Winter is time for big bass
If you’ve ever heard me speak at a fishing show, or read anything I’ve written in Carolina Sportsman over the years, you know that I think February and March are the best months to catch your PB – personal best – whether it’s a largemouth bass, smallmouth bass or spotted bass. Both are great months to catch a big fish.
Later in the year, when the water temperatures are higher, the fishing will be better for numbers. But this is the perfect time to target those big, prespawn females.
Now, the weather in the Carolinas can be very inconsistent in February and March. The water temperature can be anywhere from the 40s to the 60s. So don’t plan long-term; just look out a day or two, and when you can, just roll with it.
When I’m fishing in February and March, I’m going to have two baits tied on: a Buckeye Mop jig and a crankbait. Everybody knows that I love to fish a jig. I made my living as a bass pro for 24 years with a jig tied on. It’s super good to catch big fish, but I’m going to start every day with a crankbait.
When I get on a body of water I haven’t fished in a few days – or a few weeks, or maybe not for a while – I’m going to start with a crankbait, because I can search with it. Through all my years of fishing, I’ve learned that when you go out on the lake with a preconceived idea of what the fish ought to be doing, even the most experienced angler can miss them. So I start out the day looking, putting my trolling motor down, covering water.
In February and March, I like to fish crankbaits that have a tight wobble, because bass like them better in cold water. I am going to fish a Shad Rap or a Rapala OG Slim. The OG Slim is a flat bait, and the Shad Rap, well, it has a shape of its own. But both of them have a tight wobble. And they come in different sizes. The biggest baits dive deeper, and the smaller baits, you can’t throw them as far.
The colors I like to fish are crawfish colors: browns, oranges, reds, some yellows. Those are my first choices. Now, if I find a lot of baitfish where I’m fishing, I’ll throw baitfish colors. But I start with crawfish colors because I know those really big females like to feed on crawfish this time of year.
I usually start fishing shallow water with deep water close by, and that’s relative. I might be fishing a foot or two deep, with 6 to 8 feet at the back of my boat. At Santee Cooper, 7 or 8 feet is deep. At Hartwell or Jocassee, deep water might be 40 feet. I don’t have a lot of success on banks where I’m throwing into 2 feet of water and I’ve only got 3 feet under the transom.
I’m looking at staging areas where the prespawn bass hang out. I think they use that nearby deep water like a highway.
When I’m fishing that crankbait, I’m using a Lew’s Kevin Van Dam Signature Series rod, 7-foot, medium with a Team Lew’s Pro SP reel with a 6.3-to-1 retrieve. I can throw a No. 7 Shad Rap or an OG Slim just fine on that outfit. Some people might want to fish the OG Slim Tiny or a No. 7 or smaller Shad Rap, on spinning tackle, and that’s fine.
Key on rocks
Don’t be afraid to vary the speed of your retrieve. Most of the time, I’ll fish it slowly. But even on cold days, they might want that bait moving a little faster.
When I’m searching with a crankbait, I’m trying to find what kind of cover bass are relating to. And sometimes, water conditions can dictate that. They can be on wood, brush, stickups, but this time of year, rocks are usually good. It can be any type of rock.
My home lake, Murray, has river stone, pebble rock, chunk rock, slate rock. Where the bass are located, is related to what kind of rock the crawfish are hiding in. When you get that figured out, if you catch a couple of fish and think you’ve got it figured out, that’s when I go to a jig.
I can fish that jig more slowly, and I have confidence that I can slow down and fish a Mop Jig, and I’ll have a good chance of catching that big, female fish. It might take me 4 hours to fish a 200-yard stretch of bank with a jig. But I am confident I can catch more of the fish on that stretch.
I will fish a 3/8-, 1/2-, or 5/8-ounce jig, depending on the depth and type of cover. If I’m fishing shallow, I will throw a lighter jig so I don’t get hung up on rocks.
If I’m in 10, 12, or 14 feet of water, I’ll use a heavier jig so I can maintain contact with the bottom. For years, I’ve heard pros, including Bill Dance, talking about how you want a slow fall in cold water. But I think it’s more important to stay in contact with the bottom. I’ll give up the bite from those fish suspended off the bottom for better contact with the bottom. I’m going to use the same crawfish colors – browns and reds – in the jig and the plastic trailer I use, a Yamamoto Flappin’ Shad.
I’m casting a jig most of the time with a 7-foot, medium-heavy Lew’s Signature Series rod with the same reel I use to fish a crankbait.
The water temperature enters into things a little bit. If it’s 47 degrees, I’ll have the jig in my hand more of the time. But I’ll still start out throwing the crankbait. If it’s 57 degrees, I’ll have the crankbait in my hand most of the time.
So even though it feels early to be taking your boat out of the garage in February, don’t miss the chance to catch a huge fish that this season promises. It may be the biggest of your fishing life.
This month, bass spend a lot of time searching for crawdads to eat, so whether you’re fishing a jig or a crankbait, use one in crawdad colors for best results.