As November brought us cooler weather and sent many to the woods in pursuit of Joe Buck or hit the duck blinds with their trusted retriever Ol’Yellor. Avid anglers know this also signals the start of some the best fishing of the year on area lakes. Here are some helpful hints for a great day on the lake.
Despite the difficult weather conditions, anglers can still manage to spend quality time on the water through the winter days of the year, catching fish on a variety of lures. First and foremost, dress for the conditions and “Always” wear your PFD! Second, is to emphasize a slow approach for just about every presentation would be an understatement; when you think you are fishing slow, slowdown!
Let’s set the stage, in November water temperatures began to drop and should continue to drop through Mid-February with some area lakes dropping to the mid to upper thirties over the winter. Bass become more lethargic to conserve energy. Bright sunny days can raise water temperatures by as much as 5 degrees in just a couple of hours; triggering feeding binges.
While I’m a firm believer that anytime on the water is a good time! If your time is limited than plan your trips around weather changes. The best days are normally any unseasonably warm day during the winter, but fishing before a cold front or any other weather change can also be productive.
Considering, you’ll find me fishing with water temps as low as 38 degrees; I’ll start a typical day searching for fish to react to a jerkbait bite. This pattern is fairly steady, winter time presentation that can produce quality fish and adequate numbers. Later in the day, say after about 11am, we will go a rattle trap. The trap works really well over the winter months and can get them working now in late afternoon, assuming the water has warmed up some.
Proper presentation is everything! As it gets colder, I’ll start a typical day with a four or five count — that’s one thousand one, one thousand two, and so forth —before you jerk it again. Sometimes it may not even be a jerk, just turning the handle of the reel and pausing it again. It’s something you have to play with. The colder the water temperature, the longer the pause needs to be. If it’s really cold, you have to make a cast and crank the bait down, put down the rod and drink a cup of coffee before you move it.”
I recommend using a variety of jerkbaits to reach different depths. Ideally, the lure reaches a depth at the top of the grass left over from the summer. I’ll keep about four rods rigged up with different baits designed to reach a different depth, 1 to 3 (feet), 4 to 6, 6 to 8, and maybe one deeper.
I highly recommend utilizing a sensitive rod such as Duckett Terex rods for most of his applications, normally spooling a LEW’s 6.4-1 with 10- or 12-lb. Vicious Ultimate Copolymer, occasionally dropping to 8-lb. line when the fish are finicky. I favor a 6’9” or 7-foot, medium-heavy rod with a fast tip for jerkbaits. With this setup, I am slowing that jerkbait down and stopping it! With this particular rod, I can actually feel the line tighten up (when a fish hits). The rod is really special with 12 eyes on it I can get a little extra casting distance with it, probably as much as 25 feet compared to the rods I’ve used.
I’ll use jerkbaits in colors ranging from sexy shad in clear water to clown in dirty water and in between, I’ll throw a variety of natural colors. You need a slow, patient approach right now, but the fish will hit.
If the water warms up or if the fish prove they will chase a lure, I would actually rather see his clients throw traps. They are simply easier for the average fishermen to use. I find the trap bite in many of the same places we’d might fish a jerkbait earlier in the day. The difference is these fish are more active, willing to pursue a moving bait.
The trap has got to tick that grass. Count it down until it’s ticking that grass and then rip it loose. In late winter, you can catch fish burning it across a point or across the top of the grass. As the water warms up, the fish totally commit to the prespawn area and feed up, put the feed bag on. They are chasing everything. That’s when the water temperature has risen into the upper 40s, 48 on up. I’m not saying it has to be that high for the trap to produce, but that temperature has been most productive for me.
For trap tackle, I use a Duckett rod with a soft enough tip that he doesn’t take the trap away from the fish. A rod that is too stiff will also result in lost fish after the hook set.
I’m using anything from 12-lb. Ultimate to 65-lb. test braid both made by Vicious Fishing, depending on what we are throwing it in and around. They will still hit it even when using braid. A key point is a rod with a fast tip that is still limber enough but with enough backbone to get the hook set.”
I’ll normally start trap fishing with an X-Caliber Xr50 or Xr75. If the fish don’t respond to the bigger baits, he has experienced success downsizing to a quarter ounce. What I use depends on the bait in the area. It’s a match-the-hatch scenario. The smaller bait creates a slower presentation, and a slower fall will trigger a bite at times when nothing else will.
While red traps are used extensively on Tennessee River impoundments such as Guntersville, I also like royal purple, sexy shad and I’ve experienced great success with gold with a black back.
If the fish don’t respond to hard baits at all, then time to revert to plastics or a jig. I’ll Texas rig or Carolina rig a lizard or Tomahawk 8.75 worm from Missile Baits. The other thing I do is pick up a 1/2-oz. Tightline football head jig in Guntersville special, which is green pumpkin with some black and blue mixed in or a Green Pumpkin Orange with a Turbo Tail Grub trailer from Missile Baits. The jig is particularly effective around deeper docks. I’ll fish the perimeter posts first and flips underneath on sunny days.
Slow that fall down, fish your Texas rigs with a 1/4-oz. tungsten weight. That’s where a lot of guys miss it here is they forget to slow down their presentation. Fish it slow, and then slow down some more.
Be prepared to throw any of the previously mentioned lures as the bite changes frequently in the winter months. As far as location is concerned, I’ll spend a good bit of my time fishing the many large tributaries that feed the area lakes.
One final suggestion about fishing area lakes this time of year is don’t ignore shallow water, especially if the priority is simply getting bit. The bigger fish might hold in slightly deeper water, but there are fish in skinny water year-round on the lake.
Generally, we’re targeting shallower grass in 4 to 10 feet of water. It’s a classic pattern with one caveat. You can catch bass 365 days of the year on most area lakes in a foot of water. There are always shallow fish if you try hard enough.
Now if you are after big trophy fish, then put the boat in 12 feet of water and cast to 4 foot of water.
Again, please use extreme caution when fishing in the winter months. I suggest dressing for the worst and always wear a lifejacket at all times.
Capt Jake Davis is a USCG Licensed Professional Fishing Guide on Lake Guntersville, Tim’s Ford, Normandy Lake and Nickajack Lake. Visit www.midsouthbassguide.com or call/email 615-613-2382, firstname.lastname@example.org