Mike McClelland Talks Cold Water Stickbaits

Bucks Skeeter Yamaha
Bucks Falcon Mercury
Power Pole
Lews Fishing
Strike King

In my part of the country, when winter starts to turn to spring, the water is still cold and bass are lethargic. While not literally frozen, their cold blooded nature creates a need to conserve energy, to spend less than they bring in. The result of this brutal time of year is that bass often suspend, either in open water, or in relation to some type of vertical obstruction.

When cold air and water are the rule of the day, some anglers turn to deep water and finesse tactics; I go another route, especially if I want to catch winning fish.

I turn to the Spro McStick.

Wintertime and early prespawn fish are notorious for hanging out in the middle of the water column, and when cool water and the right conditions converge, I catch them on a stickbait. The best time for me to rely on a stickbait is when the water falls below 50-degrees. When the water temps dip that low, bass can become almost dormant. That is until a warming trend occurs.

When a warm spell passes through and the water temperature climbs a couple of degrees, bass find a reason to move around a little bit, and their desire to chase a bait increases. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not aggressive by any means, but you can force them to strike a stickbait.

The key is to take advantage of their temperament. They are mean, territorial, curious, and will attack anything that looks slightly edible, at any moment. The McStick is made for just these moments.
Constructing the McStick

It took us more than a year to finalize the bait, I tested it throughout the year, and when we were done, we had what I had long been searching for; a stickbait that cast well, had just the right combination of wiggle and flash. Best of all, it was constructed with the best components available; SPRO spared no expense in parts and effort.

For me, I need a bait that had a tight wiggle, one that flashes, and would suspend at the level that I stopped it at. In cold water, all of those characteristics are triggering mechanisms, and they are what separate a great stickbait from the others.

The McStick is designed to suspend at a flat, to a little bit of a nose down attitude, that way it has a more natural appearance in the water. A bait that sinks tail down does not look natural to a bass, and in cold water one that rises when paused is also not a normal action for a dying baitfish.

We built the McStick to suspend by incorporating a weight transfer system that has two weights that slide to the tail of the bait for casting, then drop into a chamber near the nose when the retrieve is started. This transfer system creates the right attitude of the bait, yet gives it a subtle rattle, more of a slight knocking sound, as opposed to the high pitch of glass or bb’s.

Like all other SPRO products, the McStick is nearly bulletproof; the construction is state of the art. From the material it is molded from, to the hook hangers, to the extra strong split rings and three size five Gamakatsu treble hooks, this thing is built to catch big bass.

Equipment for the McStick
I use a 6’” Falcon McClelland jerkbait rod with a light tip and one of two different Quantum reels, depending on the water temperature. If I am fishing in the late prespawn, I use a 6.3:1 retrieve Smoke, but in the cold of the winter, I use a 5.3:1 model EXO, because it causes me to slow down. One of the best stickbait anglers I know once told me that the most common reason anglers don’t catch larger fish on stickbaits in cold water, is because they are fishing too fast; a slow reel helps me solve that.

Line is important to the technique as well. Many anglers choose to use fluorocarbon for their jerkbaits, as do I, when the water is warmer. I use 10 to 15-pound-test Sunline Reaction FC fluorocarbon if I’m really moving the McStick. However, in the cold of the late winter, I want the bait to suspend, so I choose Sunline Supernatural monofilament in 8 to 10-pound-test. I try to match the water color, so if the water has a green tint to it, I throw green line, but I mostly use clear.

The reason I use the monofilament in the winter is because of the fact that fluorocarbon sinks, it sinks below the bait and creates an unnatural drag to the action, which means less bites for me, especially from big, tournament winning fish.

Retrieving the McStick
The most important things to remember about fishing a stickbait in the late winter and early spring is to slow down, and to pause the bait long enough to generate a response from inactive bass. All of this; however, starts with the cast.

It is important to make as long a cast as possible to allow the McStick to perform as it was designed. The optimal part of the retrieve is the middle portion, when the bait is at its maximum depth. Because it is diving at the beginning of the retrieve and rising at the end of it, it is important to line up so that you cast past your target, reaching the desired depth by the time the bait gets there.

I begin my retrieve by winding the bait down eight to ten turns of the reel handle to get the bait into three to five feet of water, then I pause for five to ten seconds. After that initial pause to allow the bait to settle into the right position, I methodically pull the bait forward with the rod tip one to three feet. Following that motion, I pause the bait again for ten to twenty seconds before twitching the McStick again.

The big key is discovering how long to pause the bait, but a good rule of thumb is that the colder the water, the longer the pause should be. Experiment and find what works for you on any given day. Once you find the cadence that creates a response, perform this retrieve all the way back to the boat on each cast.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings
The McStick was designed to suspend when the angler paused the bait, which as I’ve already pointed out as prime for catching bass in cold water. But, anglers need to pay attention to the air and water temperatures to see how the conditions are affecting the buoyancy of the bait, and make adjustments accordingly.

A bait that suspended when air temperatures were 30-degrees with water temperatures at 45, is going to react differently when the air temperature is 60-degrees the next day. But, conditions could change as quickly as each hour, so making adjustments is key. I allow the McStick to pause at the side of my boat frequently throughout the day. What I’m looking for is whether the bait suspends, sinks or floats toward the surface.

Remember that in the colder water, I want the bait to suspend or slightly sink, so if it floats, I will make one of two adjustments. I can upsize the front hook of the bait to a size four, or I can merely attach a couple of split rings to the eye of the front treble hook. These simple modifications allow for quick, on the water adjustments that can make the fishing day more enjoyable.
I’ve been asked why I don’t use stick on weights, and the reason to me is cosmetic. SPRO puts amazing finishes on the McStick; I don’t like to deface them with lead tape when I can place a larger hook or split rings to add the necessary weight.

Speaking of finishes, we developed colors that would catch fish across the country, but there are basic rules that I go by for choosing which one to throw. If there is a little tint to the water, I like one with a little flash, so a Chrome Shad, Clown or Old Glory would be best. If the water is clear, then I go with a translucent color like Spooky Shad or Clear Chartreuse.

I have found for smallmouth and spotted bass that Table Rock Shad is a great color, and largemouth seem to really respond to Norman Flake. But, if I could only choose one color, it would be Blue Bandit, that’s been my number one bait across the country.

Whichever colors you choose, be prepared to make adjustments, as the preference of the fish may change as a day progresses. You may start the day in clear water with Blue Bandit because of the low light, then have to change to Spooky Shad as the sun gets higher in the sky. Or, if a day starts calm, but turns stormy, turning to a Clown or a Chrome Shad may ignite a response; you just have to keep an open mind, and pay attention to the conditions.

Once you’ve put the puzzle together, you can experience some dramatic results. Throwing a stickbait has always been one of my favorite ways to catch cold water fish, and it’s even better now with the McStick from SPRO.