Through the years and through a lot of trial and error I have learned that not all fish go deep when the water and air temperatures get below 40 degrees. Shallow water fish, 1 to 8 feet, can still be caught throughout the cold water months. It takes a simple mind adjustment, a little patience and the right choice of lure.
There are five moving baits that I prefer to use this time of year and they are: Rat L Trap, a Shad Rap, a single Colorado bladed Spinnerbait, a suspending jerkbait and a Chatterbait. While each lure may not be a bottom bouncer, I can still work the various depths and be versatile with my presentations.
The body of water and its water color are the next things you want to consider. Are you fishing a cypress tree dominated lake like the many small oxbows in our area? Are you fishing a clear water lake such as Caney or Claiborne? Is there grass present? Several factors come into play, but there are ways to make your decisions easier.
If I am fishing a stained water situation, my first choice would be the single bladed spinnerbait with a chatterbait being a close second. These lures push water even when being retrieved slowly, which enables the fish to find them. In lakes with grass, I would choose the chatterbait style, because it comes through grass much easier.
When fishing clear water lakes, I would choose the shad rap and the suspending jerkbait. Clear water bass often feed on sight, so you don’t want to overpower the fish by throwing something that doesn’t seem natural to them. The tight wiggle of the shad rap in clear cold water is a proven fish catcher, and the suspending jerkbait is deadly as well.
A Rat L Trap is a lure that works in several instances, regardless of where you fish and is probably the best search bait of all. You can cover a lot of water with it, until you find an area that has fish in it. You may not catch them all on a Trap, but often times this is the lure to find them.
Another thing I have learned is not to get too caught up on lure colors. When it comes to the Rat L Trap style baits and Shad Raps, shad patterns tend to work better until spring is just around the corner, and then crawfish colors tend to be better producers. This being said, one of the best colors in our area regardless of clear, stained or muddy water is firetiger.
One good tip is to pay attention to the fish you catch. Often times, looking in a bass mouth will give you a clue as to what they are primarily feeding on. If you see the pinchers of a crawfish protruding from his gullet, then you will know the fish are on a crawfish bite, or maybe it is the tail of a big bream. Whatever the case may be, adjust your colors accordingly.
When it comes to a spinnerbait the best choice is usually a single blade style. My two favorites are a 3/8 with a #4 or ½ once with a #5 single gold Colorado blade with a chartreuse/white skirt. Both combinations work, with the 3/8 version being my first choice in stained water and the ½ version for muddier water applications. When throwing a chatterbait, 95% of the time I throw black/blue.
Suspending jerkbaits are usually more about the presentation than they are the color of the lure, but here are a couple of things to consider. If the water is clear and you have high skies, use a more transparent color, such as ghost minnow. If the water is clear and you have cloud cover, a base white bait tends to work better. The thing to remember about the jerkbait is the cadence and how long do you pause between twitches of the lure. Experiment until you find the retrieve that works.
The only thing I tweak this time of year is line sizes. I tend to use smaller line sizes, such as 8-12 lb. test on jerkbaits and shad raps, but I stick with 15-20 lb. on the spinnerbait, both in monofilament. I admit not being a fan of this type of line, but for the Traps and chatterbaits I like to use 15 lb. fluorocarbon for no other reason than I just seem to get more bites.
Well, it looks like I have run out of space for another month. Just remember, before you give up on your favorite lake this winter, give the shallow water a try, it may just surprise you! Please be careful; catch one for me; see you next month!