Some of the Best Gifts Don’t Come Wrapped Under a Tree, But on the Water
Yes, I miss the warm, soft breezes of May that blew across the water here on Lake Guntersville. Yes, I miss the warm, wet dampness of a quiet very early morning when I cast topwater lures for bass over the grass beds in July. Though the heat of summer ended for this year, I’m still having a good time catching some big, strong bass even as the December wind blows colder each day.
“If your time is limited during this part of the year, then plan your trips around weather changes.” – Jake Davis, bass guide
Anglers in Alabama don’t have to shut down for the winter as our neighbors to the north often must do. Bass in Alabama stays on the feed all year long. Anglers who are willing to shift gears and fish in different ways in different places can still catch some fine bass. So, we spoke with one of our favorite bass specialists, Capt. Jake Davis of Mid-South Bass Guide on Lake Guntersville, to talk about how we can find and catch these bass in late fall and early winter.
Before starting plans for any fishing trip, it’s best to have some pretty good information about the weather and other conditions. Captain Jake says, “Let’s set the stage. In November, water temperatures begin to drop and they should continue to drop through mid-February. Some area lakes will be dropping to the mid to upper 30s over the winter. Bass become much more lethargic when it’s cold to conserve energy.
“Bright sunny days in winter can raise water temperatures by as much as five degrees in just a couple of hours,” he continued. “This can trigger winter feeding binges. While I’m a firm believer that anytime on the water is a good time, if your time is limited during this part of the year, then plan your trips around weather changes. The best days are normally any unseasonably warm days during the late fall and winter, but fishing before a cold front or any other weather change can also be productive.”
Captain Jake reminds us that in late fall and winter, the really big bass, the trophies in any lake in Alabama, are being lazy. For the most part, they are not chasing food and feeding heavily because their metabolism slowed with the cooling water. Locations that have good cover, docks, rock bluffs with wood, lots of food and good sunlight exposure are places we want to seek out and fish.
How to Finding the Big Old Girls
It doesn’t do us anglers any good to fish hard and long if we don’t fish in the right places. You can’t catch bass if bass aren’t where you’re fishing. So finding the lake locations where bass are holding at this time of year is crucial.
“A good shad population is a vital link in being successful in finding and catching bass at this time.”
Captain Jakes advises us, “While fishing breaks in the current is always a good idea, it is especially true during the winter. In the cold, fish need to conserve energy to survive the difficult conditions. This will cause bass to stay out of the current behind rocks and logs and in wider areas of the river or riverine lake where the current is slower. Any area that is receiving sunlight on cold days is likely to hold bass as well. Banks that descend at 45 degrees with rock formations are great places to start.”
Captain Davis tells us that we should start our search for bass in creeks and pockets in the upper regions of the lake in the winter. If these creeks have lots of cover and a freshwater flow into the lake, this may be a prime location to find bass now. This inflow of water is an important factor that many anglers either overlook or don’t understand completely. In many cases, bass feeding patterns will be more active in lake waters closer to where the creek or stream comes in versus areas nearer the dam. The larger the body of water, the truer this fact is.
Captain Jake says, “I prefer creeks that have plenty of cover like laydowns, stump rows, chunk rocks, sunken brush around boat docks and, when possible, grass and other aquatic weeds. The ideal creek would be one where this structure is close to the dominant lake channel. The other factor to be on the watch for when looking for bass in the winter is schools of shad or other baitfish. A good shad population is a vital link in being successful in finding and catching bass at this time.”
The Right Rig, Gear for Winter Bass
Bass anglers love to talk about their gear and lure choices for specific times of the year and special places. Winter bass fishing on the big lakes of Alabama is no exception. A wide range of techniques and lures will work at this time, but anglers need to adjust their gear and lure choices to fit particular lakes and lake situations.
Captain Jake says, “Around riprap, bridges or points on the lake in late fall, it’s crankbaits and spinner baits. My favorite cranks for covering deep water are Rapala DT-20 and DT-16 lures. My color selection will really depend on water clarity and sunlight penetration. As for spinnerbaits, a Punisher or Assassinator 1/2-ounce double willow-leaf in a white or chartreuse color works great when worked along grass or laydowns. When employing any crankbait, it is imperative to have the proper rod and reel setup. For crankbaits, I use a 7-foot, 11-inch Duckett White Ice Cranking rod in medium-heavy action with a 5.4-1 ratio Lew’s reel. For spinnerbaits, I use a 6-foot, 7-inch medium-heavy action Micro Magic rod armed with a 6.4-1 Lew’s reel. For both of these specific setups, I use 8- to 12-pound-test Vicious Ultimate or Pro-Elite fluorocarbon line.”
For those really tough, slow-bite winter days, Captain Jake has some more advice.
“If the bite slows, a football head jig is the go-to bait. I prefer a 1/2-ounce Tightline football head jig matched to a Missile Baits Twin Turbo Tail or a D-Bomb when the bass wants a bulked up profile. Another excellent go-to tactic is a Texas-rigged soft plastic such as an 8.75-inch Tomahawk worm or creature bait like the D-Bomb. Both of these plastics will move lots of water during a slow presentation. My Texas rig is made up of a 3/8-ounce tungsten weight followed by a bead and good 4/0 hook. I recommend a 7- to 7.5-foot heavy action Micro Magic or White Ice rod from Duckett Fishing paired with a Lew’s 7:1 reel with either Vicious Ultimate or Pro Elite fluorocarbon line in 15- to 17-pound test line.”
On the Hunt for Lunkers
One of the rewards of fishing the sometimes tough conditions of late fall and winter on the Alabama lakes is that when the bass are found, they tend to be very good ones, frequently some of the best fish of any year.
Captain Jake tells us, “One of our best fish in December came to us the same way as my second best 5-fish stringer did. We were fishing docks that had shad around them and lots of sunlight. Both times, I was using a 1/2-ounce Tightline Mussel Crawler jig. The best fish was a bass my client caught. It was a 9.5-pounder. That 5-fish limit was four years ago and it tipped the scales at 36.79 pounds. (Do the math. That’s more than a 7-pound average. Not too shabby, we’d say.)
Capt. Jake Davis knows his business when it comes to finding and catching big bass on Lake Guntersville and the other big Alabama lakes and he is very willing to offer his advice to others who want to catch big bass in cold weather.
He says, “I cannot tell you how many times that I have been asked, ‘How are you catching your fish?’ I’ll simply say that we’re using the basics! Then, I’ll get a look of dismay combined with ‘what do you mean?’ This simply means I’m using tactics such as jigs, Carolina-rigged plastics, Texas rigs, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits. The ‘Old Ball and Chain’ Carolina rig is just about the most effective tactic that anglers can use when searching out that trophy bass. A Texas-rigged plastic such as an 8.75-inch Tomahawk worm or D-Bomb will move lots of water during a slow presentation.”
Captain Jake says that he searches for fish with a crankbait. He covers deep water with a Z-Boss 20 or 25 from Profound Outdoors. The color varies from day to day depending on water clarity.
For his best advice to anglers looking for that big old bass to round out the fishing year in style, Capt. Jake Davis tells us, “There have been more trophy-class fish put in the boat and more tournaments won with tactics I’ve told you about than all other techniques combined. So, get ‘back to the basics’ of fishing!”
Important Contact Information
Capt. Jake Davis
Duckett Fishing Rods