I spend most of my fishing time on the Upstate lakes here in South Carolina like Murray, Greenwood, Wateree and Hartwell lakes and Clarks Hill Reservoir.
All of these lakes are similar, and I’ve learned there are three productive bass fishing patterns and lures that work well on all of these lakes during the winter months.
In cold weather, the bait fish usually will be holding on either the river or the creek channels. When I’m searching for bass in deep water with my electronics, I’m also looking for birds like loons and seagulls. These birds are feeding on the bait fish just like the bass do. If the bass push the bait fish up to the surface, the birds will attack the bait.
Jigging Spoons — To catch bass now, remember that bass are bait-fish oriented. If you use your electronics to pinpoint schools of bait in deep water, then I suggest you go deep with a jigging spoon. I usually fish a ½- to 1-ounce jigging spoon, depending on the size of the bait on which the bass are feeding. I’ll use a white jigging spoon made by a variety of manufacturers.
The jigging spoon will be for deep bass I’ve located, usually on my Lowrance electronics, that are holding 20 to 30 feet deep. When I find the bass, I’ll hold my boat right over the top of them and drop that jigging spoon down to them. I’ll watch my line as my bait goes down. If my line tends to pile up on the surface before my jigging spoon hits the bottom, I’ll know the fish are suspended. If a bass doesn’t take the spoon on the drop, I’ll let it go all the way to the bottom. Then I’ll jerk it up about 2 feet off the bottom, allow the spoon to fall back and repeat that bottom hopping technique. Every now and then the bass will be suspended slightly off the bottom. That’s when I’ll reel my jigging spoon up about 10 feet off the bottom and then let it fall back to the bottom.
Bucktail Hair Jigs – Often, a school of bass will start attacking the bait fish off the bottom and force them to the surface. Then the seagulls will show you where the bass are holding, as they dive on the shad near the surface. Instead of looking for one seagull, I’ll search for a large group of seagulls diving on the same spot. I’ll motor my boat fairly close to them and start casting a white bucktail jig I’ve made myself to the outer edges of where the birds are diving. I’ll usually fish either a ⅜- to a ½-ounce jig head with my bucktail hair jig. Bass aren’t the only fish feeding on that school of shad. You also may catch stripers, white bass and other species of fish, besides largemouth and spotted bass.
Alabama Rigs – Although I can’t fish this lure in bass tournaments since it’s banned, when I’m fun fishing and want to catch numbers of bass, my go-to bait is the Alabama Rig. When fishing in salt water, this rig is called an umbrella rig. It has a central point at the line tie where four or five wires, about 3 or 4 inches long, attach to the eye of the umbrella rig. At the end of each wire is a swivel, and I attach one soft plastic swim bait there on each swivel. In the winter when fishing for bass, I don’t throw the Alabama Rig before I throw the bucktail jig, since a bucktail jig generally will get more bass bites than the Alabama Rig. The Alabama Rig catches bass, but oftentimes the stripers and the white bass will eat that rig up before it gets deep enough to catch the bass that may be holding under the stripers and the white bass.
Techniques for fishing bucktail jigs and Alabama Rigs
On the bucktail jig and the Alabama Rig, I’ll cast them both just past the birds, let them sink to 5 or 6 feet deep and then start a steady retreat back to my boat. I’ve found that usually the white bass and the stripers will be closer to the surface, with the largemouth and the spotted bass concentrating deeper in the water. The fish will be positioned like this, since stripers and white bass are slash feeders. They’ll attack a school of bait and injure the shad in that school, circle around and eat the injured bait that’s easy to catch.
However, they can’t eat all the shad that have been injured, and those shad will fall down to the bottom of the school where the largemouth and the spotted bass can eat them without expending too much energy. If you’re trying to target bass, get your lure down to where the bass are holding below the school on top. However, when fun fishing, keep your lures up close to the surface to catch and release large numbers of stripers and white bass.
Wintertime is my favorite time to fish. The tournament season’s over. I can fish for not only bass but stripers and white bass, too. If I can find enough fish diving, I may catch and release 30 to 50 wintertime fish in a day.