If February 2018 is anything like February 2017 — with its unseasonably warm weather — bass fishermen can expect to encounter a good number of trophy fish. The key is water temperature; once it climbs into the lower 50s, big female bass migrate in numbers into shallow staging areas before they even think about spawning.

Although the water is warming, it’s still cold enough to keep most bass from chasing baits. Lures that can be fished with slow, tantalizing presentations account for many of the chunky bass that get scooped up in fishermen’s nets.

Two deadly winter baits that fit the above criteria are what some anglers call “J&J” baits: jigs and jerkbaits.

Those are the baits most-often found tied on by angler Rusty Bowers of Albemarle, N.C., when he fishes Tillery in February and early March.

When the bass start pulling up this month on Tillery, Bowers primarily targets wooden cover in the form of docks, tree laps and logs.

“The winter bass at Tillery love to hang around docks and piers,” he said. “When fish move shallow, that’s where you’ll find most of them. If fish are fairly deep, they’ll be on rock piles or along steep banks upriver, close to where the Uwharrie River empties into the lake. Fish wood or rocks wherever you see birds diving after baitfish. Birds are smarter than we are in locating fish.”

The jig is Bowers’ first choice for bass staging on wood or rock, especially in clear water.

“I like a 1/2-ounce jig with a matching Pro Chunk plastic trailer in green pumpkin, black/blue or red/orange colors,” Bowers said. “Let the fish tell you which color they prefer on a given day.”

Like most anglers, Bowers flips the jig to his