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In cold weather, bass will hang out near shad
January brings true winter to the bass in our area. Their food requirements are a fraction of what they were only a month ago, and they now have moved to deeper water to spend the next six to eight weeks.
In this area, water temperatures will drop to between 38 to 44 degrees and stay there through mid-February.
The key to catching bass now is finding a concentration of shad. Follow that by using small baits, a lighter line (8- to 10-pound test) and patience.
First, a look at location. Finding shad and bass together in a constricted area is crucial. Bass will not move far from there food source during the winter, and they also will not move more than a foot or so to take a bait. Most will position themselves under schools of shad near the bottom and pick off dying shad as they sink.
My favorite structural locations for winter bass fishing are main lake points at the mouths of major creeks, with the old creek channel swinging into the point. These types of areas allow you to efficiently work your baits in the small winter strike zone of the bass. It is worth mentioning that the better points and structures usually will have a 45 degree slope to them. I locate several of these types of structures on my map before I go to the lake. Upon arrival, I simply idle my boat over them and use my depth finder to locate ones with schools of shad on them. Once I find the shad, I begin to fish.
During the coldest months, I primarily use spinning reels and Falcon Graphite spinning rods. The small baits, cold air and delicate bites call for light line and sensitive equipment. I use four key bait types in January. My first pick is a 5/16- or 7/16-ounce Jewel Eakins Jig tipped with a small portion of an Eakins Craw. I like Black/Blue, Green Pumpkin or Missouri Craw colors in this bait.
For the technique, I position my boat in the creek channel and make a long cast to the bank or on top of the point. Then I slowly drag the jig along the bottom until it is under the boat. Bites will usually feel like you picked up moss or leaf litter. A light hookset will do the trick with the Jewel Jig's exposed hook.
My next lure choice is a Southern Pro Finesse tube with a 5/16 round jig head inserted into it. I use shad colors with this bait -- either white or salt and pepper. I'll position my boat over the shad which are usually right at the edge of the channel. I open my bail and drop the tube through the school to the bottom. This bait will have a slow slight spiral as it falls through the school, it's a great imitation of a dying shad. If I don't get a bite on the initial fall, I close the bail and lift the tube vertically about two feet off the bottom and let it fall again. I'll repeat this vertical jigging over and over, moving the bait horizontally a few inches at a time around the bow of my boat. Bites are usually just a twitch in the line as your tube falls, once again a light hook set is all you need with the tube's small exposed hook.
If I can't get bit on the tube, I'll switch to a heavy 1/2-ounce spoon. I'll do the same process as with the tube. Sometimes the faster fall of the spoon will trigger a reaction bite from the sluggish bass.
My final lure choice for winter bass fishing is the suspending jerkbait. I use a Lucky Craft Pointer 100 in the clown color pattern. The pointer runs about 5 feet deep and will draw strikes from bass that are not holding near the bottom. To work this bait, simply make a long cast to the bank or across the point the crank it down to its working depth of 5 feet. The bait will suspend at that depth and position until you move it. Now simply retrieve it with a series of twitches and pauses. I suggest a simple "twitch-twitch-pause" cadence allowing about three to five seconds for the pause. Bass will simply "load up" on your rod when they hit.
Remember, this is true winter fishing: be patient, dress warm, wear your life jacket. It's a great time of year to really get away from it all. Enjoy the solitude. Spring fishing will be here before you know it.
David Bortner is a promotional bass fisherman who has competed in BASS Federation and Wal-Mart BFL events.