WINTER BASS IN THE GRASS
article by KENNY COVINGTON
I am what a lot of fishermen call a “mudder.” Most of the time when fishing a tournament, regardless of the time of year, I am fishing water less than ten foot deep. I have always believed bass caught during the winter in shallow water are generally bigger, easier to pattern and easier to catch than the ones living in the deeper depths. This is especially true if you catch them in grass.
Years ago, fishing a Winter Club event on Lake Darbonne with air temperatures in the mid 30’s with periods of rain/sleet all day, I won the tournament fishing a big spinnerbait on shallow flats covered in coontail moss. When I told a fellow competitor how I caught my winning stringer, he didn’t believe me. I can still hear him saying, “There is no way you caught those fish in water that shallow in weather like this.” Over the years I have developed a wintertime grass fishing system that has proven to be consistent and in this month’s BayouLife article, I would like to share it with you.
That tournament day on Lake Darbonne isn’t the only example I can give you of productive grass fishing in the wintertime. My system has been successful on several kinds of lakes such as a river oxbow like Lake Bruin, clear water lakes like Caney and Claiborne, or cypress tree dominated lakes like Cheniere, just to name a few. If you follow a few guidelines and apply the correct techniques, the rewards of fishing this way are worth your efforts.
Water clarity and temperature are the first two things I look at. Winter grass fishing is more productive in clearer water situations. If I can see my lure three feet below the surface, that qualifies as clear water to me. Water temperature is important but not critical. As long as the water is 50 degrees or higher, I know my chances are really good for finding and catching bass. I have been able to catch them fishing grass in lower water temps, as low as 40 degrees, but 50 seems to be the magic number.
After water clarity and temperature I then consider the kind of day I am fishing. Grass fishing is usually much better on cloudy, breezy days. Calm, rainy days or even an occasional snow day can also be surprisingly productive. The cloudy, windy scenarios are true during the summer and fall but I have found them to be especially true in the winter. The one situation I find to be the most difficult for fishing grass is the post-front bright, bluebird day with no wind. These conditions are brutal.
Once I find the weather, water clarity and temperature to my liking, where do I begin my fishing search? I start fishing your typical spawning flats that I caught bass on earlier in the year, especially if I remember if the flat had any kind of aquatic vegetation on it. Flats that contain fields of dying or dead lily pads are excellent places. Hydrilla beds or areas where milfoil is present can also be good choices. No matter if it is hydrilla or sparse clumps of coontail, if there is grass, bass will be close by.
Probably the biggest key to this concept is to cover enough water until you get an idea of where the fish are holding and what they are holding on. The more a flat has to offer the more potential it has. For example if I find a flat covered in coontail with scattered cypress trees, with the presence of baitfish, I know this area can be productive. If I make enough casts, eventually I will figure out if this is where I need to be. It is especially important to pay close attention to where you get your bites or where you catch your first fish.
Was the fish on the outside edge of the grass or was he on a point? Was the grass scattered or was the fish relating to a clump of grass like he would an isolated stump? Where in the dead lily pad fields did the bite come from? Maybe, you were fishing scattered grass and you caught one off of an isolated tree with grass surrounding it. By paying attention to the information you can gather from your first fish the better your chances are of catching the next one. So now that we have established our potential area, what lures do we want to use in out attempt to locate fish? To keep things simple, no matter the body of water, I have just a few select lures I use. Let’s take a look…..
SPINNERBAIT Without a doubt, I have won more money on a spinnerbait fishing grass during the winter than any other lure. It will catch numbers of bass but it also catches big bass. My #1 rule for spinnerbait fishing this time of year is “Go big or go home”. I use a ¾ ounce bait 75% of the time and a ½ bait the other 25%. I like using two big willow leaf blades and the only color I use is blue shad or blue glimmer, matched with a blue glimmer Zoom Fluke as a trailer. Chatterbait
This is a lure I have been experimenting with the past few years and I have been pleased with the results. When the fish aren’t hitting the spinnerbait, often times they will hit a Chatterbait. I don’t have any logical explanation for this, it’s just a trend I have noticed. I keep my color choice pretty basic as a shad pattern or chartreuse/white are my favorites. Regardless of the chatterbait color, I use a white Yamamoto Zako as my trailer. Fish this lure slow enough where it stays just on top of the grass, retrieve speed is critical to its success.
RAT L TRAP The Rat L Trap may be the ultimate winter time grass bait. In flat areas where the grass is sparse, the Rat L Trap is deadly for both numbers and size of bass. While I usually will stick to shad colors like chrome/blue or sexy shad, I have had very good luck using gold/black on cloudy days.
The Rat L Trap is also a lure I will throw on the dreaded post-frontal days. It is very good at drawing reaction strikes by ripping it out of the grass once it has bogged down during a retrieve, triggering a bite from negative feeding fish. On that note, I have a few friends who prefer to throw their Traps on braided line when fishing it in and around grass. They believe it allows the angler to rip the lure free much easier, resulting in more reaction strikes.
SWIM JIG A great alternative to the above mentioned “power baits” is a swim jig. Bass this time of year can get finicky and the subtle presentation of a swim jig is something they don’t see very often. As a rule, I choose shad colors but the real key is to use a boot tail swimbait trailer this time of year. With a slow retrieve the swimbait gives the jig a side to side action that looks like a gizzard shad that big bass love to feed on this time of year. This lure can be deadly!
Well, it looks like we have run out of time and space again for another month. I hope we have been able to share some helpful information that will make your next fishing trip more productive. With hunting season still in full swing please be careful in the woods or while on the water. Catch one for me and I will see you next month!