FLW tournament angler Ken Murphy was idling across Okatibbee Lake on a bluebird day after a cold front, quickly assessed the situation and made a run for the dam.

As the boat came off plane, Murphy quickly pulled a rod from his box, and began casting toward the dam with a Bernie Shultz custom-designed spinnerbait. Murphy hadn't gone far when a bass struck short, and the talented angler missed his first bass of the day.

Not to worry, however, as Murphy changed his presentation and retrieve just slightly, and continued carving up the rip rap as only a seasoned veteran can.

"I like to work the entire dam, stay out about 30 feet and work it at a 45-degree angle," said Murphy. "That way I can work depths from 2 to 8 feet and determine where the bass are located."

Wham!

Another bass struck hard. This time Murphy set the hook, and the fight was on. After wearing the bass down, he quickly landed the fish, paused for a photo and released it. He also employed the use of a Gamakatsu trailer hook on the spinnerbait.

"I always use a trailer hook on a spinnerbait when I'm fishing open water or muddy water," Murphy said. "In cold water, the bass are sluggish, and a lot of times they will miss the main part of the lure in stained water, and the trailer hook makes up for that."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about watching Murphy catch that bass was that he was working the rocks right behind another boat.

"I don't care how many anglers work the rocks, no fishermen will present their lures the same way, and more bass will continually move up on the rocks to feed," he said. "Many times I'll work a stretch of water and catch one or two, and then go back and work the same area again with a different lure and catch even more."

Murphy also advised that he will work his favorite areas at least once during a day, and sometimes return multiple times until he pinpoints the time that they are using the area to feed. Not all of the spots will produce day after day, but during the month of February, the bass will generally relate to the same areas and not venture far off, unless there is a drastic change in the water level, or water temperature.

In addition to fishing the rip-rap areas along the dam, Murphy specifically targets clay points and drops that are close to deep water. And since they are pre-spawn bass, they will usually be hungry and feeding in preparation for the rigors of the upcoming spawn.

"I like to fish the first points going into the spawning coves that have flats with snags, structure or stems," said Murphy. "I'll pitch Rat-L-Traps onto the points and flats, and let them bounce off of the structure, and that usually triggers reaction bites, if the bass are present."

Once Murphy decides where he wants to fish, he works each spot thoroughly before moving on to the next.

"I'll make fan casts about 8 to 10 feet apart, and work the points from about three different directions until I find areas that hold bass," he said. "If I don't catch them on one spot, I'll move to the next one and try again. If I don't have success on a place that I'm confident in, I'll come back and try it later to see if they've moved up."

Murphy employs a number of baits during February to appeal to all types of bass behavior. Some are used to draw reaction strikes and some are used to finesse bass into biting. Sometimes all of them are successful at various times of the day.

"If the wind's blowing toward a point or rocks, I'll always start with a white or shad-colored spinnerbait," said Murphy.

If the blade bite isn't on, Murphy will try a shallow-running crankbait that will dive up to 8 feet deep.

"I like to use a small Bandit type crankbait that I can bump off of the bottom," he said.

Another favorite for locating bass during February is a Rat-L-Trap in chrome/blue back or red. Lipless crankbaits are perfect for covering a lot of water in a short period of time when you're trying to locate bass, and they also allow anglers such as Murphy the ability to vary the speed and depth of the retrieve.

Murphy has won many tournaments around the country and several on Okatibbee Lake as well. During one of those tournaments, the talented angler caught and released 32 bass from the same point. He culled down to a tournament limit, and smoked the field.

Murphy's ability to cover a lot of water along with his knack of locating bass is primary to consistently win tournaments. Perhaps even more important is his ability to load the boat quickly once he finds them. Professional anglers such as Murphy may fish all day and hit paydirt on just one spot, and many times that is the difference between winning, or losing and going home empty-handed.

If you're itching to get back out on the water after a long cold winter, then head to Okatibbee Lake and try a few of Murphy's hotspots for yourself. Once you find what they want and where they're located, you can try similar locations around the lake.

Okatibbee Lake is loaded with clay banks and points that are prime staging areas for pre-spawn bass. Find the right ones, and you just might catch the string of a lifetime.

 

No.1: N32 28.752 x W88 48.479: Leaving the Corps of Engineers landing on the west bank at the dam, idle northeast across the channel until you get to No. 1's coordinates.

During low-water conditions, you will see a shallow hump that comes to a point. Fish the end of the hump and around either side. From time to time, anglers "plant" Christmas trees or brushtops around this point, which makes it an excellent holding area for bass.

If the water is a little higher, you're likely to see only little stubble of weeds sticking up from the top of the submerged island point.

Whether high water or low, you will usually find bass keying on the shallow water shelf and structure during February.

Rat-L-Traps and spinnerbaits are prime lures for this area.

"I'll start out and run that Rat-L-Trap right through the brush and just over the shallow hump and submerged brush," said Murphy. "If that doesn't draw a strike, I'll switch to a spinnerbait and work the end of the point before moving on."

 

No. 2: N32 28.692 x W88 48.160: Leaving stop No. 1, follow the channel markers east until you get to the main lake. Stop at the last pole on the left, which has a red No. 1 sign. Okatibbee Creek makes a sharp turn right at this pole, and makes a perfect submerged point, ideal for bass to relate to.

It's also one of the prime spots for pre-spawn bass. In fact, over the years several early season tournaments have been won right here.

"I'll pitch a shallow-running crankbait and follow up with a crankbait on this spot," Murphy said. "The ledge comes to a point right at the channel marker, and runs slightly north for a ways."

Anglers can find the ledge with the help of an LCR, and work the bottom thoroughly.

"If you don't get bit on the crankbait or Rat-L-Trap, then try a Carolina rig, and work the ledge really slowly," Murphy advised.

 

No. 3: N32 28.557 x W88 48.160: After fishing point No. 3, head south toward the dam until you get to these coordinates. Start fishing the dam at this point, work the rocks and cover the entire dam until you get to the eastern end.

"I'll start with a crankbait that will run from 4 to 8 feet deep," said Murphy. "If I catch a few in one area, I'll go back and work that area again before moving on, but I'll always fish the whole dam until I rule out the bass relating to it that day."

Murphy believes that bass will move up onto the dam at some point during a normal February day. The trick is to find the right times and give them the right lures. That may be easier said than done, but you've got to get out there and find out what they want.

During our trip, Murphy caught bass along the rocks. It was just another day on the water for this former FLW tournament winner; I've witnessed him catch many lunker bass off of the same rocks at different times under a variety of conditions.

 

No. 4: N32 28.630 x W88 46.883: After working the dam thoroughly, continue in an easterly direction around the end of the dam where you'll find the emergency spillway.

Although anglers will also find rip rap rock on either side of the emergency spillway that may be productive, Murphy has chosen the clay point on the east side of the emergency spillway.

"This point has a steep drop with a hard bottom and structure about a cast off of the bank," he said. "I'll work a crankbait or spinnerbait along the shallow portion and then work a Carolina-rigged lizard out deeper and probe the structure."

If the bass are shallow, he'll find them, and if they're deeper, the Carolina rig will be just the ticket. Don't overlook either technique when fishing any of the clay banks and points.

 

No. 5: N32 28.693 x W88 46.711: Leaving the emergency spillway, head east until you get to the next prominent point before you get to Pine Springs Landing. This clay point sticks way out into the lake, and is within sight of point No. 4.

"There's a creek that runs right up to this point with a steep drop and a big submerged top right off the side," said Murphy. "With the clay point, deep water and structure all in one location, the potential is really good on this spot."

This point runs from nothing at the top to 15 feet on the deeper side. Anglers should work around the entire point alternating crankbaits, spinnerbaits and Carolina rigs until they find the bass and find what they want.

 

No. 6: N32 28.927 x W88 46.596: Leave point No. 5, and head further northeast to the first point past Pine Springs Landing. This point is just north of the landing, and is the last point before you get to the Pine Springs Beach area.

"I'll work the shallow portion of the point and hit any visible cover," Murphy said. "There always seems to be a large pine in the water right off the point, and it usually holds a bass or two."

Spinnerbaits and jigs are good bets fished in and around the pine top and clay bank.

After hitting the shallow part of the point, position your boat just to the west of the point about 20 yards or so, and cast due north. There is a sharp ledge that usually has structure and holds pre-spawn fish during the month of February. The ledge runs from 4 to 8 feet deep, and is dynamite during windy conditions from the north or west almost anytime during February on through the spring.

If the fish are lethargic and won't respond to the faster-moving baits, try a jig or Carolina rig along the ledge and in the brush.

 

No. 7: N32 29.635 x W88 47.092: Leave No. 6, and head west until you get into the main lake. Turn north as soon as you get to the main lake, and run about a 1/4 mile on the northeast side of the lake until you get to the old marina and water-slide area. Remnants of an old wooden fence are still visible with many of the poles still standing.

No. 7 is actually the clay point to the right of the entrance to the cove.

"There's an old rip-rap jetty running out into the lake on the right-hand side," said Murphy. "If the water's low, you'll be able to see it; if it's high then it will be submerged. It doesn't take much time to find either; just work it over with a shallow-running crankbait or spinnerbait."

Murphy has limited out in many tournaments on this one spot. The rock jetty is ideal because it runs from 2 to 3 feet on the shallow end to 15 feet on the deep side. Depending upon water conditions, the fish may be found anywhere along the rocks.

 

No. 8: N32 29.855 x W88 48.293: Leaving No. 7, motor due west across the lake until you get to Collinsville Landing. Continue up into the cove next to the landing, and stop at the point on the left or south side of the cove. Yet another long clay point runs well out into the lake. During shallow water, the point will be clearly visible quite a ways out into the lake.

"I'll work a shallow-running crankbait and spinnerbait first," said Murphy. "I'll follow up with a lizard or Carolina rig, and work the deeper portion of the point or ledge."

Once the bass move up to this rock jetty, they'll usually be found somewhere along the ledge until they leave to spawn.

 

No. 9: N32 29.657 x W88 48.131: Leaving Collinsville Landing cove, turn back south until you get to the next main-lake point on the right, or west side, of the lake. This point is known as Millionaire Point, and is a major staging point for bass.

An angler may catch a lunker bass on this spot, or he may catch a bunch of bass.

"I'd start out shallow and work the bank, and then work back toward deep water," Murphy said.

If you catch one you'll usually catch several as the fish will school up pretty tight during this month.

 

No. 10: N32 29.472 x W88 48.353: Leaving No. 9, head west around the point into the Twiltley Branch Cove, and stop on the next secondary point on the right side. The submerged point and flat runs southeast from the main point of land, and has a hard clay bottom with some scattered brush and roots.

"I'd start shallow with a crankbait, and work out deeper alternating with the Rat-L-Trap and spinnerbait first," Murphy said. "If that doesn't work, then I'd try a Carolina rig, and probe the edge of the drop and structure."