Because of all the rain we’ve had across South Carolina early in the winter, February is lining up for the kind of late-winter fishing I really love. Most all of our lakes are higher, and the water has plenty of color.

That’s the perfect equation for some great cold-weather crankbait fishing. 

I love to fish a crankbait this time of year. If the water is clear, I’ll fish a jerkbait, but stained water is most suited to a crankbait, because they can’t see it coming as far away. It’s right on them. You can catch a really big bass on a crankbait in February.

The key to catching big fish in relatively cold water is that you need a crankbait with a really tight wobble. My all-time favorite is the Shad Rap; I fish it in Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 9. You’ll catch more fish on the smaller No. 5, and like any other kind of bait, you’ll catch bigger bass on the bigger bait, the No. 9. These are really good baits to throw in February; it’s a really great search bait. If you’ve got a little stain in the water, you can throw ’em up on a shallow point, run ’em along the edge of a point, and it works on creek-channel beds, road beds — that kind of structure. It’s especially good on places where the sun shines, on rocks or hard, red-clay bottoms that tend to warm up.

Across South Carolina, February and March are the months when bass are at the right depths to fish a Shad Rap. They’re approaching the prespawn; they’re starting to move around, waking up from the winter, starting to think about moving shallow. It’s really a great time to catch a big bass.

As far as lure colors, I will have three rods out with three different colors tied on: natural shad, crawfish and fire tiger. Natural shad and crawfish are my favorites, but I’ll fish fire tiger a lot when the water is really stained. I throw all of them on baitcasting tackle: a 6½-foot, medium-action All-Star cranking rod and a Pfleuger Patriarch reel. I like the baitcaster because of the leverage I can get, but it’s important to recognize right away that some people find it difficult to throw a No. 5 or No. 7 Shad Rap on a baitcaster. You have to feel comfortable, so if you have trouble, go with a spinning outfit. 

One thing that really helps me make the casts I need — but I don’t need to throw these baits as far as I throw a big crankbait in hot weather when I’m really trying to get it down in deep water — I will spool my baitcasting reel with 14-pound Fireline braid, and I’ll tied on a 5- to 6-foot leader of 8- to 10-pound monofilament, something like Trilene Big Game. That helps me throw a No. 5 or No. 7 a long way.

When I’m looking for February bass, I’m going to be fishing on the main lake, and I’m going to fish maybe a third of the way back in a creek. These fish are pretty much just starting to move in, so that’s where I’m going to concentrate, and I’m going to look for an area with a hard bottom, clay or rocks. I’ll fish either end of the lake. I’ve been on Lake Greenwood and Lake Murray in the past week, and both lakes had water with good stain from their upper ends to their lower ends.

One thing you need to know is that despite it being cold, you need to be on the water at first light. There’s always a good early morning bite, whether it’s 25 or 90 degrees. I don’t know why, but the water tends to come to life when the sun comes up. But the good thing about fishing late in the winter is, you can catch a big fish at mid-day as well, when the sun’s been up long enough to warm up the water a little. February is a good time to go fishing for about six or eight hours.

When you find places where these fish have moved up to feed, you’re going to find more than one. When I find a red-clay point with some good depth around it, I know there will be more than one there — but it won’t be like the big schools you find in hot weather. I do a lot of searching with a Shad Rap, because these fish are moving and running around every day. If I catch one, I’ll make a lot more casts to that spot before I move, but I’m not gonna pull up to a place and make 20 casts before I catch one.

February can be such a great month to bass fish on our lakes. Those big fish are out there, and everybody has gotten deer hunting out of their systems and are starting to look forward to getting back on the water. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.