For most people, the best thing to do on a bone-chilling winter day is to stay inside close to the fire, but for Jerry Kotal of Elberton, Ga., it’s the perfect day to go fishing on Lake Russell on the South Carolina-Georgia border.
“There are not many people out fishing in January, but you can catch more bass in the winter than at any other time on Russell,” said Kotal (706-988-0860). “I’d a heap rather fish in the winter than in the spring and summer because you don’t have to fight the crowds.”
And, he added, fishing for spotted bass is at its peak when the water is at its coldest.
“If the water stays cool, the fish won’t pull up shallow until sometime in February. If the water stays in the 40s like a normal winter, then suddenly gets up into the high 50s, they will start moving to the bank and suspending more.”
When the water is cold and stays that way, he said, spotted bass will be holding in the 50-, 60- to 70-foot range.
“Some will be suspended around the standing timber, but there will be a lot of fish on the bottom,” he said. “You can catch them on a drop shot, a jigging spoon or on live bait. They are feeding on small baitfish like threadfin shad, so you can use minnows or small blueback herring.”
Kotal said when he targets spotted bass fishing in the dead of winter, he looks for groups of bait, usually close to the bottom, or for groups of fish.
“Sometimes they will be holding so tight on the bottom that you won’t know they are there until you catch one,” he said.
While he is targeting spotted bass, Kotal said a day’s catch likely will include a few largemouth bass, plus crappie, catfish and white and yellow perch — lots and lots of tasty perch.
“Sometimes you will get a surprise and get your line broke by a striper. A striper will take all the line off your reel very quickly unless you stop it,” he said.
A typical day of fishing will produce anywhere from 30 to 100 fish, he said, and 100 fish in a day, including perch and other species, is not uncommon this time of year.
“The most bass I ever caught in one spot was 80 in about an hour. There was a fish on just about every drop,” he said.
While the majority of bass will be spotted bass, Kotal said a good day might also produce five or six largemouth bass, but spots have pretty much displaced largemouth as the key bass on Lake Russell.
“We used to catch a lot of 5-pound spots, but now we catch a lot of 1½- to 2½-pound fish. A good-sized spot on Russell will run 3½ to 4 pounds, but we still catch some up to 5 pounds,” he said.
The cold-weather pattern for Russell bass and other species runs from October through early February, Kotal said, and can last even into March as long as the water stays really cold.
If the water does warm up like it did last year when the water temperature got up in the mid-60s for about 10 days, the spawning urge will kick in, and the fish will move shallow and closer to the bank.
“If the water does warm up, spots will be around the deeper banks, and you have to throw a jerkbait or a Blade Runner to catch them,” Kotal said.