December is time to follow the baitfish

With baitfish migrating this month, bass anglers will have the most luck if they stay on the move.

I stopped tournament fishing a few years ago, and it really opened my eyes to how I thought I had been fun-fishing with my son and with friends up to that point. For a little while, I was still in tournament-mode. I’d be on the lake wondering if we should be hooking all these fish, or whether we should be letting anybody see us catch fish.

But I’ve come around, and now, bass fishing for me is really fun – and I realize it more than ever. I really enjoy going fishing.

That brings us to the month of December, and it’s a very unusual month in the Carolinas. Yes, we can have snow and ice, but we can also have some beautiful days on the lake. Most bass tournaments are finished, and a lot of people are still deer hunting, winding up deer season. And it’s 2023, and I’ve come to cherish being able to be on the water when there’s not a lot of recreational boat traffic. Most guys stop bass fishing in October or November. So December is the slowest time of the year for a lot of people, but I really enjoy it. The only fishermen who are really out there are striper fishermen, and when I’m bass fishing and have a chance to catch some stripers schooling, I’ll stop and enjoy that.

Check the creeks

A couple of things are going on with bass in December, and the big one is the baitfish migration – mostly threadfin shad. They go back in the creeks in September and stay there through October and November. But by December, they’ll be moving back toward the main lake. You have to follow the migration of these baitfish, because the bass will be following them.

Typically, when I back my Phoenix bass boat down the ramp for a December fishing trip, no matter where I’m going, I’m going to start in the backs of the creeks and work my way out, looking for signs of baitfish. You might find them halfway back in a creek, near the mouth of the creek, or right where the creek dumps into the main lake. Finding them is most of the battle. But with all the advancements in our marine electronics, it’s a lot easier than it once was.

If I’m looking and fishing, if I don’t see baitfish and bass, I’m going to fish my way pretty quickly through that area and keep on going. Now, if you’ve got good electronics, they’ll show you where the fish are.

Once I get in an area that’s holding baitfish, I’m going to be searching with three primary baits: Rapala DT-6s and DT-8s and also a jerkbait, a Rapala Mavrik 110. A jerkbait is a bait that maybe a lot of people don’t think about in December. Everybody fishes them in January, February and March, but I’ve had a lot of success starting to fish a jerkbait in December and fishing it through January and February.

Search mode

When I find baitfish, I go into search mode with those baits. If the water is cold, bass will get on the bottom and you can work on ‘em with those crankbaits. But until it does, you’ll have some fish that are still suspended around the bait, and you can catch a lot of good fish on a jerkbait.

When I get around some fish and start to catch a few on the crankbait or the jerkbait, it’s important to me to stop and fish a jig around that area, because I feel like a bigger fish will be there that I can catch on a Mop Jig. I’ll use a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog for a trailer, because that bait doesn’t have a lot of motion. It doesn’t put off a lot of vibration and noise. It’s just bulky and glides through the water, and that’s good in December. I love fishing a jig in December. While March is probably the best month to catch a really big fish, you can also catch some big fish this month on a jig.

As far as cover, if vegetation is around, I’ll try to pinpoint baitfish and bass around it, whether it’s gator grass or eel grass or something else. If more than one type is in a lake I’m fishing, I’ll pay attention to the type of vegetation where I’m finding baitfish. If they’re not on vegetation, I’ll be looking for them around cane piles or brush piles.

December offers a great opportunity to have a lake almost to yourself, and to have a chance to catch bass that are often still really active, still feeding up for the winter. And they’ll mostly be in shallower water. Being able to find baitfish doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier. So give yourself a present and spend more time on the lake in your bass boat as Christmas approaches. ■

Jerk ‘em in:

Most anglers don’t consider this a month for jerkbaits, but because many bass are still suspended in the water column, jerkbaits can be highly effective, especially late in the month, or when the weather hasn’t turned especially cold.

About Davy Hite 172 Articles
Davy Hite is a 40-year-old native of Saluda, S.C., who now resides in Ninety Six, S.C. He has fished professionally since 1993, when he qualified for his first Bassmasters Classic. He was the BASS Angler of the Year in 1997 and 2002, and he has won the 1999 Bassmasters Classic and the 1998 FLW Tour Championship. He is sponsored by Triton boats, Evinrude outboards, All-Star rods, Pfleuger reels, Pure Fishing (Berkeley), Owner hooks and Solar-Bat sunglasses.

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