One of the first things most of us who become competent anglers learn is to cast, the farther the better. The longer the cast, the more water you cover, and in theory, the more fish you catch.
But these days, a method that first came along at least 40 years ago is again gaining popularity, thanks mostly to the rapid rise in the power and capability of modern angling electronics—and it employs no casting at all.
While early versions of recreational sonar barely could manage to sketch a contour of the bottom, today’s units are just a step short of underwater cameras showing every movement of every fish and the bait they chase, as well as giving a detailed picture of the bottom.
The units not only look down, as with traditional sonar, but out to the side hundreds of feet, and more recently steerable units up front allow anglers to scan cover ahead and locate any fish that might be hiding in it.
The end result is that long blind casts are no longer necessary—you see the fish before you cast, in many cases. And when the fish are in deep water, you can drop your lure straight down—go vertical—and load the boat. The units not only allow spotting the fish, but you can see most lures on screen and view the fish’s reaction to them. If they don’t take, you try another lure, another color or a different presentation—it’s video game fishing.
A number of anglers who finished well in the recent Bassmaster Open at Lewis Smith used this tactic, including the winner, Jacob Powroznik.
We’ll bypass the elephant in the room, the stratospheric cost of these big screen units, for this time around. But it should be noted that serious tournament competitors are now spending over $20,000 on their electronics, with two giant monitors on the console, two more on the bow. The cost added to a fishable boat and outboard is far beyond what the weekender can afford, which totally tilts the playing field.
That aside, vertical fishing is possible with more basic electronics, some of which can be had for less than $1,000.
So long as the unit is sensitive enough to sketch out bait, fish and the falling lure—which often appears as a dark streak across the screen on the way down—it can be used for successful vertical fishing.
And for species like spotted bass and stripers, which of spend most of their time well offshore except during the spawn, vertical fishing is an exceptionally effective way to put them in the boat.
When vertical fishing started in fresh water, most anglers used jigging spoons like the Hopkins Shorty, a heavy little slab of chromed steel, to get deep in a hurry and imitate a dying baitfish.
Today, there are dozens of lures made specifically for the vertical game, some pioneered by icefishers, some by Japanese bass anglers and some by innovative U.S. tournament anglers.
Most of the best are some form of jig, with the line tie on the top of the lead head rather than on the nose. When coupled with a floating soft plastic tail, these lures hang horizontally when suspended below the boat.
Powroznik’s choice for the Smith Lake win was the V&M Vertical Shad, but there are many other choices, including some made of TPE plastic, a super-tough compound that also floats, adding even more action when the lure is twitched or jigged.
In clear water where the fish can easily see the lure, some anglers simply shake the rod to draw strikes. In other cases, where fish are near bottom or woody structure, repeatedly dropping it straight down to them can bring the bite. But with the advantage of being able to see the reaction of each fish, anglers can vary the lure and the presentation until they score.
Bottom line is vertical fishing in the right conditions can be highly effective, whether you’re a weekender fishing with your grandkids or a hard-core tournament angler with $100,000 on the line. Provided you can afford the electronics, that is.