Cold Weather – Cold Water Bass’in

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.

Guntersville 27 Feb 2014 015 Capt Jake Davis with a D-Bomb Fish

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.

Winter Lures 002

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, msbassguide@comcast.net

 

Why hire a Professional Guide service and what to look for in a guide/charter…

As I was talking to one of my neighbors the other day of course about “Fishing”, he made a comment.  “I can’t believe you are so busy, why are so many people hiring a guide?”  There are several good reasons my clients like to hire a guide service or charter.  Fish tend to move around a lot and they feed differently every day.  However, when you fish every day (and I do) you stay on top of them.  For some anglers who fish only a few times a year, it is cheaper to hire a guide than to make boat and insurance payments plus the tackle needed.  My clients get to try out new and different tackle, the latest new and improved gadgets, such as new rods and reels, GPS and depth finders.  It is great for businessmen to take their customers or employee out for a good day of fishing. A guide trip serves as a good way to build customer relations or seal a business deal and reward employee performance.  Catching some good fish and taking a few pictures during a trip have led to some great achievements.   It is also tax deductible.  Family trips can be a lot of fun, kids can be tough and trips can turn into a real job if you are not that familiar on the water or with fishing.  With the right Professional Guide who guides families everyone walks away with memories of a lifetime.  To learn “sweet” spots and proven presentations on new lakes or rivers is one of the prime reasons.  It can take several trips to learn a lake and which cost money and time. With a good guide you can learn most lakes in a couple of days and that can save you many aggravating trips and possible repair cost on your boat.  Lastly, most guides stay current on latest tactics, anglers can learn a specific tactic like jig fishing, the Float‘n Fly, or the drop shot rig.   With the current economic conditions, we are seeing an influx of people getting into the guide/charter business without bothering to go through all the legal channels or investing in the proper gear. Furthermore, every Fall and Spring lakes such as Kentucky Lake and Guntersville we see an increase in illegal, unlicensed and uninsured guides who are willing to risk being caught and paying a fine of $5,000 to $30,000, jail time, and/or loss of equipment.  They are also putting the clients at risk; normal boat insurance does not cover guiding.  In short, protect yourself use a USCG Licensed service and in Tennessee guides must be licensed by the TWRA. (Note:  USCG license is not required on some inland lakes that are “Land Locked” such as Percy Priest or Center Hill. Lake’s that a guide MUST be USCG Licensed are Kentucky Lake, Guntersville, and Old Hickory, any of the Great Lakes, and Mississippi River.

Capt Jake Davis with all the gear
Capt Jake Davis with all the gear

If you are planning a guided fishing trip; here are a few questions to ask the Captains/Guides so you can choose the one you feel most comfortable with.

  1. Does the Captain have a valid US Coast Guard issued US Merchant Marine Officer license?
    2. Does the Captain have a valid TSA issued TWIC card (Transportation Worker Identification Credential)? This is the background/security check required for all licensed Captains.
    4. Is the Captain certified in First Aid and CPR?
    5. Does the vessel contain all safety equipment as mandated by the US Coast Guard?
    6. Does the Vessel/Guide have valid guide insurance coverage?  Normal insurance DOES NOT cover using a vessel for guiding.
    7. Does the business maintain up-to-date website(s)? Are reports current-not more than 2 weeks old?
    8. What are the business’ charter rates and what do they cover? Is there a fuel surcharge or any hidden charges such as lost lures, drinks, etc?
    10. What is the business’ cancellation policy?
    11. Is charter fishing the Captain’s full-time job? Or, does he do it only part-time apart from some other job, as a hobby activity or are you paying for them to pre-fish/practice for an upcoming tournament?
    12. Can the Captain provide testimonials from satisfied customers?
    13. What is the condition of the tackle, rods and reels? This is an area many businesses skimp on. Is the equipment, if not new, in well-maintained condition?

The most important question to ask…Does the Captain LOVE what he does and VALUE his customer relationships?

 

Capt Jake Davis, Mid South Bass Guide, a Professional Service on Lakes Guntersville, Tim’s Ford and Normandy Lake. www.midsouthbassguide.com