New Year bass and stripers

Kyle Austin shows that while the trees are bare, largemouth bass are still plenty active this month. (Picture by Terry Madewell0

Fishing success on lakes Marion and Moultrie, except during spawning periods, is a function of forage. Chow is the one thing that’s predictable in terms of finding fish, even during January. Water temperatures get low this month, but food is important regardless of the fish species targeted.

January is a prime time to take big fish, but patience is often essential to making consistent catches.

Largemouth Bass

The theme of big fish in cold weather includes largemouth bass, and the fishing trend is positive for anglers with a reasonable degree of diligence. Bass will be around forage during late-December and through January.

Sometimes the fish-finding process involves considerable searching for areas holding forage and bass. Largemouth bass (and catfish) fishing guide Kyle Austin said he often works through areas that look great, but finds minimal action. But with perseverance, he’ll find areas rich in forage and quality bass.

“Weather and water conditions impact forage significantly, and that influences bass,” Austin said. “I’ll look for fish throughout both lakes. But often, I’ll pattern them in the upper end of Lake Marion during cold weather months early in the year. That’s a target-rich environment. And it’s an enjoyable process to work through the cypress and gum tree flats on the upper end of the lake.

“Not a lot of fishing pressure exists. So I usually have plenty of elbow room,” he said.

Austin (843-209-3726) said it’s not unusual to catch multiple bass from a small, sweet spot when he finds the right area.

“The goal is finding a forage and bass combination; find the forage in the right setting for bass and the action is good,” he said. “It may be water temperature, water color or other factors. But some localized areas will have the ingredients to hold multiple bass. So when we find these areas, it’s on.”

Austin works multiple lures, including soft plastics bumping trees, and spinnerbaits worked in and around trees, logs, and stumps. And crankbaits worked slowly will produce.

Live bait is the key to staying on the hot striper bite this time of year.

Austin said with stable weather, when anglers find that bass hotspot, the fish may linger in that general area for a few days.

“But when weather patterns shift again, and it does change consistently early in the year, the shad move and the bass follow. And the searching process begins again,” he said. “But even in the searching process, I’ll typically find a few big bass that linger in those areas. Enough forage is around for a few fish, and some of those will be huge bass. The anticipation of a big bass makes all the effort worthwhile during this time of year.”


The low water temperatures create changes in the striper fishing patterns at both lakes Marion and Moultrie. December fishing still produced a reasonable opportunity for schooling striper action, but the trend to using live bait was pronounced. By January, live bait rules the striper fishing.

Striper guide Jon Mercer, out of Blacks Camp, said late-December and January produces some quality stripers. But the fishing requires a more deliberate approach.

“I focus on deep water this time of year for stripers,” he said. “This provides me more options in terms of depths to find fish. I’ve found the most consistent bite is typically on live bait, specifically blueback herring. It’s possible to see some schooling activity, but I don’t count on it on any given day. I’ll have a bucktail and spoon rigged and ready. But live bait is typically the key.”

Mercer (910-734-3845; No Mercy Fishing with Capt. Jon) said with water temperatures dropping, the shad often migrate into deep water, but also into creeks and coves at times.

“Even if the stripers aren’t surface schooling, they’ll get around those big pods of shad and feed. So drifting live bait through these areas is often productive,” he said.

Some anglers make excellent catches of stripers using live shad as bait that they’ve caught using a cast net, and that works well.

Mercer said January can produce quality stripers for anglers diligent enough to hunt them down. The action is typically not fast-paced like the fall fishing. But catching a limit of keeper stripers is a reasonable expectation.

Steady for stripers:

The fast action for stripers during the fall has slowed considerably by January, but anglers still catch plenty of keepers ths month. It just takes a little more effort and time, but the payoff is worth it.

About Terry Madewell 802 Articles
Award-winning writer and photographer Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., has been an outdoors writer for more than 30 years. He has a degree in wildlife and fisheries management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager.

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