If you think January is a good time to leave the rods and reels in storage, then you need to rethink that strategy. The two biggest largemouth bass on record in Mississippi were Anthony Denny’s state record of 18.15 caught on New Year’s Eve in 1992 at Natchez State Park and Jeff Foster’s 17.34-pounder landed on Jan. 3, 2012, at Davis Lake near Houlka.
Denny’s fish was caught on an unseasonably warm day, when the big bass moved up into a shallow cove to chase shad, but Foster’s bass was caught on a cold, wet day in the deepest part of the U.S. Forest Service Lake.
“Doesn’t surprise me at all about those dates,” said bass pro Pete Ponds of Madison. “(The bass) spent the entire fall fattening up and, even though they get lethargic in winter, they will take advantage of any opportunity to feed. Some of my best days ever have been in winter at the end of a warm spell just in advance of another approaching cold front.
“They can sense the change coming and will feed. There doesn’t have to be a big, significant change in water temperature, either. A 2- or 3-degree rise is enough to trigger a bite, as long as you fish near deep water. They will not want to travel far from their cold-weather retreats.”
Following are Ponds’ top winter patterns.
“First, go to the dam, if it’s got riprap; then go up and down it fishing with a suspending jerkbait,” he said. “Be slow and deliberate. Make your cast to the bank, give it a few jerks, reeling to get it down. Then let it sit — and I mean let it sit a while, like up to 10-Mississippi. Then jerk it two or three times again, and repeat the long sit. You will get a lot of bites between five-Mississippi and 10-Mississippi.
“Second, if there has been a 2- or 3-degree rise in water temperatures, find a big flat with stumps or shell beds along a creek or ditch channel, and use a tight-running crankbait like a Bandit FlatMaxx or a lipless rattling crankbait. I like a red lipless bait that I can yo-yo up and down to imitate the actions of a dying shad or a shad struggling in the low water temperatures. You don’t get many bites that way, but when you do, it’s a big one.
“Third, if you’re on a lake like Barnett Reservoir with pad stems next to the river channel or off a creek channel, take a small-bladed spinnerbait and work those stems. Take it slow, because they will not be in a chasing mood.”
Crappie and catfish can also be caught in the right circumstances.
For crappie, go to deep water like the old river channels of oxbow lakes like Chotard and Albermarle, old lake beds in lowland reservoirs like Barnett and deep main lake points near the river on the North Mississippi Corps of Engineer Lakes, and use electronics to locate big schools of fish or baitfish suspended in the water column. Troll the area slowly, using multiple poles with multiple minnows or jig/minnow combinations at staggered depths.
For catfish, one tried-and-proven method is going on the coldest of days and fishing, uh, well, shallow. That’s right, you read “shallow.”
On Barnett Reservoir, truly cold days bring a lot of fishermen to the banks with long, surf-casting-type spinning rods and cut bait to catch the blue and channel cats that have moved up to feed on shad that have succumbed to cold water temperatures.
It sounds insane, I know, but it works.