February’s the best month to fish Ross Barnett Reservoir just outside Jackson because it warms up quickly. Bass always pull into shallow water there in February to prepare for the spawn.
Often Barnett’s bass move into the lily pad stems and onto riprap during late winter, getting ready to spawn. You’ll generally have a good chance of locating bass in any stems and stumps, but my favorite area is the east side of the lake from the Highway 43 bridge south, including behind channel marker No. 7.
I’ve found that the bigger bass tend to move into this area first.
This winter has been much warmer than in the past. If our region continues to have warm weather into February, I believe the fish will be preparing for the spawn earlier than normal.
Baits and tactics for fishing the lily pad stems and reeds
My main baits for fishing the stems include a Mann’s HardNose plastic lizard in watermelon red with a chartreuse tail and a Mann’s Baby-1 Minus.
I’ll fish with the lizard rigged Texas style with a 1/8-ounce slip sinker up the line on 20-pound test White Peacock fluorocarbon line with a No. 5 Gamakatsu wide gap hook and a Pinnacle 7-foot, 1-inch medium-heavy rod with a 7.3:1 gear ratio Pinnacle reel.
Search for lily pad stems in large numbers that are greening up. I’ve found the thicker lily pad stems tend to hold more bass — especially if there’s coontail moss growing around those stems.
Knowing the bass are readying to spawn, I’ll pitch my lizard around the lily pad stems, letting it sit still on the bottom for several seconds before I move it.
If I’m not getting bites using a dead stick tactic, I’ll retrieve the lizard slowly as though it’s a plastic worm.
I won’t move the bait very much at all; I’ll lift my rod tip, take up my slack, pause and slowly lift my rod tip again. I won’t be moving the bait more than 6 to 10 inches each time I lift my rod.
If bass in the lily pad stems are biting aggressively, one of the baits I’ll fish is the Mann’s Baby-1 Minus in a black back, chartreuse sides and orange belly and in a crawfish color.
I’ll tie 30-pound-test braided line to it, and my reel will be a 7.3:1 gear ratio Pinnacle reel on a medium Pinnacle crankbait rod.
I’ll hold my rod tip high and reel as closely as I can to the lily pad stems. I want to keep the lure just under the surface and crash it right into the stems.
Although the Baby-1 Minus is a small crankbait, I won’t be surprised to catch one or two 5- to 7-pound largemouths.
You should catch quite a few male bass that will weigh 1½ or 2 pounds and a good number of 3- to 4-pound bass using these tactics in the stems.
The main reason I’m using 30-pound braided line is to run that Baby-1 Minus through the lily pad stems, trying to get the lure to kick off of those stems. I know my bait will sometimes get hung up, and I can’t move my boat into that shallow water to get my crankbait. But with that 30-pound line, I can pull the hooks out of those lily pad stems.
When you get a bite, whether you’re fishing the lizard or the Baby-1 Minus, slow your fishing down and work that area thoroughly. More than likely there’ll be more than one bass nearby.
Another type of structure to concentrate on when fishing shallow water and lily pad stems is reeds. You might only find a small patch of isolated reeds, but reeds are key for holding very big bass.
I suggest making several casts to this cover with the lizard, the Baby-1 Minus and a ½-ounce, black-and-blue Mann’s Stone Jig tipped with a black and blue trailer.
If I’m not catching bass as described above, the fish might not have moved up into those stems on the day I’m fishing.
So I’ll change locations, baits and tactics; I’ll go down to the dam and fish riprap.
I’ll cast parallel to the rocks with a Mann’s C-4 Elite Series Crankbait on 20-pound White Peacock fluorocarbon line, with a medium Pinnacle cranking rod and a 7.3:1 Pinnacle reel.
I prefer two colors of crankbaits — brown back, chartreuse side and crawfish-colored.
I’ll make long casts parallel to the rocks, use a medium to slow retrieve, and let my crankbait hit and kick off the rocks.
Another lure that’s effective on the rocks is a chartreuse-and-white spinnerbait with a No. 5 Colorado blade that I’ll reel the spinner bail slowly, allowing it to kick off the riprap.
I like this big thumping blade to get more bites because Ross Barnett will often be muddy in February. I’ll tie 40-pound braid to the spinnerbait and fish with a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-heavy Pinnacle rod with a 6.4:1 Pinnacle reel.
Using these fishing tactics for the pads and the rocks, I expect to catch at least a dozen bass. Two people fishing should catch 15 to 20 bass, with one or two weighing 5 to 7 pounds, several 2- to 4-pound bass and quite a few 1½- to 2-pound male bass.