Alabama bass fishing can be red hot in January, so prepare for a cold boat ride!
Let me tell you about the coldest I’ve been since I moved to Alabama. It was a January weekend on Lake Guntersville a few years ago.
The wind was whipping up off the white-capped surface of the lake was not just cold—it was extremely cold. Memories of the frigid boat ride we endured from the dock to the first fishing stop still linger. With teeth chattering, I tried to begin fishing. My numbed fingers could barely tie on a lure. My eyes streamed tears from the ice-cold wind.
Let’s be honest. I thought I’d freeze to death that frigid Saturday morning.
Only one reason will compel me or anyone with anything like normal good sense to endure such a miserable situation on a grey January morning in northern Alabama. Big bass!
The bass didn’t care how cold it was above the water. They were ravenously hungry and looking for breakfast. And yes, we caught some good bass. With each bass I caught, I felt the cold a little bit less. By the time the third nice Guntersville bass came in, I was feeling a whole lot better.
Although cold weather bass fishing takes a little bit of preparation and gearing up for best results, some of the finest bass of the entire year are caught in January on the lakes of Alabama by those anglers who come ready for a cold boat ride.
Some Help from a Bassin’ Expert
Captain Lee Pitts is a tournament angler and fishing guide who works primarily on Lakes Weiss and Guntersville, and he offers us some very good on-the-spot advice when it comes to planning a January bass fishing trip.
“What all anglers need to remember is that even in cold weather, bass still needs to feed,” Captain Lee says. “Even when it’s cold and bitter, it’s harder on the fisherman than it is on the bass. Wintertime is great for deer hunters, but many days when I’m in the deer stand, I’m ready to pack it up by lunchtime and head for the water.”
In cold weather on Alabama’s lakes, the fishing pressure falls off to almost zero many days, and those anglers who can get on the water at all may find some great fishing.
For instance, on the day after the frigid trip described at the start of the article, my family and I were staying on a houseboat at a dock just outside the town of Guntersville. We stayed indoors later and watched Sunday football games on television, but I also caught some really nice bass that weekend.
I caught bass all day long from the back porch of the houseboat. From the stern deck of the houseboat, I’d cast out a live minnow with just enough weight to sink it slowly. I’d put the rod in a holder mounted on the rail of the houseboat and then I’d run back inside to warm up.
While I watched television, I kept an eye on the rod outside. When the rod bowed over and started to bounce, I just walked out on the deck and played my fish in. I had bass up to four pounds eating the minnows all day long. It never got over thirty degrees that day, and I spent the day running in and out of the houseboat as bass took my bait. Now, that was a very good kind of cold-weather bass fishing.
Where Should We Go and What Kind of Bass Will We Find?
Finding the fish is the first and most important step to catching a good mess of bass, and Captain Lee knows some reliable cold weather lakes for anglers to think about when planning a January trip.
“Cold water bass can be found all along the Coosa River (Lake Weiss) on deep docks close to river channels and lay-downs on the main river,” he says. “On Guntersville, key things to look for are bridge pylons off the major creeks. These are excellent places for largemouth bass in winter.
“The difference between largemouth and spotted bass in winter is that largemouth tends to rely on wood cover, and they tend to hold shallower. Spotted bass may lie deeper and follow bait, and they usually don’t hold on a much shallow cover. Both kinds of bass will be following the bait and feeding on shad. Largemouth tends to pull shallower when they are ready to feed during those days that have more sunlight and calmer weather.”
Captain Lee continues. “My favorite lake during winter is Lake Guntersville, whether it is bitter cold days with deep creek channel fishing or sunny days fishing a jerkbait— Guntersville is the place to be. On the upper end, you can put in at Mud Creek or B.B. Comer Bridge. On the south end, you can put in at Brown’s Creek or Guntersville State Park.”
What Kind of Lures Work in Cold Weather?
In general, cold weather bass fishing—both spots or largemouth—will eagerly bite a properly presented lure, but we have to keep in mind that they usually won’t chase a lure far or fast to take it.
Anglers need to think about fishing close and slow in wintertime. First of all, place lures as close as possible to where hungry bass are holding so they won’t have far to move for a strike. Secondly, slow down retrieves so the bass won’t have to move very fast to reach a lure.
Shad are the primary cold water forage fish for bass. This means that anglers should try to pattern lures after the color and size of the shad in a particular lake. Any lure that looks like a shad and that can be worked close to cover at a fairly slow speed is a good bet for cold water bass in January.
A shad pattern crankbait which can be pulled down to the depth and then slowly brought back alongside deep water cover is ideal for winter. And whether largemouth or spots, the bass really hammer these crankbaits.
Captain Lee Pitts has years of experience fishing both Weiss Lake and Lake Guntersville in winter, and he has some definite preferences when it comes to cold weather lure choice.
“On the Coosa, a Talon Spinnerbait with a double nickel willow leaf blade with white on white and chartreuse skirt is my wintertime go-to bait,” he says. “A black and blue jig with a Gene Larew Salt Crawl trailer is great around wood cover.”
For anglers looking at Guntersville in winter, Captain Lee says, “On Guntersville, the Alabama Rig is still the king for cold weather bass fishing. The Yum Money Minnows are what most anglers use when it’s really cold, and the Gene Larew Sweet Swimmer has great action in the cold water.”
What About Really Nasty Winter Weather?
“The best cold weather conditions are calm days with sun,” Captain Lee says. “This helps bring the fish up to feed. Days with snow can be excellent fishing days, too. Some of the best wintertime fishing I’ve had was during a light snow. Snow affects the barometric pressure and causes bass to bite like crazy on the Tennessee River lakes.”
On another non-fishing topic that anglers in January must be aware of, angler safety should be a primary concern. Cold weather accidents on the water can be very dangerous, and bad stuff can happen very quickly in cold weather.
Of course, anglers need to be even more careful than usual when moving around a boat while fishing in cold weather. A slip and fall overboard in July is not good, but there’s usually no real problem with a July fall other than some loss of pride and embarrassment. However, a fall overboard in January can be very serious. A wet angler in January faces a very real risk of hypothermia and more serious problems.
“During cold weather bass fishing, always be prepared for the worst,” Captain Lee says. “This includes boat malfunctions, and I always have extra dry clothes along. One slip can be deadly. I always carry towels and extra clothing during winter months.”
Also, anglers need to be aware that just a little glaze of ice on a fiberglass boat deck may be just about the slickest substance known to man. Be very careful stepping onto a boat from the dock in cold weather. A serious fall from an iced-over boat deck can bring a January fishing trip to a quick end before it even gets started.
It goes without saying that clothing selection in January is crucial. Anglers should think about wearing several layers of clothes which can be removed layer by layer if the day should turn out sunny and warm.
A waterproof snowmobile suit is not a bad idea to wear over the layers, and an insulated dry-suit of some kind can make a high-speed boat ride a lot more bearable. A good warm hat is needed, and a pair of goggles or some sort of full-face screen is good, too. In short, anything and everything that can help cut the cold wind is a good thing on January bass trips.
If all else fails, anglers can always do as my family and I did that cold January weekend and rent a houseboat to stay in. That might be the most comfortable and civilized kind of January bass fishing in Alabama.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Lee Pitts