tremendously...Once for smallmouth bass and once for largemouth bass!

My fishing partner Charlie Jutras caught this 6 lb. Largemouth on a 3/8 oz. Black/Blue Finesse Jig with shorten trimmed trailer in 24 feet of water, water temp. 40 degrees. We located an old bridge with scatter trees on our Lowrance Down Scan Sonar

Z-Man 1/4 or 3/8 oz. Power Finesse CrossEyeZ Jig
Trailer: Z-Man Black/Blue Flake BatwingZ 3.5"

Tip on Trimming Batwing Trailer:

Using scissors cut off the tail section just behind where the claws meet the body. This will leave you with the head and claw sections. Now run the point of the 1/4 oz. CrossEyeZ jig hook down the center of the body and continue until the clip barb comes out the nose. Now you have the BatwingZ held by the jig clip barb perfectly in the center allowing for natural movement of the BatwingZ claws due to the ElaZtech plastics buoyant properties.

ShroomZ Micro Finesse Jig 1/8, 3/16 oz.:

On the Finesse ShroomZ Jig, I do a very similar modification with my TRD HogZ trailer. Once again using scissors for a clean smooth cut I trim off the tail section just behind the middle side leg. Then slide the trimmed TRD HogZ unto the Finesse ShroomZ and exit the hook where the twin tails are attached on the side of the TRD HogZ body.


This is a light set up for which I usually will go with straight 6.2 Seaguar Finesse Fluorocarbon tied directly to my Finesse ShroomZ Jig. I opt for the 3/16 oz. size most of the time, and if there is a slight breeze or I am targeting deep water I am already rigged and ready. My spinning rod is a St. Croix 6'10" Medium Light action, which is also one I utilize for drop-shotting. The Z-Man ShroomZ Jig will stand on its head, allowing the 10% Silicone shirt to open wide revealing the small quivering twin tails of the TRD HogZ.

My retrieve is with a side movement of my rod not my reel. When a bite is detected its imperative to impart the same sweeping hook-set as you do when drop-shotting. Remember the Finesse ShroomZ Jig has a small thin hook, which will easily set itself with a smooth upward sweep. It was during a late December trip to the St. Lawrence River in New York where I discovered the outstanding attraction smallmouth bass had towards small finesse jigs with miniature size trailers.

Black/Blue 3/8 oz. Power Finesse CrossEyeZ Jig with Z-Man Black/Blue 3.5" trimmed BatwingZ
3/16 oz. ShroomZ Finesse Jig Candy Craw with Trimmed TRD HogZ The Deal
Z-Man 3.5 " Bad Shad Trick ShotZ on Shad color Drop Shot Fish Head

Remember to experiment with a variety of Z-Man Baits, as trailers, drop-shot and shakey/jighead baits. These are the Z-Man Baits that have worked for me, but many certainly can be interchanged within techniques. I hope these rigs and techniques will be successful for you as they have been for me.

Remember 'Just Have Fun'
Billy 'Hawkeye' Decoteau

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