Cold Water Means It’s Time To Bust Out The Metal

Author: Dennis Hart, our first guest writer for the website! Dennis has an extensive background writing fishing articles for On The Water magazine, and decades of experience of bass fishing. He would like it noted that he is also handsome. 

Fishing the cold water period in New England can be one of the most enjoyable times to be on the water. Pleasure boaters and jet skiers are nowhere to be found, and many of the weekend warriors have put away their boats for the winter. This time of the year is held in high esteem; the fish are big, fat and unpressured. For those that are willing to brave the cold and snow to stay out on the water, the rewards can be well worth it. And throwing a blade bait at this time of the year can REALLY make the most of it.

It’s worth spending the time and effort to learn how to effectively fish cold water in New England. Aside from the aforementioned benefits, you can also extend your season by at least several more weeks! The cold water period accounts for about 5 months of the year in the northern regions, so every extra weekend makes a big difference.

What Is A Blade Bait?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a blade bait? A blade bait is essentially a metal crankbait, often cut in the rough shape of a fish. It is rigged with two treble hooks – one in the front, and one in the back. The bait has a small weight molded to the belly designed to make it vibrate, or to put it another way, wobble. It is most effective in cold water, but it can be used year round in the right conditions.

How Cold is Cold?

When we refer to “cold water” we are specifically referring to water that ranges from 33F to 55F. The potential for big fish and numbers is high, but it is just that. Potential. It isn’t very easy to locate the bass during this time of the year, or get them to bite.  It’s no secret that bass become less active in colder water. Bass are cold blooded, and the colder the water – the slower their metabolism. They don’t eat as frequently during this time, but they still do eat!

One simple and easier way to catch them is to use a reaction bait to trigger instinctive bites from bass – whether they are actively feeding or not. And one of the most effective methods we have found to trigger cold water reaction strikes is with a blade bait.

blade bait, blade baits, blade bait tips
A beautiful late November 2021 river smallmouth from author Dennis Hart

Blade Bait Targets

Although it works at any temperature, a blade bait excels when fish are relating to the bottom in cool to cold water. We have caught fish on blades anywhere from 2ft out to 50+ feet, and our most consistent areas are steep rocky banks; the steeper the better. As the water continues to drop from 50 degrees and lower, don’t overlook the flats near these steep banks. Often, the fish are roaming these deeper flats adjacent to the steep rocky banks and points. They stage there for the colder weather transition, preparing to move onto the rocky banks and points as the water temperatures continue to drop. You don’t have to always look deep though! When the conditions are right, even in colder weather, we have caught dozens and dozens of blade fish cruising shallow rocky flats.

One thing to keep in mind regarding blade baits is that they can be very prone to getting snagged. A blade bait is essentially a metal weight with two trebles – so grass and trees can be your enemy when throwing a blade. There’s an old saying, “if you have one, you have none, and if you have two, you have one.” This is especially true for blade baits. Always make sure to have plenty of extra on hand, and look into buying or making your own plug knocker or lure retriever to minimize your losses.

Most northern anglers wouldn’t be caught dead on the water any time after September without a blade bait tied on one of their rods.

How To Use A Blade Bait

A blade bait is a reaction lure. That is a critical element to keep in mind while throwing a blade. Fish are not eating the blade because they are hungry and they think the slab of metal looks appetizing. When fished properly – blades will trigger non active fish into striking regardless of their mood. There are a multitude of ways to work a blade – anywhere from vertical jigging to a steady retrieve like a lipless crankbait.

The most effective cold water retrieve that we have found is a yo-yo retrieve. The two most important details of the yo-yo retrieve is that between lifts – the bait rests on the bottom, and you should let it fall on semi-slack line . A mid-column yo-yo doesn’t seem to be as effective. From our experience, the vast majority of strikes on a blade bait occur while the bait is falling, or while it is resting on the bottom; you will go to lift – and there will be a fish on it.

When working the blade bait – mix up the speed, cadence and height of your lifts until you find what is triggering bites under the present conditions. Sometimes it’s small pops of the bait off the bottom – from just a few inches to a foot. And sometimes it’s big 4-5ft pulses of the bait. There is no right or wrong answer – this can change by the day, hour, minute – so experimentation is key. 

As the water temperatures continue to decrease, the length of your pause in between lifts should also increase. As temperatures approach the mid 30’s, it’s not uncommon to wait anywhere from 30 to even 90 seconds in between lifts before a fish will finally commit to the bait and strike.

Rigging Your Blade Bait

The majority of blade baits have at least two holes to mount a swivel to. Typically, mounting to the hole closest to the head of the bait will provide the tightest ‘wiggle’ to the bait. It will still vibrate, but not quite as hard or violently. The further back you mount to the blade bait, the wider or harder the blade will wobble/vibrate.

Which hole we choose to mount to depends on water temperatures. In warmer water temperatures, mounting closer to the front tends to produce more often. This gives the bait a tighter and more subtle vibration, allowing for faster movement. In much colder water temperatures, mounting to the back allows for a wide wobble. This is beneficial when your retrieve cadence slows way down as well. Lifting the bait very slowly off of the bottom only a few inches will still produce a solid vibration from the bait the further back it is mounted.

Another blade bait victim for Dennis Hart. Note the two mounting holes to change the action on the blade bait!

What Rods To Use For A Blade Bait

There are several key factors that come into consideration when choosing what gear to use. The weight of the blade bait, vertical jigging versus long casts, the cadence, and even air temperature are all factors.

For those that prefer a casting rod or making long casts, a 7ft Medium to Medium-Heavy power, Fast action rod is excellent. Pair it with anywhere from 10 lb to 15 lb fluorocarbon. The lower stretch in fluorocarbon – and the heavier power – greatly help with long range hook sets. And using straight fluorocarbon helps in colder air temperatures where ice build-up on your guides can be an issue. A casting setup isn’t the best for vertical jigging, but this can still work for that method if desired.

For those that prefer a spinning rod or primarily vertical jigging, a 6-1/2ft to 7-1/2ft Medium to Medium-Heavy power, Moderate-Fast to Fast action rod also works great. You can still cast long distances with this setup but if you want something that does both well, then we personally prefer a 7ft Medium power, Fast action rod. It provides both back bone and finesse for blade baits anywhere from ¼ to ¾oz.

What Line To Use For A Blade Bait

For line on spinning setups, air temperature greatly comes into consideration at this point. A braid to fluorocarbon leader gives you the best of both worlds, but with drawbacks. Fluorocarbon allows you to more safely work your bait around rocks, and the braid provides excellent sensitivity so you can feel even the lightest bite when working in deeper water.

However, braid tends to slightly freeze when working in below freezing air temperatures. Depending on your choice of leader knot, it can often hang up on the ice build-up on your guides. This can be challenging when trying to drop your bait vertically. One workaround is to tie an extra long leader if you’re already using braid for your main line. Another is to smear Vaseline (or any gel based fish scent works too, such as Smelly Jelly) all over your guides before your first cast. This helps the water bead off of the guides and eliminates or greatly reduces the ice build-up.

Our Blade Baits of Choice

When purchasing blade baits, it’s important to reiterate this point – you WILL lose them. The baits get stuck; that’s the nature of the technique. If you aren’t getting stuck every now and then – then you aren’t fishing in the right area. To start off for colors – Silver in clear water; Gold in more stained water – and you’ll be well on your way. These are the two most productive colors, and will serve most anglers well.

The original Silver Buddies or Steel Shads 1/2oz are excellent choices for beginning anglers on a budget. These baits are inexpensive and won’t break the bank WHEN you lose them.

If you find that you like this technique, then you can move up to more specialized bait. The Megabass Dyna Response or the Damiki Vault are excellent options. These baits have significantly more color patterns and allow you to experiment with more options. But, they will break your heart when you snag them. 

Another personal favorite is the Binsky Vibrating Blade Bait. The design of this bait allows it to vibrate very easily. With a flick of the wrist this blade will vibrate immediately, even when rigged on the front hole.

Parting Thoughts & More Information

Blade baits work year round but they shine brightest when the water is sub-50F degrees. Blades are subtle and aggressive at the same time. Most northern anglers wouldn’t be caught dead on the water any time after September without a blade bait tied on one of their rods. If you have been on the fence about trying one out, don’t be! It is a technique that is incredibly deadly for a large portion of the year. If there’s one new technique you should be learning for cold water, it’s the blade bait.

If you want to learn even more on blade baits, and see more specific examples on many of the topics covered in this article, check out the video below from our YouTube Channel,! You can also learn more about the faces behind 603Bass from our About Us page! Thank you all for reading, let us know what you thought in the comments below!

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Brian ernest
Brian ernest
2 years ago

Great article!!! I will fish this bait with more confidence now..

Daniel Kenney
2 years ago

Great write up and SPOT ON! Blade Baits can be a great tool.

Chris H
Chris H
2 years ago

Well written article. Great stuff fellas!

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