Since the water warms up the quickest at Ross Barnett on sunny days in the shallow lily-pad stems, I'll target those. The bass are moving into those lily pads to get ready for the spawn and also because that's where the baitfish will gather. During February, the lily pads and grass are starting to grow up, and the plankton and algae on which the baitfish feed will be abundant in these places. Because Ross Barnett is a shallow lake primarily, 95 percent of the time the bass will be in shallow water.
In February, I'll be fishing two crankbaits for bass in the shallow lily-pad stems, and start with Mann's 1-Minus. If I don't catch them in the extremely shallow water, I'll fish the Mann's Baby X, which is a deeper-running 1-Minus. The Baby X runs about a foot or two deeper than the 1-Minus.
I prefer black back/chartreuse side and an orange belly or blue/back/chartreuse crankbaits for February. The real secret to catching the bass in the lily-pad stems is to let those crankbaits ricochet off the stems. If you're not bumping them with the blade of your crankbait, you won't trigger nearly as many strikes. Yes, you will get hung up sometimes as you come through the stems. But that's the reason I use 30-pound-test Sonic Braid. This way, if my hooks catch a lily-pad stem, I can rip the bait right out of the stem and continue to work the crankbait.
I'll be fishing with my 7.2:1 Pinnacle reel and a medium-action 6½-foot rod. I'm not using a long casting rod, since I want to be extremely accurate with each cast by casting the crankbait in-between the lily-pad stems. I don't tell a bass how fast or slowly it wants to take the bait when I'm retrieving it. Most of the time, I'll start with a medium retrieve. I don't ever stop the bait when it hits the stem; I'll just keep reeling. If I'm not getting strikes with this retrieve, I'll speed it up or slow it down to determine how the fish want it.
If the bass in the lily-pad stems don't seem to want the crankbait, my next lure will be a 1/4-ounce Mann's Classic spinnerbait with a chartreuse/white skirt, a No. 2½-Colorado gold front blade and a No. 3 Indiana gold blade for the black. I'll slow-roll the spinnerbait through the lily pads on 17-pound-test Berkley Fluorocarbon line.
The advantage to fishing the riprap at this time of year is that the rocks pick up the heat from the sun and transfer that heat down into the water. The shad and other baitfish will be holding in that first foot of water up close to the rocks, so that's where the bass will be feeding. I'll fish with all the same baits - the crankbaits and spinnerbaits - with the same type of retrieves and rods that I used when fishing the lily-pad stems.
However, I'll also fish with the Mann's Stone Jig and a bigger spinnerbait, a 3/8-ounce, than the one I've used fishing the lily-pad stems. When I'm fishing the rocks with the 3/8-ounce spinnerbait, I'll use a No. 4 Colorado gold-colored blade on the back of the spinnerbait and a No. 2½-Colorado nickel-colored blade in front. I'll bump rocks as the spinnerbait or crankbait falls. The majority of the strikes by the bass usually will come the first two turns I make on the handle of the reel, especially on a sunny day.
I like to fish the Stone Jig too and hop it off the rocks. I want to let the jig hit rocks in water as shallow as possible, so I can drag it over the rocks and then hop it off the rocks.
While fishing the lily-pad stems and the riprap during February, you'll catch bass that weigh from 1½ to 5 pounds each. On a good February day, you should catch and release 15 or 20 bass, mostly in the 2-pound range. If you're fishing a February tournament with a five-fish limit, you can expect to catch 15 to 18 pounds of bass a day.