Cold, Muddy Water? Jackson Bass Don’t Care
February is when this middle Georgia reservoir offers anglers a better-than-average shot at catching a hawg.
Where in the world was this cold weather during deer season? Instead of bundling up and sneaking through the woods with pounds of extra clothes this year, I was still swattin’ skeeters and sweating buckets come closing weekend—I even hunted in my bedroom shoes a few times. Weird, I know, but it was that warm.
Just in time for us to get our focus back toward big bass, Mother Nature has sunken her sharp fangs into most of Georgia and made fishing pretty darn tough. If you’re anything like me, you’re not too keen on the idea of prying your boat compartments open, inadvertently moon walking on your front deck and wiping an endless supply of almost-frozen snot on your sleeves. Heck, if the temperatures even flirt with the 32-degree mark down here, we’re closing schools, robbing milk trucks and preparing for impending doom.
Southerners like us just ain’t built for this stuff.
But—there’s always a “but”—there’s a cure out there for your cabin fever. If you can brave the elements, stock up on hand warmers and throw on some long drawers, there’s a great chance of catching an absolute cold-water giant on Lake Jackson this February. After all, science has proved that nothing increases your core temperature more drastically than sticking a big ol’ slob on your favorite lure. Not really, but you get what I’m saying—just nod your head and smile.
Joking aside, you need to make a trip or two to Lake Jackson this February. Sure, it’s cold and tough to get motivated, but this is one of the best places in the state to catch your personal best bass. Believe it or not, the big ones bite best in these nasty conditions.
Use Brighter Colors for Your Reaction Baits: The cold, rainy weather is likely to hang around for most of February, so unless something crazy happens, you can expect Lake Jackson to more closely resemble an overgrown mud puddle than an actual lake this month. Poor water clarity has a tendency to intimidate and perplex anglers, but if you can understand how bass react to it, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Bass rely on two primary senses to feed—sight and sound. Maybe I’m fishing on a different planet, but I’ve never seen a bass with ears, so how do they “hear” prey? It’s all about their physical makeup.
If you take a close look at the next bass you catch, you’ll notice a long, horizontal black line running the length of its body. This line is appropriately named the lateral line. It acts as a bass’ underwater ears by allowing them to feel extremely subtle vibrations that make it easier to locate and attack prey.
In low-visibility conditions, similar to what you’ll likely encounter at Lake Jackson this month, bass rely largely on their lateral lines for feeding opportunities with their sense of sight becoming secondary. Contrary to popular belief, their eyesight isn’t anything extraordinary, so when you throw some muddy water in the mix, they’re going to have a hard time finding your baits.
This is why it may be more important this February to use larger and brighter hard baits to increase your chances of success. These types of lures serve two purposes—the brighter colors help the bass detect your lure with their eyes, and the larger profile will ultimately displace a greater amount of water, capitalizing on the ever-important lateral line we discussed. When you think about it, it makes sense. When a lure comes buzzing by a bass’ face, they need to see and feel it quickly in order to react in a timely manner.
Use Darker Colors for Your Jigs and Soft Plastics: I know—I just threw a curveball at you. I just wrote an entire section about the importance of bright-colored hard baits, and now I’m suggesting you do the opposite with your jigs and soft plastics. Stay with me for a minute, and I’ll explain the important difference.
This isn’t really science, but after working with some of the best bass anglers in the world and enjoying personal success with it, it’s what I’m going with. Any type of slow, bottom-oriented bass-fishing presentation primarily appeals to a bass’ sense of sight. More times than not, you’re not really trying to quickly grab the bass’ attention to entice a reaction strike, so bright, gaudy colors aren’t always necessary.
Throughout this time of year when the water turns frigid, a bass is going to be very deliberate upon eating your jig or soft plastic. They’re going to swim up to it, check it out and maybe even follow it for a few feet before finally deciding to attack it. Because the bass will likely spend a lot of time looking at your offering, using dark colors is most effective. A darker color, such as junebug, black or blue will create more of a silhouette in the muddy water, which again, does two things—it appears more natural to avoid overpowering or spooking the bass, and it also allows the bass to get a better “bead” on your bait.
So let’s make sure we’re on the same page—brighter colors for reaction baits and darker colors for your bottom-oriented presentations in muddy water. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and apply what we’ve talked about to Lake Jackson.
Uncovering a Jackson Giant: Admittedly, I haven’t fished Lake Jackson as much throughout my career as I would like to. With Lake Sinclair in my backyard, it’s hard for me to venture elsewhere for a quick afternoon on the water. There’s good news, though—I know some sure-enough sticks who have decades of experience on Jackson.
This is the point in the story where I’m going to quit running my mouth and let the local experts spill their knowledge. Listen up, because it’s some good stuff.
As you begin your search for Jackson giants this February, local angler and bass-tournament extraordinaire David Lowery believes two simple approaches will yield outstanding results.
“Throughout February, you need to be throwing two baits—a crankbait and a jig,” David said. “I have a lot of success paralleling deep, rocky seawalls that drop off into 15 to 18 feet of water. When I’m cranking them, I use a VIP Tightwad Crankbait in the Freak Nasty Craw color and reel as slow as I possibly can. The bass aren’t going to move too fast, so you have to match your speed to their behavior. I’ll also throw a 3/8-oz. All-Terrain Jig in the old school brown color around the same areas. As long as you have rock around, you’ll catch plenty of fish doing this.”
The importance of rock is something that should never be overlooked this month on Jackson. A cold-blooded bass relies on warmer water temperatures to regulate its body temperature, and any type of hard cover, especially rock, conducts and holds heat very well.
Southern Polytechnic State University Bass Fishing Team president and Jackson native Grant Kelly also focuses heavily on rocks and steep seawalls this time of year but has a unique approach to it.
“There always seems to be a great cranking bite throughout the winter on Jackson,” Grant said. “I have a lot of success on a No. 5 Rapala Shad Rap and a SPRO Little John, but I like to use faint colors if I can find stained to lightly stained water. With the water temperatures in the 40-degree range right now, the forage is losing a lot of its color which makes matte-colored crankbaits very natural-looking to bass. When you combine a natural, tight-wobbling crankbait with some rocks and nearby deep water, you’re in prime position to catch a good one.”
Adapt to the Weather: Although steeper, rock-filled banks are textbook spots to find big Jackson bass, small changes in conditions can force them to reposition in different areas. Cold fronts often wreak havoc on bass anglers’ plans, but the bass on Jackson become surprisingly predictable when the mercury drops.
“Don’t let a cold front upend your plans for a day on the water,” Grant said. “Look for any rocky points that protrude into deeper water, and don’t be afraid to break out your finesse gear. You can catch some great bass by slowly hopping a Wackem Crazy Baits Big Sissy Worm over scattered chunk rocks. The bites may be very light, so pay close attention to your line throughout the retrieve.”
Former Georgia College Bass Fishing Team president Chancey Gray also keys in on rocky points during cold fronts. If a slower crankbait retrieve won’t cut it, he’ll break out a jig and go to work.
“Jackson bass will still eat a crankbait during a cold front, but you have to really slow your approach,” Chancey said. “I’ll use a Bagley Balsa B Crankbait and worm it across the rocks. After a long cast, I’ll get it down to its operating depth and crawl it using just my rod tip, just like you’d fish a Texas rig. If they won’t bite a crankbait, try targeting the same points with a 3/8-oz. Buckeye Mop Jig with a Wackem Crazy Baits Big Tater Bug trailer. These larger trailers dramatically slow the jig’s fall-rate, which really appeals to cold-front bass.”
Perhaps the very best time to fish Lake Jackson in February is after a three- or four-day warming trend. Shallow, muddy water warms much quicker than deep water, prompting bass to flood uncharacteristically shallow areas.
According to all three of the Jackson experts, targeting boat docks can become very fruitful in the event of a warming trend. David makes it a point to find floating docks for a very specific reason.
“The floating docks with black floats are incredible on a relatively warm, sunny day,” David said. “The floats hold heat very well—my Lowrance electronics will actually show an increase in water temperature of 1 or 2 full degrees around them. I’ll throw a jig a crankbait around these docks and concentrate on the ones in the first half of pockets.”
Grant and Chancey also flip jigs around these boat docks during a warm up but incorporate fast-moving crankbaits as well.
“As the shallow water warms up, the bass become much more aggressive,” Chancey said. “Instead of crawling your crankbait, you can increase your retrieve speed in order to force reaction bites. Try to make your crankbait collide with parts of the docks such as ladders, posts and nearby brush. There won’t be any question when you get a bite, so hold on.”
Prespawn Possibilities as February Ends: We all look forward to the beginning stages of the spawn—what’s not to love about fat, easy-to-catch bass? Even if the cold weather is still hanging around at the end of this month, don’t be surprised to see some bass start moving shallow.
“The length of days and the moon phase is much more important to prespawn bass than water temperature,” Grant said. “There’s a new moon at the end of the month, so you may start to see some fish start positioning around the first deep water adjacent to spawning flats. We still have a while before prespawn kicks into high-gear, but you’ll see a few begin to move.”
David agrees, with his outlook being a bit more optimistic for prespawn activity.
“They’ll definitely start positioning for the prespawn, maybe even in the middle of the month,” David said. “Start checking the shallow areas in the mouths of pockets, but remember—deep water needs to be a tail wag away. If it’s any further, you need to find another area.”
Although it’s tempting to sit inside, wishing for warmer weather and more bass activity, try hooking up your boat and heading to Lake Jackson this February. It may be cold and uncomfortable at times, but on this fishery, a giant bass is always just a cast away.
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