Use January to create good bass-holding cover
Somebody asked me the other night, “What do you do during January?”
He was asking me about how I fished for bass in January, which is arguably our toughest month in the Carolinas. But I gave him an answer he wasn’t suspecting.
“January.” I said, “that’s when I put in brush piles.”
And that’s really the truth. For years and years, almost every weekend in January and February, if I wasn’t working a fishing show somewhere, I was on a lake, putting in brush piles. I’m always hoping they become bass hangouts later in the year when I return in my Ranger boat.
So, why not talk about putting in brush piles? They might be one thing that all bass fishermen can do to help drive their catches upward.
January and February are great times to put out brush for several reasons. First, it’s cold, and the lakes are basically empty compared to the rest of the year. You’re less likely to have somebody see you putting in a brush pile, finding it and fishing it themselves. Second, on a lot of our lakes, the levels are much lower during the winter. So you have a better idea about what the bottom looks like where you’re going to fish later in the year. It makes it easier to pick spots to sink brush.
So let’s divide the science of sinking brush pile into two sections: where and how.
Where to put it
First, you want to put brush out somewhere that’s not obvious. That’s important, because with electronics as advanced as they are, with the Lowrance unit on my boat, I can go right down a creek channel and find every brush pile. So I want it to be a little bit out of the way. You can put it on the side of a point instead of on the end, or it can be on the side of a drop or a railroad trestle.
You want to put brush out on places with hard bottoms, places that bass normally use. Sinking one on a soggy, muddy bottom defeats the purpose.
You want to put brush out at different depths so they’ll hold bass during different times of the year. I like to put brush out where the top will be 5 to 7 feet from the surface. And I like to put brush out where the top will be 14 or 15 feet from the surface. These are good depths for bass in the summer and fall when you’re going to be fishing brush. And remember, brush is the No. 1 cover in the fall. So try to have brush out in the depth range your bass hold in the fall.
Leave your best fishing spots alone
Don’t mess up what’s already a good spot. If you’re catching fish off a point or on a section of a drop, don’t add a brush pile there. The spot is already good for a reason. All you’re going to do by putting a brush there is mess it up, scatter the fish out and make them harder to catch.
Flats are great places to put brush piles, especially if there isn’t any cover around. A flat that runs anywhere from 100 to 300 yards off the bank before it drops into a channel is great. If you can find a little rise where the bottom is a little harder — you should be able to tell on your depth finder — you can make a good fishing hole. When a bass is swimming along on a flat, if there’s no cover there, he’s going to keep swimming until he finds some cover. Hopefully, that’s your brush pile.
What to put out
Second, you want to put out some cover that isn’t actually brush. Some of the best cover I’ve put out during the winter are little piles of rocks. You’ve got plenty of rocks around if you’ve got riprap on your lake, and bass actually hold on rocks as much or more than they’ll hold on brush. Build a rock pile.
And following that lead, the brush you put out shouldn’t be all that brushy. One problem in putting out things like Christmas trees is that it’s hard to get a lure back through them, especially a crankbait. Trees like cedars and pin oaks are hang-up magnets.
I like to put out two kinds of trees as brush: gums and willows. What I like to do is cut down a tree, then go down the trunk and trim the limbs off about two feet from the trunk. You don’t want any long limbs or leaves. The short, stout limbs will help keep the trunk up off the bottom. I have found that willow trees are the kind of trees that big fish get on when the water is up — and when they’re in deeper water.
How to sink them
When it comes to sinking them, you want to sink that tree trunk sticking out in the direction of where you’ll set up in your boat. You want the limbs pointing at your boat, so when you cast into it, you’re retrieving in the direction the limbs are running. So you’re less likely to get hung up. This is especially important when you’re fishing a crankbait. A crankbait is more likely to bounce off a limb that is pointed in the same direction the crankbait is running.
It’s not hard to sink a tree that way. You take coat hangers or wire and wire the cinder block to the bigger, trunk end and drop it. Once in a while, a tree will roll on you when you drop it, but it’s not difficult to sink it in the direction you want to. Sometimes, because a willow tree will want to float, you have to sink it with a block on either end.
If you don’t have enough cinder blocks or run out, you can use big rocks. Just take your wire and make a four-way loop around the rock, then attach it to the rock and drop it.
When you’ve got your brush sunk, know this. Only about 10% of the brush piles you sink will ever hold bass. Some of them might wind up as great brush piles for crappie. But if you catch bass off one of every 10 you sink, you are doing a great job.
Now, go get that chain saw, oil up the bar and chain and get going.