Because of lily pad stems, shallows warm earlier than in other Mississippi reservoirs
February is one of the most-productive months to fish Ross Barnett Reservoir to catch very big and good numbers of bass. The bass there move into the lily pad stems much earlier than bass in other lakes, due to it being such a shallow lake and warming up earlier and more quickly than many Mississippi lakes.
The lily pad stems, the main cover used by bass year-round, hold heat, put that heat into the water and make the shallow water even warmer. As soon as the shallow water starts warming, bass realize that the spawn is about to happen. Although bass usually spawn in Ross Barnett in late February or early March, they move in to prepare for the spawn much earlier.
Fish a crankbait
My No. 1 bait for fishing Ross Barnett in February is a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus crankbait in fire orange or tri-colors with a black back, chartreuse sides and an orange belly. This small crankbait dives to less than a foot. Most of the lily pad stems will be very shallow. I’ll throw it on a 7.5-to-1 gear-ratio reel with 30-pound test bass braid and a 7-foot-2 heavy rod. I’ll tie the line straight to the lure. I’ll hit the lily pad stems with the lure to bounce off them and vary my retrieves to let the bass tell me how they want the lure.
Also around the lily pad stems, you’ll find numbers of stumps. I want this crankbait to bounce off the lily pad stems closest to the underwater stumps and then run it over the tops of and down the sides of the stumps, hit those stumps and then bounce off. When there are no stumps to work, I search for the lily pad stems leaning into the water — looking similar to a small tree that’s fallen over into the water.
Before you ask, yes, you’ll get hung up some while fishing those stumps and lily pad stems. However, that’s why I like the Baby 1-Minus, since it’s less likely to get hung up than other crankbaits or other sizes of crankbaits. Often, bass will want you to use a fast retrieve, but I’ve found that a medium retrieve seems to work best to catch fish weighing 1 to 9 pounds in the lily pad stems.
Use a spinner bait
My second lure of choice is a 3/8-ounce Mann’s Classic spinnerbait with a chartreuse and white skirt with gold Indiana blades and a trailer hook. I’ll use the same rod, reel and line to cast the spinner bait as I have the Baby 1-Minus and fish it in the exact same way I’ve fished the Baby 1-Minus.
If I get a short strike on the Baby 1-Minus or the Classic spinnerbait, I’ll pick up a rod with a Baby 1-Minus or a Mann’s swimming Craw Worm and throw it back to that same area.
Fish 3 miles above or 3 miles below the HWY 43 bridge to locate the most shallow water, lily pad stems, stumps and little ditches for catching February bass. To pick the most productive section of this water, I’ll generally choose from the HWY 43 bridge south on the eastern side of the lake.
Two other baits
The black/blue flake or junebug-colored Craw Worm and a bladed jig are two other productive February baits. I like to have a Texas-rigged Craw Worm tied onto one of the three rods I always keep on my deck. I’ll swim the Craw Worm just like I swim the Baby 1-Minus and the spinnerbait through the lily pad stems and on both sides, in front of and over the tops of underwater stumps. I’ll fish with 50-pound bass braid on a 7-foot-6 medium heavy rod with a 7.5-to-1 gear ratio reel.
If for some reason, shallow water isn’t producing bass, I’ll leave the lily pads and go to the shallow rocks around the HWY 43 bridge, near the dam and at the mouth of Pelahatchie Bay. I’ll fish the spinnerbait the same way I’ve used it to fish lily pad stems, along with a green pumpkin bladed jig with a green pumpkin crawfish trailer. I’ll slow-roll the spinnerbait and the bladed jig from about 1 to 5 feet deep, casting on a 45-degree angle and allowing each to bump off the rocks.
This month, I expect the best five bass I catch in a day of fishing at Ross Barnett to weigh from 15 to 20 pounds.