I enjoy fishing 4,144-acre Okatibbee Lake near Meridian during January. With its 28 miles of shoreline, the lake is an important feature in the development of the Pascagoula River Basin, a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized by Congress in 1962 for flood reduction on 26,000 acres of residential, industrial and agricultural lands along Okatibbee Creek and the upper Chickasawhay River.
Generally, January is one of the two coldest months of the year, and bass will relate to riprap and underwater creek channels, holding in fairly deep water.
In the past two or three years, Okatibbee has made a comeback, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps when the lake’s pulled down, grass and bushes grow up that remain there when the lake’s brought back up come spring.
How to fish the riprap
At the dam, the bass will hold in 1 to 4 feet of water or as deep as 10 to 15 feet.
On bluebird days with a warm front moving in, the grass on the riprap will heat up quickly. Bass will move into that warmer water to feed.
I’ll hold my boat in 10 to 12 feet of water and cast into the riprap with my Mann’s C-4 Elite crankbait that dives 2 to 4 feet.
I’ll retrieve the lure slowly, letting it bump into the rocks.
The fish’s metabolism and the bait the feed on will be moving slowly. So don’t get discouraged if you get few bites.
Bass may be schooled up on different sections of the riprap; when you catch a fish at a particular spot, cast back to perhaps take another bass or two.
During January and February, I’ll often let the solunar tables tell me when to fish.
To find where the bass are located and possibly schooled up, use your electronics. I like the Raymarine depth finders with their side-imaging and down-imaging features.
If a school of bass is holding in the place where I’ve caught some fish but won’t bite, I’ll change lures or the type of retrieve I’m using.
I’ll fish with a Pinnacle medium-action crankbait rod and a 6.4:1 Pinnacle reel spooled with 20-pound-test fluorocarbon line with the crankbait.
Where to look for and how to catch deep bass on riprap
If I’m not finding or catching bass in that shallow water near the shoreline, I’ll explore the deeper part of the riprap.
On cloudy, bitterly-cold days when bass have no reason to be in shallow water, I’ll use the side-scan feature on my Raymarine electronics to search for riprap on the bottom of the lake.
I’ll fish a Mann’s ½-ounce Stone Jig, either in the black or blue with a black-and-blue trailer or a green pumpkin jig with a green pumpkin trailer.
I’ll start off paralleling the edge between the riprap and meets the bottom with 20-pound-test White Peacock fluorocarbon on a 7-foot medium-heavy Pinnacle rod and 7.3:1 Pinnacle reel.
Work that jig like you’re fishing a plastic worm, slowly dragging it a foot or 2 with your rod tip, taking up slack in the line and then slowly dragging it again.
If bass won’t take the jig, change baits and continue to fish that edge.
The lure I’ll use next is a 1/8-ounce shaky head worm while fishing 16-pound-test fluorocarbon line on a Pinnacle spinning rod and reel. I like a 6-inch Mann’s Jelly Worm in blackberry or the junebug.
This technique also works on sunny January days in 1 to 4 feet of water near the shoreline or riprap.
At this time of the year, I never fish blind — I depend heavily on my electronics to show me the bass before I start casting to them.
Then I know exactly where and in what water depth the fish are holding.
Why bet on the creek channels
If you’re standing on the dam at Okatibbee and looking up the lake, Okatibbee Creek will be on your left and another creek will be on your right.
A peninsula of land separates the creeks. The marina is also on the right side of the lake and has riprap that’s used as a wave break in front of the marina.
Fish might be holding anywhere along that riprap.
However, in January bass will be concentrating on the riprap’s outmost tip. I’ll fish the Mann’s C-4 Elite crankbait, the jig and the shaky head worm just like I have along the dam’s riprap.
After I leave the riprap in front of the marina, I’ll go up Okatibbee Creek and use my electronics to search for underwater stumps and bends along the edge of the creek channel.
These huge underwater stumps along the edge of the channel often will have bass positioned around them. The Okatibbee Creek channel seems to produce more bites than the other creek channel on the opposite side of the peninsula.
On the creek channels, my main baits will be a Stone Jig and a shaky head worm.
Although Okatibbee is not known to produce many monster bass, it does produce numbers of fish in the 3- to 5-pound range. On a good day, I expect to catch seven to 10 bass there. An exceptional day in January is catching more than 10 bass in a day.