Right off the bat, I’m going to admit that this week’s snow and cold weather may affect this story idea a pretty good bit.
In fact, given the dusting of snow locally and several inches not too far away to the north and west, falling water temperatures may blow this idea out of the water and force you to come back to it in another week or two.
But even if that’s the case, it won’t be long before the idea of going shallow may work for a big bass. And I’m not just talking about springtime either.
Historically speaking, the book on wintertime bass fishing is to typically look to deeper water. It’s cold outside, the water is frigid, and the cold blooded bass go deep to sulk, occasionally eat, and wait until Old Man Winter vacates the premises.
For many of us, the idea of looking for largemouth bass in late December, all of January, and through much of February centers around a game-plan of tossing crankbaits, jerkbaits, football jigs, bladed jigs, swimbaits, heavy spinnerbaits, Alabama rigs and even flutter spoons in the 15 to 20-foot depth range.
And sometimes, even that’s not deep enough. Just ask Barry St. Clair, owner of the current Texas state record largemouth bass weighing 18.18-pounds. Caught on Jan. 24, 1992 at Lake Fork, St. Clair pulled up the Lone Star State’s benchmark bass while crappie fishing with a minnow in 42-feet of water.
Yeah, that’s deep, even for a wintertime sowbelly bass.
But sometimes, fishing in shallower water during the winter months can pay dividends for a Texas bass angler, particularly when a particular winter season hasn’t been all that ferocious and water temperatures are several days ahead of schedule.
A talk a few days ago with an experienced bass fishing friend of mine gave evidence of that — if you consider stories and photos of several fish over six pounds being caught in water five-to-seven-feet deep as sufficient proof.
Then there’s the recent FLW Pro Circuit event on Sam Rayburn in late January, a tournament won by pro angling great John Cox of DeBary, Fla. One of the hottest anglers out there these days, he captured his $102,000 payday thanks to four days of solid wintertime bassing that gave Cox a total of 20 bass weighing in at 65 pounds, 15 ounces. Incidentally, that tally came on daily weight totals of 21-07; 18-12; 13-03; and 12-09.
What’s really interesting to me is how and where the FLW pro caught his winning weight total, generally focusing on water less than 10-feet deep on a lake with water temps in the mid-50s at the time.
According to the FLWFishing.com website story about his victory, Cox took the lead on Day One while fishing a three-foot high spot with some sand and rock that had hydrilla scattered all around it. This spot was said to be right at the mouth of one of the best-known spawning creeks on Sam Rayburn.
Using a No. 5 Berkley Frittside Crankbait in the Lone Ranger color early in the day and in the Ghost Morning Dawn color after sunrise, Cox landed nearly 22-pounds of largemouths on the first day, a weight total that most tournament anglers would gladly take on any given day of the year.
According to FLW writer Sean Ostruszka, the location was a transition spot that Cox kept casting to. When a school of largemouths would show up at the transitional location, the angling pro from Florida would feel his crankbait hit what felt like a “big log,” signaling to Cox that he was about to get bit.
While that shallow spot and pattern played out after a couple of days, Cox was able to keep adding enough weight to his total over the weekend by basically “junk fishing.” According to Ostruszka’s story, Cox indicated that he “…hit more than 100 spots, just running around up shallow, fishing anything that ‘looked good.’”
“Laydowns, grass, a point coming out or something that looked really fishy, I’d just swing in and burn it quick,” Cox told Ostruszka. “I just had the trolling motor on 100, and no fish came off the same thing. One came off an isolated stick. One came off a laydown. One came off a rock point. One come off a drain in the back of a pocket. I caught two on a prototype Berkley frog.”
Shallow water junk fishing and even throwing a frog? On an East Texas reservoir in late January where water temps were 54-56 degrees? Are you kidding me? Well, Cox’s trophy case and his bank account suggest that the answer to that last question is a resounding no.
But he wasn’t the only angler fishing in shallow water either according to Ostruszka. Because Sam Rayburn regular Tommy Dickerson of Orange, Texas also found success up near the bank in a timeframe that was several weeks before the spawn at Big Sam.
According to Ostruszka’s FLWFishing.com story, Dickerson focused on a well known creek area that almost always stays dirty. Because of that, many Sam Rayburn anglers go elsewhere to avoid the stained water.
“It’s really cool, because you’d think you’re in some bayou in Louisiana,” Dickerson told Ostruszka about the area lined with cypress trees. “I wasn’t fishing but 1-to-3-foot, hitting those cypress trees, especially the isolated ones or ones with lily pad stems.”
Again, he was fishing this way in late January.
What baits did Dickerson use for his runner-up success? A black-and-blue jig with a Reaction Innovations Twerk trailer and a black Picasso Shock Blade with an orange Lake Fork Live Magic Shad Swimbait.
Ostruszka asked the angler why he used the orange color on the swimbait in the angler’s tournament efforts that produced a four-day tally of 63 pounds, 8 ounces.
“To offset the dirty water,” said Dickerson, who also noted that he used a Strike King Red Eye Shad in crawfish patterns. “The first day I had two 5-pounders grab my tail. I put that orange swimbait on there and didn’t miss one since.”
The third place angler, Daryl Gleason of Many, La., also looked to Big Sam’s shallow water for his success.
In fact, Ostruszka notes that Gleason said that his shallow spots were especially key, as he looked for smaller pockets with drains in about 6-feet of water that also had grass.
In those spots, Gleason told the writer that he would throw a 1/2-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait in green pumpkin chartreuse that featured either a Yamamoto Zako or a V&M J-Bug trailer on the backend, both trailers in green pumpkin.
In the four-day event, Gleason’s game plan produced a solid 62 pounds, 14 ounces of bass, including a 6.03-pounder and a 7.92-pounder.
So what’s the point to all of this tournament rehashing? While admitting that Sam Rayburn is a unique big bass reservoir where water temperatures are usually a couple of weeks ahead of where they are here in North Texas, the idea can still hold water.
And that idea is this, that when you find late winter water temps in the 50s on your favorite bass fishing water body, don’t forget to look to the shallow water.
Because while history may argue for a deeper approach, sometimes, the best late winter angling action will be where anglers typically are looking a few weeks down the line.
As long as Old Man Winter doesn’t have another February snowstorm or two up his sleeves, that is.