I think February is the best month of the year to fish Ross Barnett Reservoir for bass, which are in the prespawn mode and moving shallow. In many sections of the country — and Mississippi — you will often be fishing for bass in deep water in February, but on Ross Barnett, you’ll catch most of your fish in water 3 feet deep or less.
This time of the year also is when bass like to get into the lily pad stems, unless a severe cold front arrives. But on those very cold February days, I’ll be fishing the rocks. Basically those are the two February patterns for Ross Barnett.
Pad stems, reeds
First, fish the lily pad stems and the reeds with a black/chartreuse or a crayfish color Baby 1-Minus crankbait on a medium-heavy Shimano Zodias baitcasting rod, alternating casts between the two colors. I’ll be fishing a Shimano Curado 200, a 6.2-to-1 retrieve-ratio reel, spooled with 23-pound White Peacock fluorocarbon. I’ll run that Baby 1-Minus with a fairly fast retrieve into the lily pad stems and on top of the scattered patches of coontail moss that comes up from the bottom but doesn’t reach the surface in the stems. Generally, I get my bites when the lure hits the stems and bounces off.
The most-productive part of the lake to fish for bass is from the Highway 43 bridge south on the east side of the lake. Even in February’s shallow water, you can catch several bass weighing from 4 to 7 pounds each, since the females are full of roe.
If the bass aren’t taking the fast Baby 1-Minus, I’ll fish the same areas with a black/blue or plum Mann’s HardNose lizard and a 1/16-ounce bullet weight in front with a No. 5/0 hook. I’ll use a 7-foot-6 Zodias rod with a 70 XG 8.2-to-1 Shimano reel with 25-pound bass braid and no leader. I’ll swim the lizard slowly underwater through the lily pad stems.
Another bait I’ll use in the stems is a ¼-ounce black/blue ChatterBait with a black/blue craw trailer that I’ll cast on 23-pound fluorocarbon with a 7-foot-6, medium-heavy Zodias rod and a 6.2-to-1 Curado reel. If you encounter a strong cold front, a heavy rain and/or muddy water, particularly on the east side of Ross Barnett when you’re fishing, then head for the rocks at the dam.
On the dam rocks
I’ll start off throwing a Mann’s C4 crankbait on 20-pound line on a Curado 6.2-to-1 reel and a 7-foot, medium-heavy Zodias rod. I’ll cast the crankbait as close to the rocks as possible and reel the lure parallel to the rocks, fairly slowly, to let the bill of the crankbait crash into and kick off the rocks, not allowing it to get more than 3 feet deep. Most of your strikes will be in 1 to 3 feet of water.
The second bait I’ll use is a Mann’s Classic spinnerbait with gold blades and a chartreuse/white skirt that I’ll bump off the rocks. I’ll retrieve this spinnerbait slowly and fish it on 23-pound line with a 6.2-to-1 reel on a 6-foot-10 medium-heavy rod. The secret to successfully fishing these rocks is to cover plenty of water until you locate the bass. I’ll keep that spinnerbait in 1 to 3 feet of water right up against the bank.
Barnett bass basics
With these two techniques, you’ll catch numbers of yearling bass. I expect to catch about 15 bass during a day’s fishing, and five of those 15 bass should weigh from 3 to 5 pounds each — possibly one will weigh 7 pounds or better. Right now, Ross Barnett is loaded with 4- to 5-pound bass.
On February’s warm days, with relatively clear water, fish the lily pad stems on the east side of the lake. On very cold days or if the east side of the lake is muddy, fish the rocks by the dam.
The cold truth:
Rocky and riprap banks are bass magnets, especially late in the winter or early in the spring. Rocks will absorb and reflect the sun’s heat, warming up the surrounding water by as much as a degree or two, which gives fish plenty of reason to call them home.