Current weather conditions: 22 degrees with bright bluebird skies, 10 to 15 mph winds on the second day after a cold front has passed through.

9:00 : I meet Iraqi war veteran Charles Ellis at his home in Marion, quickly load my gear into his Stratos boat and we start our short trip to Lake Tom Bailey. As it turns out, this is one of the most brutally cold days of the year so far. Conditions will be extremely difficult, and our goal is to explore the lake under extremely tough conditions, and locate and catch bass. We were the only "brave" anglers to fish the lake this day. Cold weather fronts are great for getting the deer to move, but deadly on the old lockjaw for bass.

 

9:20 : We arrive at the landing, and quickly get a lake report from the officer on duty. Fishing has been sporadic and tough for most bass anglers due to a recent bout of extremely cold weather from multiple fronts passing through.

 

9:30 : I back the Stratos 273 boat into the water, and Ellis launches his boat. Our day begins with a frigid greeting from Mother Nature in the form of a stiff wind and sub-freezing temperatures.

 

9:40 : Due to the extreme cold, Ellis elects to start fishing at the ramp and take advantage of some prime fishing spots before heading across the lake. Ellis begins fishing with a Bandit 300 series Louisiana shad colored crankbait along the landing and dock area.

"I always fish the landing and dock after launching," said Ellis. "For some reason I almost always catch a bass or two from this area."

On more than one occasion Ellis has caught multiple bass here, right after launching his boat. With frigid temperatures and clearer than normal water, the bass don't cooperate on this trip, however. Ellis advises anglers to fish this spot after launching and to follow up just before leaving the lake. Either a lipless crankbait or medium-running crankbait are good bets.

 

9:50 : Ellis moves to a rock-filled riprap point and works it over with the crankbait.

"I like to cast that crankbait out, bump the bottom and try to get a reaction bite," Ellis said.

Ellis continues working the shallow water point with no takers before switching lures again. The avid angler quickly picks up a shaky head rig and pitches it near the rock point.

"There's a couple of rocks that come way out here," he continues, as he points to an area off the rock point. "I try to bump that shaky head rig on those rocks to trigger bites, and I've had good results doing that right here."

After spending a few minutes working the spot we pick up and move again.

 

10:00 : We move further toward the main lake and stop at a grass mat. Though the mat is dead, it is the only cover in the area except for a couple of brushtops located along the edge of the mat. Ellis hopes the cover will hold a few bass trying to escape the bright sunshine and high-pressure conditions that were left after the front passed.

Ellis works the mat deliberately, targets each opening and hole and specifically hits any wood cover near the mat. Ellis works around the mat making precision flips and pitches like a seasoned pro.

On his 11th pitch to the shallow brushtop located on the edge of the mat, Ellis entices a lunker bass to bite his offering, an ultra vibe speed craw.

 

10:15 : Ellis moves further out into the main lake and targets a shallow water flat with standing timber by working the crankbait. The skilled angler quickly and efficiently covers the area thoroughly without a strike. The bass are obviously not at home or have a severe case of lockjaw as Ellis keeps banging the crankbait into, over and around all types of wood cover.

 

10:30 : Ellis moves again and stops along the rocks right off the dam.

"I'm going to work the rocks because the water is sometimes slightly warmer on bright sunny days like today, and the baitfish and bass might be in the area as a result," says Ellis.

He continues working the rocks by casting along the edge and working the bait all the way to the boat, covering different depth zones. We're positioned in 7 to 8 feet of water casting to the edge of the rocks with crankbaits and chatterbaits.

On at least two occasions, Ellis brushes against submerged cover and detects what he thinks are light strikes, but comes away without a hook up. The extreme cold has really shut down the bass.

 

10:50 : Ellis switches to a Strike King Redeye Shad lipless crankbait and works the lure along the rocks in a back-and-forth, up-and-down motion.

"Look at that big buck running those does," Ellis says suddenly.

Two does came running out of the woods in a helter-skelter fashion and stopped for an instant as the buck charged toward them. They were across the lake running along a grass bank. The buck had a large rack and huge body. We were still trying to settle back down to our task at hand when 20 minutes later the trio came back through again. This time the buck stopped for a few minutes and seemed even larger. Unfortunately for us, we were fishing while the biggest buck of the year pranced by!

As the action subsided, we continued working the rocks with a variety of lures in this area without any further strikes.

 

11:15 : We move to the intake structure along the dam, and Ellis pitches a jig along one of the piers. The lure never makes it to the bottom. He sets the hook, and there's nothing there. The bass obviously struck and spit it out instantly after mouthing it.

Ellis graphs the bottom in the area around the spillway intake structure, and detects submerged wood structure along the bottom in 11 to 15 feet of water, but no fish are detected holding tight. We work the concrete structure and the area around it with no luck.

"I caught a nice bass on the backside of the structure on a Ribbitt frog," Ellis said. "That's a tough bait in this lake during warm weather, one you always want to throw during the warmer months."

 

11:30 : Ellis decides to change tactics once again, and we pull out the deep-water lures.

"We've tried the shallow and mid-depths in this lake, so we're going to try the deeper water and see if we can get a bite," he said. "This cold weather and high pressure may have them relating tight to cover, or in the deeper water along the channel ledges."

After graphing the area out in front of the dam, Ellis locates a 14- to 17-foot ditch with 9 to 11 feet of water along the edges. He switches to a Rapala 20 plus, and combs the channel and the adjacent ledge.

"Maybe I can bounce it off of the ledge or structure and get a reaction bite," Ellis said. "Sometimes that's the only way to get a bite in this weather."

 

11:55 : Ellis puts down the crankbait, switches gears and slows down further as the wind starts howling.

"Normally I like a breeze, but the wind doesn't help the fish this deep, just makes it tough on us," said Ellis. "I'm going to probe the channel and the ledge to see if we can find any structure and bass."

As we continue working the ledges, Ellis finds a submerged point about 11 ½-feet-deep with structure right on the side of a ledge. Ellis suddenly snaps to attention, reaches out slightly and jiggles the rod a few times, shaking the jig in the brush.

Wham!

"There he is!" exclaimed Ellis.

Instantly he reared back and drove the steel hook deep into the jaws of a lunker bass. By the time the bass felt the sting of the hook, it came unglued and fought wildly, and shot up like a torpedo. For a short time it was touch and go as the bass fought like a summertime lunker, not a lethargic wintertime bass.

As the bass swam near the boat, it busted the surface and thrashed wildly in a futile attempt to escape. Alas the expert angler had driven the hook deep into the upper jaw of the bass, and it had no chance of escape. Ellis had worked hard at locating the bass and even harder in enticing it to strike. The lunker succumbed to a black/blue Red Eyed Dydhebyte jig with a blue Paca Craw trailer.

 

1:15 : After working the submerged channel and picking up a bass and a few bites, it's time to move again as the wind picks up and makes it impossible to fish the submerged channel effectively. We move across the lake into a semi-sheltered cove.

Ellis alternates between a crankbait and a jig trying to find another spot with active bass in the vicinity. When he finds no takers, he picks up the jig and probes the shallow water stick ups.

"See that laydown tree right there?" asks Ellis. "Almost every time I stop here I catch a bass, even though it's pretty shallow."

As he relates the story of his last trip to the lake with Keith Lee, he pitches the jig into the top.

Wham!

Sure enough, a nice bass smashes the lure, and he's was right on the money again.

 

1:30 : Moving further into a cove lined with shallow standing timber and brush in 4 to 6 feet of water, Ellis picks up a white chatterbait and starts working the cover.

"This is a prime area for catching bass on a chatterbait," he continues. "The bass usually relate to the cover in here during warmer weather, and we catch them on buzz baits and topwater lures."

Ellis keeps working the cover and banging the lure into the wood structure in search of another bass with no takers. Chatterbaits have a pulsating, throbbing blade action that attracts cold-weather bass by sight and vibration. However, none are in this area or taking our offerings, so we move on again.

 

2:30 : We move to the docks in the center of the lake, and work the pier and pilings over from one end to the other.

"This is another hot spot during warmer weather," says Ellis. "I'll work under the pier and bounce a jig off of the poles and posts and draw reaction bites from nice bass."

It's obvious by watching Ellis that he loves what he does and is an avid angler who doesn't quit until the last cast of the day is done.

After working the lower side of the pier, we make one last move toward the launch area as the winds are howling and cold is bearing down on us after several hours on the water.

 

3:00 : We head back to the launch area to hit a few spots before taking out. Not another boat dared venture onto the lake on this sub-freezing day. Though it took a toll on the fish and kept everybody else at home, Charles Ellis never missed a beat as he continued plying his talents and effort into locating and catching more bass.

After flipping another grass mat several times we move back to another riprap area in hopes of catching one more bass. Ellis switches back to a shaky head to try to entice a bass into striking by shaking the lure ever so slightly.

"I usually catch bass along these rocks with a shaky head," Ellis said. "If you shake that lure enough, you can sometimes attract and entice bass into striking."

 

4:00 : With the sun dipping low on the horizon and the temperature falling once again, it is time to take a few more photos and call it a day while we still have some daylight left.