Returning to Ross Barnett

Ross Barnett bass don’t have a lot of deep water to escape cold, January weather, but on warmer, more temperate days, they’ll feed readily in the shallows.

January: A boom or bust month for bassing on the REZ

Bass don’t have much deep water where they can hide in the winter at Ross Barnett, but the only thing that makes Ross Barnett a bad January fishing day is a hard, blowing north, northeast or northwest wind. 

Bass are in their winter pattern in early January. Generally, if you put a lure in front of them, they’ll attack. I’ll concentrate my fishing on the riprap near the dam and in Pelahatchie Bay and on the riprap and pilings on either end of the Pelahatchie Bridge and the Highway 43 bridge. 

• Riprap

First I’ll fish the riprap by the dam. The bass will be in the shallow water on the rocks or holding on the first drop-off in about 8 to 10 feet of water. The rocks will draw heat from the sun, and the shallow water around them will concentrate baitfish. I’ll start casting a gray ghost Mann’s Baby 1-Minus on a 7-foot-1, medium-action FX Custom rod with a 7.3:1 Bruin reel and 20-pound White Peacock fluorocarbon. I’ll cast parallel to the riprap and crash the lure into the rocks in foot-deep water. On any warming January day, the shad, the bluegills and other baitfish will hold as close to the rocks as possible, as will bass. 

Mann’s Baby 1-Minus

I’ll also have on my casting deck a 3/8-ounce Classic spinnerbait with a white skirt, gold Indiana blades and a trailer hook. I’ll crash that spinner bait at a 45% angle into the rocks from the shallow water, slow-rolling the spinnerbait to turn the blades out to about 4 feet deep. I’ll use a 6-foot-10, heavy action FX Custom rod with 23-pound fluorocarbon on a 6.2:1 reel. 

• Bridges

I’ll expect the bass to hold on the downcurrent side of the bridge pilings and around the points of land on either side of the bridges. I’ll fish those areas with a shad-patterned jerkbait on a 6-foot-9, medium-action FX Custom rod and a Bruin 8:1 reel with 15-pound fluorocarbon. I’ll have two jerkbaits tied on: a jerkbait with a short lip that will run 1 to 6 feet deep, and a deep-diving jerkbait with a longer lip that will get down 6 to 10 feet.

Besides fishing the jerkbaits around the pilings, I’ll also fish them around the riprap on the two points on either side of the bridges. The bass will come up out of the deeper water to attack them. I’ve caught some good-sized spotted bass around the Highway 43 bridge before. Usually in January, a current will come through the lake. I’ll cast upcurrent and retrieve the jerkbait with the current. 

Ross Barnett is really muddy during January; that’s a negative effect on jerkbaits. However, if you’ll change the color when you encounter muddy water, you still can catch bass. Under stained water conditions, I’ll choose a purple back/chartreuse sides/orange belly and keep the jerkbait moving fairly fast. 

Strike King KVD jerkbait

If the water is clearer near Pelahatchie Bay, I’ll let the jerkbait sit briefly before I jerk it again. I won’t let the bait suspend nearly as long as when I’m fishing clear water. I’ll also fish a jerkbait on the riprap, if I can’t catch bass with my Baby 1-Minus and my spinnerbait there.

• Upriver tactics

If the river’s not too muddy, I’ll move upriver of the Highway 43 bridge and fish the cuts and the ditches in the sandbars you can see in clearer water. I’ll fish a ½-ounce gray back/pearl sides/orange belly Little George tailspinner. I’ll tie 23-pound fluorocarbon on the 7-foot-1, medium-action FX Custom rod, cast the lure, let it fall to the bottom, taking up slack in the line, and then pump it back to the boat like I’ll fish a jig. Generally, bass will attack it on the fall.

Paul Elias emphasizes that you won’t catch large numbers of bass in January at Ross Barnett, but the ones you do catch will be chunky prespawners.

End of January

Once the water warms up, I’ll concentrate my fishing on the lily pad stems behind the No. 7 river marker and the islands. I’ll mainly use a 3/8-ounce black/blue bladed jig with a black/blue crawfish trailer. I’ll fish this lure on 30-pound bass braid with a 12- to 14-inch piece of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. I’ll cast the jig with a 6-foot-10, heavy action FX Custom rod and a 6.2:1 Bruin reel.

I’ll retrieve the bladed jig slowly to let it tick those lily pad stems. Although the bass will be moving up into the stems, they’re not very aggressive. So the slower you move the bait and still have the blade making noise, the better your odds will be for catching bass. 

January’s not a month where you’ll catch numbers of bass, but you should catch some fairly large, prespawn bass.

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Paul Elias
About Paul Elias 166 Articles
Paul Elias, of Laurel, has fished 15 Bassmaster Classics with career winnings of over $1 million, including one Bassmaster Classic Championship. Elias also holds the current record for a four-day BASS tournament weigh-in with 132 pounds, 8 ounces, on Falcon Lake in Texas.

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