The first few casts with the dark-skirted spinner bait sink in right along the edge of the dip in geography, exactly where they should be, but no takers materialize from below as the bait scoots toward the boat.
A few more flips and still the drag remains to be put to use. After switching rods to a drop-shot rig with a half-foot translucent flake worm, the next cast sails in and the weight bumps the bottom. It takes half a minute of slowed patience, but finally someone answers the door bell, and a solid hook-set is quickly applied, causing a great bend in the rod that makes the cool weather almost seem rosy as the angler reels up his quarry.
Though the sluggish bass doesn’t put up a huge fight, the 4-pounder makes the angler smile nonetheless, especially since his tactics paid off and they likely would continue for the rest of the morning.
This scenario and others like it are not uncommon this month as regular cool weather has yet to let hold of a wide swath of the Lone Star State, and some of Texas’ prime largemouth bass waters remain in a subdued state of slumber. The spring spawn is right around the corner, arguably the best time for any angler to catch the biggest bass of their lives in almost any lake, but fish currently are in a state of transition making the approach for anglers different than at other times of the year.
Though the eastern portion of the state has more and bigger waters and gets more attention from many anglers looking for lunkers, the waters west of the Metroplex remain some great spots any time of year, including this transition period.
To understand the tactics and methods that work best this time of year, you first must get a grasp on the effects of Mother Nature on the largemouth bass. Because they are cold-blooded, largemouths must rely on outside temperatures to warm the waters they live in and allow them to carry out their life cycle.
When water temperatures are lower, largemouths become much less active in their foraging activities, likely eating a fraction of what they normally do when it’s hotter while burning less energy. With a slower metabolism rate, the fish will look for structure or drops in the terrain from which they can hide and launch their occasional attacks on prey items.
Fishing cover and structure becomes even more important this month since bass basically are waiting until the water warms up to turn on their spawning activities and are hiding out anywhere they feel safe. Since bass are apt to gravitate to warmer water when it’s cold, one tactic you should think about employing is fishing in and around hot spots.
Fishing guides and other experienced anglers know that while water temperatures in open water areas are sure to be the coolest parts of a lake in February, areas near manmade objects such as marinas and boat docks and rocky areas such as riprap will be warmer. This simply revolves around the sun warming up objects that touch the water and making the surrounding area a little bit hotter. It’s similar to Texas inshore fishing when targeting shallow flats and other fish-holding areas that attract trout, redfish and flounder as temperatures rise and they come up lower in the water column searching for bait fish.
Though it won’t put the fish into a frenzy, this bit of warmth often will turn on fish that had been lethargic, making them more likely to seek out a bait that comes close rather than let it go by. A number of finesse offerings such as shaky head jigs or soft jerkbaits can be used in these types of situations, especially if they’re Texas-rigged to avoid snags. You might also be able to coax a bite with a spinner bait or other quicker lure if the fish are a little more amped up.
While water temperature plays a big part in where fish will be, water quality is also important since bass for the most part will avoid cloudy or muddy water if they have a choice. Most lakes actually do fare well when it comes to water quality right now, making fishing much easier than it would be if the water were dirtier and colder at the same time. With spring rains yet to arrive, there hasn’t been a bunch of runoff, which can cause cloudy depths that make fish harder to find.
The spawn also occurs at different times on different lakes across the state, so the fish may be in a longer transition period on some bodies of water, especially if the winter especially was harsh.
On Lake Alan Henry and some of the other lakes in the western portion of the state, the spawn might not really start until April and the peak may not be until May in some years. It all depends on the water temperature and hitting that magic number of 60 degrees and higher.
There’s no doubt that standing timber and laydowns and other vegetation will hold fish, but some of the best places often get overlooked for the function they serve. When fish go to spawn they’ll look for areas that will make for good nests and some of the best are rocky areas such as near dams and riprap and also along most shorelines.
And if you’re talking about structure, docks and piers and any other type of manmade objects also are great places to look for sluggish bass. Targeting docks and other structure with suspending and slow-falling baits can be dynamite for finding fish, including good ones right now.
February definitely ranks as a transition month for largemouth bass across Texas. Water temperatures are on the rise from the icy winter months, but they still have a ways to go to get the fish into the mood to spawn. By tailoring your offerings to slow-moving fish that are still on the prowl, you’ll be able to catch more fish during a month in which you might not have thought about hitting the water. When you put it like that, they’re bonus fish to add to the ones you’ll haul in during the spawn.
Who knows, maybe you’ll get a different dark-eyed lady to be your Valentine this year. Just limit the fish kisses.