Our Outdoors: Horizontal presentations
Have you ever watched the way minnows move? When I was in Grand Forks, N.D., at school, I had multiple chances to jump the Red River into East Grand Forks, Minn., and watch as trout, bass and pike preyed upon minnows that the staff had dumped in the large central aquarium at the Cabela's store. My observation of these baitfish, and others in the wild, revealed a distinctive behavior of most minnows that changed the way I fish.
Rarely, if ever, do baitfish swim in a vertical direction. Horizontal hovering and quick darting make up about 99 percent of a minnow's movements. Sure, they might angle up or swim downward from time to time, but never is it a "straight" turn of 90 degrees. It is more like 10 to 15 degrees, tops. Most of the time, baitfish are belly-down, back-up and holding horizontal, balanced by their flitting pectoral fins and tails.
From these observations, I adapted many of my angling presentations to trigger fish like walleye and crappie, which feed predominantly on baitfish. These adjustments have been made across presentations using jigs, soft baits and stick baits alike.
Twelve o'clock high
To get the most horizontal presentation when using a standard ball head jig -- or a specialty jig like a banana head jig -- the key is to make sure the knot is placed at the 12 o'clock position. Whether tied with a Palomar or an improved clinch knot, the connection point should be made and repositioned as needed at the top of the jig eye. This distributes the weight evenly from a balancing point.
When dressing a jig with a curlytail grub or other plastic which might weigh the back end of the lure down, consider adjusting the knot to the 11 o'clock position. This repositioning counteracts the added weight and, depending on how the jig is worked through the water column, keeps it more horizontal.
When casting a jig to a known school of fish, like white bass or crappie, it is best to cast beyond them and allow the jig to sink almost to the level of the school. Start the retrieve just before the lure reaches the level of the fish. The vertical fall of the lure will level out with just a few turns of the reel handle, and the lure takes on a more natural horizontal presentation as it approaches the school. Keep the bait moving just fast enough to remain horizontal with the rod tip high as the bait goes just over or through the waiting fish. Slight twitches will mimic the darting movements of minnows as the lure glides through the feeding zone.
Low weight soft baits
Horizontally presented soft baits have been all the rage in recent seasons; these baits that fall horizontally with a tantalizingly subtle wiggle are proven fish-catchers. For most of them, it is as simple as Texas-rigging on a 3/0 worm hook with little or no weight.
These baits can also be darted along like a jig and given a slow horizontal glide, like a dying minnow. Even tubes can be rigged with a tiny bullet sinker of 1/64 ounce to give them a little bit of sink without compromising a horizontal presentation, or try using wide-gap worm hooks with lead affixed to the belly portion of the hook. Silver and pearl tubes worked in this fashion can be very effective on smallmouth bass from late spring through fall.
Find some balance
Rarely does a stick bait like the Smithwick Rogue or Rapala's Husky Jerk and Original Minnow come perfectly balanced out of the box. Affixing some lead tape, like Storm's SuspenDots, helps balance these lures out, attaining a more horizontal profile which triggers largemouth, smallmouth, pike and walleye. Jerk, twitch and pause your balanced stick bait through likely haunts to find fish, or troll it over a school of bait-chasing predators like summer walleyes.
If your favorite game fish are keying in on minnows or young-of-the-year perch, keeping your presentation horizontal will give you an edge and look much more like the real thing.
Experiment with knot positioning, presentation methods and lure tuning this open-water season and expand your horizons ... in our outdoors.