The Water is Cold and I Fish Shallow
article by Kenny Covington
In all my years of fishing, I have found the month of January to be the most difficult month of all to find and catch bass. There are numerous reasons for this, but probably the most logical reason is weather related. I have fished during the month of January wearing short sleeves one day and then turned around a few days later having to fish with enough clothes on to make an Eskimo proud.
Probably one of the most frequent questions I get is “Where do bass go when the water and the weather gets so cold?” Well my answer on one hand will make perfect sense, but on the other hand, I am going to totally contradict one answer with the other. Both answers have their places, and both can be equally effective.
So where do they go? It is my experience that true winter weather will move bass to deeper areas such as creek channel bends, old road beds or any type of vertical structure that will allow the fish to move easily from shallow to deep without having to move great distances. These type places can be difficult to locate, but once found, can produce tremendous catches.
Now for the contradiction; I have also found that a lot of winter time bass can also be caught in even the coldest of water six foot deep or less. 75% of the time in the dead of winter on our local waters, you will find me fishing this way. For years fishing publications gave the fisherperson the idea that the colder the water, the less bass will feed. It was believed that once the water temperatures reached the mid 40’s, bass were practically uncatchable. This is simply not true. I once placed 2nd in a tournament by catching fish in 38 degree water with every fish being caught in a depth less than four foot. If you find them, often times they will bite.
Shallow water fish are in the same mind-set of the ones you will fish for at deeper depths, but can be found in more predictable locations, making them easier to catch. Boat docks, dead lily pad fields, shallow grass flats or rocky banks are all potentially good areas to focus your efforts.
When it comes to my lure choices, I try to keep it fairly simple. My first choice is always a small 3/8 ounce black or black/blue jig with a matching trailer, but the trailer will have very little built-in action to it. When it comes to presentation, subtle is the key. A common mistake I see with young fisherpersons is they tend to overwork their lure giving it too much action. In a cold water scenario, this looks unnatural. A slow lift and drop retrieve is generally all you need, but be aware of what your lure is doing at all times as must strikes on a jig come on the initial fall. This is my favorite technique when fishing boat docks.
My next choice would be a bladed swim jig such as the chatterbait. I have had my best success using black/blue, although green pumpkin can be a good color choice. The key with this lure is to move it slow enough where you can just feel the vibration of the lure as it comes through the water. Pay close attention to what is going on during the retrieve; most of the times the strike will be subtle, which is why I prefer to use fluorocarbon line with this technique. This is my number one choice for fishing grass flats this time of year.
My third lure choice, and to some maybe even a surprise choice, would be a crankbait. Firetiger, crawfish or shad colors are all good choices with crawfish schemes getting the nod most of the time. Bass that strike a crankbait in cold water are not striking out of hunger; they are striking out of instinct. The retrieve should be slow and deliberate, but it is still a good idea to pause your lure if it hits something. A simple change in direction is sometimes all it takes to trigger a strike. This is a simple, but effective, way to fish rocks or any other rock-related area.
January is such a diverse month when it comes to our weather and our fishing patterns as well. I have found bait placement and lure action to be critical ingredients when it comes to my success rate. Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep an open mind, two things that are key to being successful on the water, and you won’t find them in your tackle box.
Remember to be safe in the woods and on the water; catch one for me and I will see you next month!