Warm-Spell Magic: Super Tactics For February Bass

A few warm days in a row this month, and the bass fishing is on. Experts on Lanier, Sinclair and the Altamaha share their best patterns.

Capt. Bert Deener | January 29, 2010

Lake Lanier guide and tournament angler Billy Boothe with a pair of tournament fish caught last year on Lanier.

February is my favorite month for big bass. That is a bold statement, but it has proven true over and over during the last three decades. Bass have been growing eggs since fall, cold weather pulled them off into a winter pattern, but their instinct tells them that any day it will be time to move shallow in preparation to spawn. All it takes is a few warm days to get them to move out of deep water and stage for the spawn. The best part is that if you can find them, they are usually gorging themselves in preparation for the spawn.

Three skilled bass anglers with more than 75 years of bass-fishing experience between them shared their techniques of finding and catching quality fish during February warming trends. Their home waters stretch from one end of this great state to the other, and their knowledge will help you find and catch bass this month not only on the Altamaha River, Lake Sinclair and Lake Lanier, but these patterns and techniques can be applied to other lakes and rivers — even your favorite farm pond.

Altamaha River

Tommy Sweeney has been winning tournaments on reservoirs and rivers over the last 15 years he has lived in Waycross, but he has a special affinity for the flowing water. Tommy has earned Angler of the Year honors while fishing with the Okefenokee Bass Anglers and is usually in the cut for the Top 6 state tournament.

Being farther south, the Altamaha River would seem to warm quickly, but the constant mixing of the flowing water actually keeps it from warming quite as quickly as lakes at the same latitude. Because of this, Tommy seeks out still water in February.

“The still-water oxbow lakes are the place to be during warming trends because they heat up more quickly than the main river,” he said.

The river level is a main factor, as it affects whether or not there is flow through an oxbow and also whether or not you can access an oxbow. Tommy follows the fish based on what the river level is doing. If the river is rising, he expects to find them in the backs of the oxbows, while a falling river typically pulls them out toward the mouths.

“Every oxbow fishes differently, and the fun of fishing a river is figuring out each one,” Tommy said.

After only two or three warm days, he looks for fish to become active on the Altamaha. If he is not sure where the fish are located, he starts about two-thirds of the way back in the oxbow of choice and begins fishing where it becomes difficult to find a defined channel. Tommy fishes his way out toward the river.

His go-to lure under warming conditions is a 1/2-oz., white/chartreuse Terminator spinnerbait sporting a gold turtleshell as the main blade and a smaller gold Colorado blade in tandem. Beating the bank works, but his most productive approach is to parallel the bank and fish the cover that lines the channel drop. He believes the larger fish hang on that cover. If he cannot trigger a strike on the blade, he switches to a brown-craw-colored Bomber 7A crankbait and fishes it parallel to the bank, as well. Most days the spinnerbait works, but some days they want the crankbait.

When he tucks his boat in close to flip or pitch to heavy wood cover, his favorite lure is a black Zoom Baby Brush Hog rigged Texas-style with a 1/4-oz. weight. He also flips and pitches a relatively unknown lure in Georgia — an Arkie hair jig. His most effective color has been black/blue, and he trails it with a sapphire-blue Zoom Chunk.

If fishing the tidally influenced part of the river where marsh grasses dominate, he still fishes backwaters rather than main-river stretches. Tommy looks for ambush spots on the outgoing tide, like the mouth of a rice ditch or creek. If it has wood, all the better.

In the marsh areas of the river, he uses the same spinnerbait as upriver about 75 percent of the time and a crankbait the other quarter of the time. His most effective crankbait in the lower river has been a firetiger Bomber 6A, and sometimes even a 4A.

“The mistake I made when I started fishing the lower river is getting on my spots too early in the tide,” he said.

His best approach in the lower river is to be on his spot during the last two hours of the outgoing tide when the bass pull out and stack up on cover at the mouths of ditches and creeks. He makes a milk-run heading up the river, trying to stay with the prime outgoing tide.

Tommy throws all his baits on 6 1/2-foot rods, using medium action for crankbaits and medium-heavy for spinnerbaits, jigs and Brush Hogs. Monofilament gets the nod over other lines, and he opts for 12-lb. test for crankbaiting and 17-lb. test for the others.

“You can fish all day on the Altamaha without throwing to a bad looking spot,” Tommy laughed.

Lake Sinclair

David Lowery, of Milledgeville, has been fishing tournaments on Sinclair for more than 25 years. The last two years, David has made the final four in the GON Eliminator Series. He fished BFL and FLW Eastern Division tournaments last year and is planning to fish the FLW Tour this year.

The key for David after three or more warm days in February is to move fast with a variety of lures until he dials in their location.

“I’m the kind of guy who will have 30 rods on the deck the first day of practice for a tournament, and I will try to pare it down as I go,” he said.

He noted that fish want to move shallow to feed this time of year, so it does not take too many warm days before they are on the move. After a few days in the 70-degree range, he looks to clay and rock points leading back into spawning coves. He said that big rocks are great assets to a point because they warm in the sunshine and transfer that heat to the water. Crankbaits are his prime offering to rocky points, and deflecting his lures off rocks is often what triggers strikes.

David Lowery’s key after three or more warm days in February is to move fast with a variety of lures until he dials in the location of the bass.

Norman Deep Little N crankbaits have been his most effective models on rocky points. Three colors get the job done for David on Sinclair — blue-back/chartreuse-sides/orange belly, lavender shad and black-back/red sides. If he does not need to get down quite as deep, he tries Bomber 4As and Rapala Shad Raps (sizes 5 or 7) in the same general color patterns as the Norman lures. He fishes his crankbaits on 7-foot medium-heavy action Kistler LTA rods and Abu Garcia Revo baitcasting reels spooled with 10-lb. test Berkley fluorocarbon line.

“Because it sinks, the fluorocarbon line gives me a little extra depth to deflect off rocks,” David said.

If he does not find the bass on rocky points, David moves back to coves with docks, especially seeking out those with rock seawalls that absorb heat. He expects the shallower water to warm faster and draw active fish up to it.

“A cup of water warms faster than a 5-gallon bucket of water,” he said.

David fishes the docks fast to determine if the fish have pulled up on them, and if so, where the fish are positioned on the dock. His lure of choice for this task is a Z-man Chatterbait. He quickly works the lure all around the dock, and if he gets a swipe and miss, he slows down in that area. His most effective Chatterbait sizes are 1/4- and 3/8-oz. models, and he uses black/blue-silver blades in muddy water, white/chartreuse-gold blades in stained water, and white-silver blades in clear water.

After several warm days, the fish will often eat the Chatterbait. If a bass hits at it but doesn’t take it, he works the dock with a jig or worm. His favorite flipping jigs are made by All-Terrain Tackle, and his best colors have been black, black/blue, Texas craw, and junebug (this was his best color on Sinclair last season). He alternates between the jig and a Grande Bass Rattlesnake Worm around docks. The worm is a finesse-style plastic and looks like a cross between a Senko and a ring worm. He Texas rigs the worm with either a 1/16- or 1/8-oz. weight, depending upon how fast he wants the worm to flutter down.

David noted that once you learn where the fish are located on the docks, you can often wear them out. They might be anywhere from the outer posts to the seawall, but once you locate them, you can often run to the next dock and find them in the same general location.

He fishes Chatterbaits on the same rod/reel combination as crankbaits. For worms and jigs, he opts for 7-foot medium-heavy or heavy action Kistler LTX rods paired with Revo reels. For fishing docks, he usually spools up with 15-lb. test fluorocarbon, but he will go as heavy as 20-lb. test when working extremely heavy cover.

“Make sure to check your line after every catch,” he emphasized.

Paying attention to little details such as this has allowed David to regularly cash checks over the last few decades. This month when you are on Sinclair during a warming trend, do not be surprised if you see David’s Louie Herron Toyota wrapped Tundra pickup truck in the ramp parking lot.

Lake Lanier

Billy Boothe, of Gainesville, is a largemouth specialist on a lake made famous for its spotted bass. He catches both species but tries to figure out the heavier largemouths that often boost him to the top of the tournament standings. He guides on the lake for both species, as well as fishing BFL tournaments, and last year he made the final four in the GON Eliminator Series.

“Lots of folks think it’s too cold to get out in February, but they’re missing out on locating fish that can carry them to high tournament finishes throughout the spring,” he said.

Billy makes this happen by finding prespawn concentrations of fish in February and just tries to stay with the various schools of fish as the season progresses.

“The fish that move up first are going to be the first to spawn, so I look for them early in the spawn and vice versa,” Billy said.

With his sight-fishing prowess well known in the area, many folks wonder how he finds spawners. He does not just start fishing during the spawn, but he actually begins the process in February. The system he uses is C-P-D-F, which stands for channels, points, ditches and flats. He tries to find several areas on a map that have all these options, and then he learns these areas well. During warming trends, Billy expects the bass to progress forward, eventually reaching the spawning flats, while he expects fish to regress in the process after winter cold fronts. The key is figuring out where they are in the progression.

Billy starts his search even before things warm up by dredging channels with a Mann’s 15-Plus crankbait. Crystal threadfin is his favorite color. He watches for bait on his depthfinder, and when he finds a ball of shad on a channel, he starts fishing. His rod of choice is an American Rodsmiths 7-foot David Fritts Cranking Series medium-action model. He fishes 10-lb. test Yo-Zuri hybrid line when cranking.

The best points are typically the ones that are near deep water and have a variety of substrates. Transition areas, such as clay to chunk rock or chunk rock to pea gravel are prime areas to concentrate fish. He uses the same Mann’s 15-Plus crankbait to probe both channels and points. After only one warm day and a mild night, he often finds bass already moved up on points. Ditches are where Billy usually finds the bass after just two or three warm days and mild nights. He said that based on his observations, the bass move more quickly on Lanier than some other reservoirs.

“I have caught quality fish on Lanier in as shallow as 4 feet after the water had only warmed to 49 degrees during a quickly warming trend,” he said.

He checks the heads of the ditches first and then moves back toward the flats casting a jig as he goes. His jig of choice is a 7/16-oz. green pumpkin/
orange Tabu Tackle Open Water Jig paired with a black plastic chunk trailer. He drags the jig on the edges of a ditch and also fan-casts the middle while both swimming and dragging the jig until he determines the location of the bass in the water column. His tackle for fishing a jig includes a 7-foot medium-heavy action American Rodsmiths H3 Titanium Ultra baitcasting rod and reel spooled with 12-lb. test hybrid line.

Once the fish reach the flats and before they actually spawn, Billy searches for them on docks. Sometimes it only takes three or four warm days with mild nights for the bass to make it back to the flats. Docks with black floats are key, as they transfer heat better than light-colored floats. A hard, rocky bottom is another key. The most productive flats contain diverse cover and plentiful heat-holding substrate (black dock floats, chuck rock, etc.).

His lure of choice for fishing flats is a 5-inch Mann’s Hardnose Freefall Worm in the watermelon-candy color. He said the small portion of harder plastic on the head holds his bait to his hook better and does not tear up as quickly as softer plastics, thus helping save some money. Because bass are often suspended just below the heat-holding black floats, he likes the way his Texas-rigged, unweighted worm stays in the strike zone a long time as it flutters down. He throws this offering on an American Rodsmiths 7-foot medium-heavy action H3 Titanium Ultra spinning rod and spools his reel with 10-lb. test hybrid line.

While Billy’s above approach works throughout February on Lanier, there is a unique situation he always looks for this month.

“When you get a warm rain in February and the creeks and ditches are flushing warm water into the lake, the bite can be absolutely ridiculous,” Billy said.

He runs to the backs of pockets looking for small creeks draining into the lake. Sometimes magnum spots are also mixed in with the largemouths. His primary tool is a 1/4-oz. white/chartreuse War Eagle Screaming Eagle spinnerbait sporting double gold willowleaf blades. Most folks are throwing Colorado blades in the cold, murky water, so he believes the different look triggers bites. Water running in is typically a little stained, but if it is muddy, he opts for double white blades. He throws the spinnerbait right on the bank and drags it off into the water, slow rolling it back to him right in the runout. He works his successive casts faster until he determines where in the water column the fish are holding. He fishes the spinnerbaits on the same H3 Titanium Ultra rods that he uses for jigs.

“This bite is awesome… they about rip the rod out of your hands when the bite is on,” he said.

Wherever you fish during winter, safety is a big concern. Do not be fooled by a 70-degree February day, as the water will likely be in the 50s or colder. Some tips for playing it safe during winter include wearing your life vest all the time, not fishing alone, telling someone where you are going to be fishing and taking a change of clothes in the boat. A fall into the cold water can quickly turn an otherwise fantastic day into a life-threatening experience.

Pick the right day in February, and you can have an incredible fishing trip. With the frigid cold the first few weeks of the new year, the fish will be primed and ready to move. Whichever lake or river you consider your home waters, you can apply tips from these three anglers to improve your results this February during the next warm spell.

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