NW Ontario-based guide and tournament pro Dean Howard recently demonstrated to me how going old-school and bass fishing from the back of the boat can pay huge dividends. We had fished for hours and smallies did nothing but snub their noses at our jerkbaits, tubes, and other bronzeback bait mainstays.
With the transom of his boat backed into the wind, I watched Dean routinely shift his 150 Yamaha four-stroke tiller into reverse, neutral and back again, paying close attention to the screen of his graph. "But you don't have to have a big boat like this Lund 2010 Pro Guide with a motor this big. You can fish this way just as easily with a 6 or a 9.9 hp on a 14-foot boat. It's the way I fished years ago, and still do."
Of course, boat control is a huge part of the equation, as is his constant monitoring of this electronics for key depth contours, bottom transitions, cover and fish.
The other part of the equation?
Hair jigs ... and tiny morsels at that—baits in the 3/32-ounce class that he ties himself and fishes on a perfectly balanced spinning outfit with 8-pound braid main line and an 8-pound fluoro leader.
He urges other anglers to do the same. "Anyone can learn to tie their own hair jigs and fishing them is only as difficult as you make it. When I'm fishing vertically like this it's simply a matter of dropping to the bottom and raising up to where the fish are in the water column. In this case, I've been fishing pretty close to the bottom. You don't have to do much to get them to activate. Don't overfish them."
He adds: "And not only will you catch smallies doing this in Northwest Ontario, but walleyes, too," says Howard.
Another way Howard likes to fish hair jigs is to cast 20 or 30 feet behind the boat, shift the big tiller into neutral and let the wind slowly drift his hair jig along ledges, break lines and points.
"There's just something about the rate of fall and how the hair kind of pulses in the water. It can mimic a leech or crawfish—a big part of their diet—or even a minnow. It's definitely my go-to when the bite gets tough."
Hair jigs—not just for cold-water smallies anymore.Plan on visiting NW Ontario this summer, fall, or winter? Give Dean a call at (807) 465-4148. No matter the species, Dean can help put you on fish.