Pro Tips Guaranteed To Catch Wintertime Bass
Four BASS pros share cold-water bass techniques that have worked for them in Georgia waters.
Dragging jigs down steep banks… dead-sticking a worm on a flat… twitching a hard jerkbait in open water… pulling a buzzbait by a dock… dropping a jigging spoon 50 feet deep below shad… punching a plastic craw through vegetation. What do these varied presentations have in common? They are all methods I have used to catch wintertime bass. One of the things I like about bass is they will hit a variety of lures presented in many different ways. The key to wintertime bass fishing is quickly determining the mood of the majority of the bass.
It has been said that if you do not like the weather outside, just wait a few minutes, and it will change. That is a very true statement for winters in Georgia, as it can be a balmy 70 degrees in the afternoon, but an arctic blast can come through and drop the temperature 30 degrees or more overnight. Bass are cold-blooded creatures of habit, and they react to their environment in fairly predictable ways. Once you learn some of the basics of where they should be and what they should bite, you will probably fall in love with wintertime bass fishing.
The speed with which water warms and cools depends upon the size of the system. I do not fish many tournaments any more, but I frequently fish ponds and small impoundments less than 200 acres. The nine WRD public- fishing areas (PFAs) scattered around the state are prime small waters for lots of bass and some big bass in the winter. Check out <www.gofishgeorgia.com> for the locations of these PFAs.
I catch my share of fish at some of these PFAs each winter. In small ponds, the water can cool significantly during a cold night and then warm up 10 degrees or more during a sunny after- noon. The fish often respond by moving deeper and becoming dormant during night and early morning and then moving shallow and feeding actively during the warm afternoon.
My confidence presentations in these small impoundments include dragging one of my handmade 1/4-oz. jigs. Black/chartreuse and green pumpkin are my favorite winter colors around deep cover in the morning. In the afternoon, I switch to a suspending jerkbait in a shad or gold pattern. A suspending jerkbait accounts for the majority of my bass throughout the winter months, but the jig often dupes big fish.
For jigs, I prefer a 6 1/2-foot, medium-heavy-action Team All Star baitcasting rod, while I like the 6-foot, medium-action model for jerkbaits. For both presentations, a Pflueger Patriarch reel spooled with 15-lb. test Vicious fluorocarbon gets the nod.
Bass are sometimes more difficult to find in large reservoirs than small lakes, but once you find the schools, you can often catch them until your arms are sore. The water in these large systems changes much more slowly, and the fish generally respond less quickly than in small waters. Several BASS pros shared their wintertime confidence presentations for Georgia reservoirs with me. Jim Murray Jr., an Elite Series pro from Arabi, searches for one of two patterns during winter — schooling fish or solitary, shallow, big bass.
“You can generally catch quite a few offshore schooling bass during winter or a few larger bass shallow. Both require different approaches, and both patterns can be rewarding,” Jim said.
All of our Georgia reservoirs set up well for offshore fishing, but West Point and Allatoona are two of Jim’s favorite lakes for his offshore pattern. Jim looks for schooling bass to relate to points, ridges, humps, channel bends and “funnels.” His favorite, funnels, are areas where the river or creek channel is constricted by underwater points or roadbeds. If an underwater bridge is present, all the better. He watches for birds to tip off the location of baitfish.
“Big flocks of birds are easy to spot, but the location of some of the best schools of bass is given away by a single bird on the surface or a single pod of baitfish on your electronics,” Jim said.
His go-to presentation is drop-shotting a green-pumpkin Zoom Swamp Crawler. He fishes the rig on a 6 1/2-foot St. Croix Avid spinning rod. When he sees a school of bass on his electronics, he fishes vertically to make them eat his lure.
Bernie Schultz, another Elite Series pro, from Gainesville, Fla., drop shots for deep, wintertime bass on Georgia reservoirs.
“Quality electronics will allow you full view of your lure as you work it. When fish are aggressive, you will see them streak upward on your graph as your lure falls,” Bernie said.
He vertically fishes a drop shot and uses a process of elimination to determine how the fish want the lure presented. Some days they want it on bottom, others they want it jigged right in the school, and some days they want it suspended above them. He employs a 6 1/2- or 7-foot, medium-heavy Shimano graphite spinning outfit when drop shotting.
Ish Monroe, an Elite Series pro from Hughson, Calif., concurs with the drop-shot approach for deep fish. He picks a Reaction Innovations Flirt Worm in green pumpkin for most of his drop-shot duties. A medium-light, 6- foot, 8-inch Daiwa Steez spinning rod and 6-lb. test Maxima fluorocarbon line are his tools for this presentation.
Patrick Pierce, Southern and Central Tour pro from Jacksonville, Fla., fishes deep bass with a drop-shot rig, but during winter he prefers a jigging spoon. Whenever the water temperature is below 55 degrees, Patrick scans his Lowrance electronics to locate large schools of shad balled up in the creek channels closest to the main river channel. He looks on the lower one-third of the reservoir for short (one-half mile long, or so) pockets and short creek arms that drain into the main river channel. Crisscrossing the channel, he works his way out of the creek channel until he locates the shad and bass.
Once he finds the bass, he vertically “spoonfeeds” them a 1/2- or 3/4-oz. silver Hopkins spoon or a 5/8-oz. Barry’s Flex-It spoon in the white/silver combination. He attaches his spoon to his line with a snap and ball-bearing swivel to reduce line twist. Patrick considers the 7-foot medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Tournament “sweeper” rod as the perfect outfit for spooning. His line choice is Vicious 15-lb. test fluorocarbon.
“I prefer Vicious fluorocarbon for vertically fishing a spoon because the low-stretch properties of fluorocarbon greatly improves sensitivity over monofilament when fishing deep,” Patrick said.
Patrick does not jig it really hard like some people. He keeps the rod low, starting with the tip just off the water and jerks it up to the horizontal position, letting it fall on a controlled slack. He does not jig it above horizontal because that causes too much slack, lessening his ability to detect strikes as the spoon falls. Patrick referred to deep spooning as “Nintendo” fishing, because on your electronics you can sometimes watch the bass come up out of the school and eat your spoon. Spoons work well on all deep Georgia lakes, but Patrick mentioned Russell, Hartwell, Clarks Hill, West Point, Lanier and Carters as his favorite spooning lakes.
While the pros agree that drop shots and spoons are excellent presentations for deep winter bass, they diverge significantly in their presentations for shallow bass. Especially during winter warm spells, quality bass can be caught shallow, sometimes in less than 1 foot of water.
Bernie said, “Here in the South, we can experience unseasonably warm days in the wintertime. Fishing shallow goes against the grain for accepted wintertime strategies, but it will surprise you how big some of these shallow, feeding bass can be, both largemouth and spotted bass.”
Two of Bernie’s confidence lures to draw reflex strikes from shallow bass are lipless crankbaits and spinner- baits. He tries both to determine which one the fish will react to best on any given day. His favorite lipless crankbait is the Rapala Clackin’ Rap because of its great swimming action and loud rattles. Red, chartreuse and shad patterns are his confidence colors.
Bernie downsizes his spinnerbaits during winter, opting for a 3/8-oz. Hildebrandt with either double Colorado blades or a Colorado/willow combination. He tries different combinations of No. 3 and No. 4 blades.
His two most-effective spinnerbait patterns are a white skirt with silver blades and a chartreuse skirt with gold blades. In clear water he tends toward white, while chartreuse is his choice in dirty water. He has been successful fishing Georgia reservoirs by targeting stumps, laydowns, docks and grass with his one-two punch. His rod choice for spinnerbaits is a 6 1/2-foot, medium-action model, while he pulls a longer, medium-heavy Shimano rod out of the rod locker when fishing lip- less crankbaits. He spools his Shimano Calais reels with 12- to 20-lb. test Sufix monofilament, depending upon water clarity and the amount of cover.
When Jim Murray Jr. fishes one- day winter tournaments on Georgia reservoirs, he swings for the fence with a shallow-water approach, seeking big bites. Crankbaits and jigs are his go-to lures for picking off shallow fish. Rapala Shad Raps get the nod when water temperatures are below 50 degrees, while Rapala DT6 or Bandit 200 crankbaits are his choice when the mercury is above 50. He rarely throws a crankbait straight from the package, instead favoring a lure with a custom- paint job by Custom Bass Tackle. His custom colors center around crawfish tones, such as red and chartreuse. His rod of choice for cranking is a 7-foot, medium-action St. Croix Avid cranking rod, and he spools with Seaguar fluorocarbon in 12-lb. test. Lakes Sinclair and Oconee are two of Jim’s favorite crankbait reservoirs in Georgia.
When the shallow fish will not chase his crankbait, Jim goes after them with a flipping stick and a jig. He hand-pours his own jigs and ties them in black/brown or black/blue combinations, pairing them with black or black/blue trailers. Zoom Super Chunk and Super Chunk Jr. trailers are his choices, and he uses the appropriate version based on the size of the jig he is fishing and the rate of fall he wants.
The more stained the water, the more blue he adds to the combination. Lakes Lanier and Blackshear are his favorite lakes to flip jigs to isolated cover, such as docks, brush or grass. He flips with a 7 1/2-foot, medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Tournament rod and 20-lb. test fluorocarbon.
“During January, when fishing a shallow-water pattern, seven bites makes a great day. That is not many bites, but it is a proven tournament- winning approach,” Jim said.
Ish Monroe shared one of his west- ern secrets that he has used successfully in Georgia and all around the country. He throws an 8-inch Tru-Tungsten Tru-Life swimbait in the trout pattern to trigger big fish bites during winter.
“Big fish like that big bait, even if the lake doesn’t have trout in it,” Ish said.
Whether fishing small ponds or huge reservoirs, analyzing the conditions and figuring out whether the fish will be shallow or deep is imperative. Take the lead from these pros, and throw their recommended lures in the types of places they like to fish. Winter fishing takes patience and endurance, but when you figure out the pattern for the day, the rewards can be tremendous.
Jim sums it up well: “Fishing in January can be rewarding. The fish are healthy, fat and ready for an easy meal. Fish all your areas thoroughly, and take your time. Pick your days, dress in layers, and you might be surprised
what you will catch.”
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