While that's a nice bass anywhere in the state, it's especially good for bitter January temperatures.

Ross Barnett Reservoir achieved fame in the late-1960s as one of the top bass-fishing destinations in the country after hosting several major tournaments and one of the first BASS tournaments held by Ray Scott.

Though the 33,000-acre lake has seen its share of ups and downs, as all lakes do, fishing is still very good if you know where to fish and what to throw. Centrally located in the state just northeast of Jackson, the Rez, as it is affectionately known by locals, is within a couple-hours' driving distance of most of the state.

Ross, a Brandon resident, has had great success on Ross Barnett over the last few years, and has even been successful in tournament competition. Ross has had several top finishes on Barnett, including one first-place finish on the WBFL co-angler division, as well as a second place finish in last year's super regional.

And on the statewide trail, Ross has been a consistent regional qualifier and points champion twice in the WBFL co-angler division. He also won a super regional tournament on Lake Ferguson last fall to go along with prior wins at Grenada and Columbus.

Ross prefers fishing the Rez in January and February when the bass are staging in their pre-spawn mode. During these two months, bass in the 3- to 6-pound range are fairly predictable to find and pattern during stable weather conditions.

"I like fishing the area above Highway 43 during January and February as the bass will stage around stumps and ledges along the edge of and just off of the main river channel," he said.

Ross sticks with three main lures during January when targeting hungry pre-spawn bass.

"I like to pitch a 3/8- or ½-ounce black/blue Rippler Jig tipped with a Paca Chunk, a 5-inch Mann's Hardhead tube and a white Hildebrandt spinnerbait with a No. 6 Thumper blade," he said.

Depending on the water clarity, current conditions and what the bass prefer on that day, any or all of these offerings will be sufficient.

Prime time during the month of January occurs between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to Ross.

"Mid morning to mid afternoon always produces best for me," he said. "If I'm just fishing for fun and not in a tournament, I prefer waiting until midmorning because the early morning bite is usually very tough during extremely cold weather."

During one particular fishing trip, the action started fast and furious on an otherwise ordinary morning. About 10:15, Ross pulled over to a shallow stump field on the edge of the river, and began fishing.

"The bass were stacked up tight behind the stumps, just out of the current," he said. "I caught an 8-pound lunker, two 5-pounders and lost a couple more big fish on that one spot."

While Ross may pattern bass on stumps on ledges, along creek mouths, points and shallow drop-offs, he never knows if there will be one or multiple fish on the stumps.

A typical January day will lead to quality bass being taken on various stumps in the prime areas that Ross likes. While many of the stumps will yield 2½- to 3½-pound bass, larger fish may strike on almost any cast.

The following 10 spots are representative of staging spots that Ross searches out and catches pre-spawn bass this month. Try a few of these spots yourself and you'll get an idea of the typical areas to catch bass in January.

 

No. 1: N32 31.647 x W89 54.611 - Leaving Highway 43 at Tommy's Trading Post, head upriver approximately 1½ miles, turn right and idle in an easterly direction toward Horseshoe Lake and the point with a lone pine. Stop short of the pine about 100 yards or so, and start fishing. Horseshoe is just like it sounds, formed in the shape of a horseshoe from the south to the east and back north and west on the upper ends. One side of the lake is lined with stumps and standing timber, while the other is bordered mostly by land.

Starting on the lower end of the lake, Ross targets the wood cover, both seen and unseen.

"I'll fish the deepest water and the shallow water along the sides," he said. "Now, there's laydowns out there that you can't see, and I'll go zig-zagging back and forth and fish those."

He also prefers starting on the stump-filled flat with his jig or tube, and will hit all of the visible wood cover.

"After you fish the flat on either side, then hit the big point on the right side that has that lone pine on it," Ross suggested. "You've got deep water in the channel, and the small channel to the right of the point runs back into Cane Creek.

"Once the fish start staging in 6 to 12 feet of water, they should be found here as well. This bank is a prime bank for them to stage on before they get in that creek and go back into the shallow-water areas to spawn later in the spring."

 

No. 2: N32 31.761 x W89 54.366 - Continuing northeast in Horseshoe, fish around the entire outer bend. Keep the boat in the deeper channel in depths of 15 to 20 feet, and throw up toward the bank.

"The thing to remember is don't ever pass up stumps in 2 feet of water," Ross said. "I don't care what the water temperature is - I've pitched up there and caught fish in 45-degree water. If the bass are close to deep water, they'll go as shallow as they have to."

Ross advised that while the stumps may look small on top of the water, years of waves and deterioration have washed out the ground around and under the stumps and roots, providing prime locations for bass to lay in ambush.

"Sometimes you may catch multiple lunkers on one stump, and other times just one lunker," he said. "The neat thing about fishing here in January is that most people are still hunting. You won't have a lot of pressure on the fish, and you'll probably have them to yourself."

 

No. 3: N32 32.034 x W89 54.484 - When you get to the cut on the upper end of Horseshoe, fish both points, but the point on the northwest side is the predominant point that holds bass.

"You've got deep water on both sides of the point and wood and a lot of structure that you can't see," Ross said. "You need to cast across the point to open water. You can pitch out and retrieve up and across the point or stay on the outside and pitch to the bank and retrieve all the way back to the boat."

While wood most often holds the fish, the bass will also relate to the point itself and move up and down the point depending upon the temperature and water conditions.

 

No. 4: N32 32.213 x W89 54.450 - After leaving this point, continue in a northwesterly direction until you get to the next cut. This is basically a triangular point that holds bass that are preparing to begin their annual trek to the shallow coves to the north.

"Bass will stage on the right side of this point as it goes from 15 feet deep to 5 feet back to 18 feet. The depth just jumps up and goes back down in different stages," Ross said. "And there's good fish-holding stumps all along the right bank."

If the water is normal for January, Ross will pitch his tube or jig to any stumps or drops along the bank. If the water has muddied up after a rain or rise on the river, then he'll cast a white spinnerbait.

 

No. 5: N32 32.274 x W89 53.969 - Continuing on north upriver, stop the boat at the red channel marker, and fish both sides of the cut. There's about a 50-yard opening with deep water in the middle and depths running from 3 to 14 feet.

"There are good stumps on each point and a few sporadic ones in the channel itself," Ross said.

He also advised that the key here is the submerged stumps, and recommended that anglers graph the area the first time they see it. Then they can come back later in the day so they won't spook the fish.

This is the type of place that will continually replenish itself no matter how many people fish it in a day, or how many fish are caught off of it.

"The fish will stage up, and you may catch one on a stump and come back later in the day and catch another one on the same spot," Ross said.

He also advised that he almost always stops and makes a few casts at the submerged stump field. If he picks up one or two, he'll move on and try it again later.

"Sometimes you can hit the spot four or five times a day, and catch a bass each time," he said. "On other days, you might hit it five times and not get a bite, but you may hit them just right and really wear them out."

 

No. 6: N32 32.952 x W89 53.496 - After leaving location No. 5, motor on upriver about a half mile, and turn right off the river on the eastern side. This area includes Big Hamilton, Little Hamilton and our stop on this third area on the lower end of Hamilton Creek.

"The key for me in this lake is current," Ross said. "The bass will use this whole area to stage through when they are moving toward the shallower spawning coves.

"When the water's up, you can take the right arm and run about 1,000 yards back into the lake, and you will find standing timber along an old creek channel. The timber runs about 500 to 600 yards along the bank.

"When the current is coming through, the bass will relate to the cypress trees and stumps, and you can catch good bass. If the current is not there, you won't do as well."

When the current is flowing well, that's when Ross will key on the cypress trees and laydowns and fish really slowly while probing every piece of wood structure.

 

No. 7: N32 33.763 x W89 53.265 - Traveling farther upriver, head to the left side of the river when you see the first cut that has an American flag on it with a small camping community just to the north.

"Sitting in the river side in the deep water, cast up onto the right point toward the bank with the flag," Ross advised. "Pitch that jig or tube out, work it back to the boat real slow, keep in contact with the structure and wood as long as possible and be ready for a bite at any moment."

The lower end of the cut also has good depth with some stumps, laydown logs and overhanging trees. The bass will be tight to the structure and holding along the bank behind any available cover. The depth comes from 23 feet up to 3 feet deep. Fish past the point until you get to the cattails.

"Once you've gone that far, you've pretty much covered the best it has to offer," Ross said.

 

No. 8: N32 33.778 x W89 53.079 - Moving on upriver about 300 yards, you'll encounter the next cut on the left and north side of the river. Spotted bass in particular will stage along this shallow ledge that has 20 feet of water on one side and 15 feet on the other.

"This is a really good place to catch 15 or 20 spotted bass in the 12- to 14-inch range," Ross said. "And you might even catch an 18-inch spot up here. Though the smaller spotted bass aren't legal for tournament fishing, they are really fun to catch when fun fishing."

Ross may even use a Carolina rig when fishing this ledge for spots.

"I like to use a ½-ounce Gambler weight with a rattle and 2 feet of fluorocarbon leader with a 3/0 hook with a Baby Brush Hog in green pumpkin with a tinge of chartreuse dipped on the tail," he said. "That rig will really catch the spots."

 

No. 9: N32 33.837 x W89 52.128 - Run about another mile upriver and stop on the right about 100 yards below the red channel marker on the outside of the river channel itself. The channel is really narrow here, but marked clearly by channel markers. The ledge is about 7 to 8 feet deep on the off-river side of the channel.

"There are 10 or 12 stumps that are located on the ledge, and these are the key to catching bass in this area," Ross said.

He also advised the need to stay out of the channel itself to keep from having an accident with other boats since the channel is so narrow.

 

No. 10: N32 33.973 x W89 52.108 - This is the mouth of Fannegusha. Motor west across the old river run about 200 yards, and fish the points and standing timber on either side of the mouth.

"I'll hit the point of the island with a Carolina rig and then fan-cast to the stumps along the point," Ross said. "I'll fish 20 to 30 yards either side of the point also."

This is another staging area for bass that are getting ready to make their move back into the spawning areas the next couple months.

 

If you're looking for quality bass action with little to no fishing pressure during January, then head to Ross Barnett and try some of Ross' spots for yourself. Then find similar spots, and you just might catch the string of a lifetime.

 

Next month, we'll take our readers to Okatibbee.