The Wintertime Three
article by Kenny Covington
Now that the holiday season is behind us, hunting season is starting to wind down, and the weather becomes more unpredictable, bass fishing can become quite a “hit or miss” situation on our area lakes. Over the years, in January, I have fished in 70-degree weather, but I have also kicked ice off of my livewell lids so that I can put a fish in the well while fishing a tournament. The month of January is similar to a late Christmas present, you just never know what you are going to get.
One of things very few anglers realize, even in the harsh of winter, is bass will still strike a moving lure. One of the biggest five fish stringers I ever caught was on a Rat L Trap with the water temps in the low 40’s. Once, during a January warming trend, I caught several bass waking a big spinnerbait through dying lily pad stems. No matter what the water is doing, there will always be bass willing and able to track down a moving presentation.
When I was a kid, fishing tournaments with my dad, it seemed to me every time we would go to Lake Claiborne in January the weather would be brutally miserable. Despite the cold, the “big bass” pot would be won by someone who may only have caught a fish or two, but they would manage to catch the big bass of the event, on of all things, a crankbait. My younger self couldn’t really wrap my head around this because I was always taught cold water fish wouldn’t strike a lure moving along the bottom. Lures such as a jig, Little George, or a grub, were the standard.
Those of you who have read my articles throughout the years know I am a stickler for keeping things simple when it comes to my fishing. But you also know my style of fishing shallow with moving baits. My wintertime approach is no different. I rely on three lures for my power fishing fix and this is true regardless of the body of water I am fishing. I have caught both numbers and size of bass on these three lures; even if I am fishing a true “winter” tournament, they are rigged and on the deck of my boat.
My first lure of choice is either a 3/8 or a ½ Single bladed spinnerbait. My color will either be white or chartreuse/white and with either a gold #4 or #5 Colorado blade. The size of the blade is based on watercolor and the cloud cover. If the water is off color and I have cloudy skies, I tend to use the ½ ounce version with the #5 blade most of the time. If the water is cleaner and the sky is brighter, I use the #4 blade on the 3/8-ounce head. The idea is to use a bigger bait in the lower light conditions and the scaled down version for a more subtle approach under brighter conditions.
The key, no matter the size of spinnerbait I choose, is my approach to fishing the lure; I slow roll the bait around grass or any shallow wood cover I can find and is especially effective when targeting logs or larger stumps, rarely fishing deeper than five feet. I never retrieve the lure where I can see it, it is always a situation where the lure will be out of sight. If the water is heavily stained, I like to use a solid white trailer, usually a Yamamoto Zako, to give the lure some bulk, but in clearer water I will use just a white split tail trailer.
My second lure of choice is a flat sided crankbait. The Rapala Shad Rap has been the standard cold-water crankbait for decades and I admit I prefer wooden flat sided crankbaits to the mass-produced plastic ones. It is probably just my own confidence, but it seems like I catch bigger fish on a wooden flatside during this time of year, and I feel this is because they are quiet lures. The plastic versions, such as the Bomber Flat At or the Bandit Flat Maxx will catch fish but they have rattle chambers, making them less subtle, and in my mind, less effective.
The biggest key to this lure is using it on lighter line, usually 12 lb. monofilament, a slow retrieve reel and a good crankbait rod with a soft tip. I try to get just enough speed on my retrieve where I can feel the bait moving through the rod tip but one trick is to stop the retrieve and pull the bait periodically, a foot or two at a time. This is a cold-water killer!
My last choice for power bass fishing during the month of January is a Rat L Trap. I put all lipless crankbaits in this category so if you prefer a Diamond Shad or a Red Eyed Shad by Strike King, the same approach applies. A lot of anglers like to start throwing red lipless crankbaits this time of year, but I have caught much bigger bass using a shad pattern. My logic is everyone is using red so why not show them something different. I also like throwing gold on darker, cloudy days.
The key to the Rat L Trap this time of year is to make sure you drop the bait during your retrieve, using a pull type of retrieve while taking up your slack. The bite will feel a lot like a worm bite as the fish tend to suck the bait in as it falls. To help with the feel of the lure and the subtle bites, this is one of the few times I will use fluorocarbon line, usually 15 lb. test. This bait is especially deadly if the lake has areas or deeper flats with scattered grass. A Trap can load the boat if you can locate these productive spots.
Well, it looks like we have run out of space and time again this month. I sure hope we have given you some tips that will make your next winter bass fishing trip more productive and put more fish in your livewell. Make sure you take extra caution out on the waters, as hypothermia and cold related accidents are far too common. Catch one for me, and see you next month!