January is a difficult month for most fishermen in North Carolina. It’s really cold here, so the fishing can be very slow. And with the price of gas as high as it is, going to Florida to fish for a week isn’t an option anymore for a lot of people.
So you’re bored stiff, and you need something to do. What I do in January — besides go to boat shows — is take a long look at my inventory of tackle, specifically the baits I plan to use.
When I figure out what I’m missing, then I have time to buy what I need before early spring fishing starts in late February.
I go through all my stuff, and I divide it up and categorize it. When it comes to hard baits, I’ll separate them into lipless baits, rattling and non-rattling, jerkbaits and topwaters. Then with my crankbaits, I’ll set aside baits that I’ll use in shallow water — from 0 to 5 feet, then 5 to 8 feet, 8 to 10, 10 to 15, and deeper.
After I have them categorized, I can look and see what I’m missing and what I need to buy.
Getting everything done in January is important because a lot of times, a certain color will get hot at a certain time of year, and then, it may not be as easy to find it as it will be at the boat shows where you have tackle dealers set up to sell a lot of different baits.
I start with plastics. What’s good about plastics, jigs and spinnerbaits is they’re the types of baits you can fish at any depth, so all you really want to do is get the good colors you need.
During spring, no matter what color the water is, it’s pretty hard to be colors like Junebug, grape and black grape.
In lakes that have a lot of grass and are a little less stained, pumpkin and green pumpkin will work, but that’s usually better after the spawn.
When fish are getting ready to spawn, something like Junebug or grape has got to be your No. 1 color. When bass are in the postspawn, make sure you have plenty of baits in the old color “plum.” One of the better-kept secrets around bass fishing is that plum and red shad are really good postspawn colors.
In summer, now you’re looking at your watermelon, watermelon seed, pumpkin, green pumpkin and even moccasin. And in the fall, you go back to your darker colors again.
With crankbaits, there’s a little more variety of colors to choose from, but at least in North Carolina, you can narrow down your choices a little more than you can in other states because of the kinds of water we fish.
So when I start thinking about spring colors, I know I’m basically just looking to fill in the gaps in the lures I have that will run no deeper than 10 feet, especially those that won’t run down more than 5 feet.
Before the spawn, golds and browns are excellent. Red can be a really good color in North Carolina when it isn’t in other states, but browns are more effective.
You’re looking at crawdad colors, golds and gold foils — anything from gold to dark brown in shad or crawdad patterns can be good before the spawn.
When the spawn gets here, look at chartreuses and reds — bright colors that will make fish mad. That’s why a spinnerbait is so effective right before the spawn, and why a jerkbait is so good. You drop it in front of him; it shows up right over his head; he hears “splash, splash, splash;” he sees that bright color — and he can’t stand it.
When the fish start coming off the beds, you’re looking at baits that’ll run a little deeper, and now it’s hard to beat your green- or blue-backed, pearl-sided baits instead of shad colors.
My two best colors for postspawn North Carolina lakes are green-pearl and blue-pearl, and I’ve taken them to other states, and they’ve been very productive.
Another one that’s good is the color we used to call “carp” — which has kind of a watermelon/green back and pearl sides. If the water has a little more color, the blue-backed bait is better. If the water is a little clearer, the green works better.
In the summer, your range of colors expands. Shad-colored baits will be good, and there are colors that come into play like firetiger, chartreuse with a brown back, even the old color we called “Clark Gable” because it was so pretty — the chartreuse bait with the green tiger stripes.
Late in the summer, especially at the end of July and during August, chartreuse is hard to beat — chartreuse/blue and chartreuse/green are great.
In the fall, you have lots of options. Early on, chartreuse is good, especially with some brown mixed in. The colors we called carp and plum-shad are really good in the fall, especially when the lake you’re fishing is starting to turn over.
Your grays and shad colors can really get good, and so are the browns. They get better a little bit later, toward the end of the fall.
I’ve been successful in the fall fishing an all-white bait, even chromes. There are days when the fish are real aggressive and flashy baits like that will really pay off.
How many baits do you need? That’s a hard question, because we all have different fishing habits. Obviously, I’m going to use and need a lot more crankbaits than most fishermen. Somebody else may need only half the crankbaits I need, but they may need twice as many jigs.
The key is just knowing how you like to fish and the baits you like to throw. Pick them out, and get enough of them in the right colors that you never have to worry about coming up short on the second day of a weekend fishing trip, or at about 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, an hour before your club tournament weighs in and right when you’ve found ‘em schooling at the end of a point.
Editor’s note: David Fritts is a 46-year-old professional bass fisherman from Lexington. He was the 1993 BASS Masters Classic champion, the 1993-94 BASS Angler of the Year and the 1997 FLW Tour Champion. His sponsors include: Bass Pro Shops, Ranger Boats, Mercury outboards, Minn-Kota trolling motors, American Rodsmith, Rapala crankbaits and fishing line, Zoom plastics, Chevy trucks, Solar Bat sun glasses, Mountain Dew, Gripper (ECS Anchor Supply), VMC hooks, Pro Pocket and Blue Fox.
JOIN THE CLUB, get unlimited access for $2.99/month
Become the most informed Sportsman you know, with a membership to the Carolina Sportsman Magazine and CarolinaSportsman.com.