Slow down and fish the right baits, and February can be lunker city for bass fishermen on a handful of Mississippi lakes — as long as you take this pro’s advice.
Brock Mosley worked a football-head jig slowly over a gravel bar on Pickwick Lake until he felt an almost imperceptible strike. Mosley whipped his rod back and set the hook on a lunker smallmouth. He fought the bass, finally wore him down and brought him into the boat, pausing only for a few seconds before releasing him and getting back to the business of finding another bad-to-the-bone-bass.
Mosley, of Collinsville, recently qualified for his first Bassmaster Classic, which will be held this spring on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. It will be the culmination of a lifelong dream. If there’s one thing Mosley knows more than any other thing required of a professional bass angler, he needs to be versatile and open-minded when fishing a tournament, or any lake, for that matter.
“Depending upon the type of winter we are having, the fish could still be in their winter pattern during February,” Mosley said. “February is a great time to catch trophies, and the fish still have to eat, no matter how cold the water.”
But Mosley said it is critical to take note of the weather conditions to confirm what pattern you need to fish.
Winter weather hanging on
“If the water temperature is below 50 degrees, you’ve got to slow it down,” Mosley said. “I’ll fish a football jig if the water is really cold — and fish really slow. My two favorite lures this time of year are football jigs and suspending jerk baits.”
Mosley lets the bass dictate how fast he fishes, but it will usually be slow until he determines otherwise.
“I’ll really slow down, slower than most could imagine this time of year,” he said. “The bass are lethargic, but you’ll have an opportunity to catch a 7- or 8-pound lunker in February if you hit the right spots and give them what they’re looking for.”
Mosley said it’s really hard to fish a suspending jerkbait unless you have confidence in it — and if you know what to do and how to fish it.
“I’ll make a long cast and crank it down to the depth I want it and just work it really slow, jerking it and pausing for long periods,” he said. “We have some of the best anglers in the world out here on the tour, and you’ve got to learn how to catch bass in all conditions. The suspending jerkbait is one of the top cold-weather lures used on the tour.”
Mosley likes to keep it simple when fishing jerkbaits. He prefers a shad- or clown-colored jerkbait during the winter. And if he finds an area with bass, he can really pick them apart with a Mega Bass jerkbait, which suspends right out of the box.
“If we’ve had a mild winter, it only takes a few days to warm the water, and if we get several warm, sunny days in a row in February, the bass will start thinking about spawning, and the action can be good really fast,” Mosley said.
“If the water gets to 52 or 53 degrees on Ross Barnett, they’ll get ready to spawn,” he said. “If it gets above 50 degrees on Pickwick they’ll head to their staging areas and be ready to spawn in a hurry.”
“The last few years, the Alabama rig has really been tough on Pickwick in the fall and winter,” Mosley said. “It’s not as popular as it once was, but for those who know how and where to use it, they’re still killing them on it this time of year.”
According to Mosley, it’s the time of year when anglers can expect to catch 5-fish, 25- to 27-pound bags on the famed Tennessee-Tombigbee lake.
Pickwick gravel bars
One thing you hear a lot about on Pickwick Lake is gravel bars.
“The bass will stage on those gravel bars along the river, and crankbaits are really good this time of year,” Mosley said. “If you want to catch 5-pound smallmouth, then this is the time and place to do it.”
Mosley targets ledges and gravel bars in the 8- to 12-foot range and the 10- to 16-foot range.
“I’ll have crankbaits rigged for both depths; that way, I can cover some ground and find out where they’re located on that particular day without having to spend a lot of time switching lures back and forth,” he said.
“During the winter, when the winter bite is on, I like to throw anything thing that has a craw color,” said Mosley. “They just like that crawfish-colored crankbaits during the winter. After the water warms up to 58 degrees, I’ll switch back to the shad color.
“You just have to go fishing and find out what depths they’re located in on the day you’re fishing,” he said.
“Ross Barnett is one of my favorite lakes to fish,” Mosley said. “As the water warms up into the low 50s on the warmer days when the air temperatures are in the mid- to upper-60s, you’ll have a wave of fish go shallow,” Mosley said. “That’s when I like to use a Net Bait Big Spanky (swimbait) in black/blue and throw it as far and as shallow as I can. Black/blue is my favorite color in that lure.”
“That’s a good way to locate fish this time of year and they really love that swimbait,” he said.
Mosley has caught many lunker bass on the Big Spanky by swimming it through pad stems during the prespawn period as well. There’s nothing quite like a bass smashing a swimbait when it is bumping off of pad stems, brush and shallow objects.
“Black buzzbaits are also good once the water temperature reaches 52 degrees. You won’t get many bites, but when you do, it’s going to be the right one,” Mosley said. “And be sure to pay attention to the ditches and creek channels when you’re fishing shallow. Local tournament anglers have used the black buzzbaits to catch a lot of lunker bass on Barnett during the prespawn in February and March.”
Usually in February, Okatibbee will be at winter pool, part of the annual drawdown that helps the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prevent flooding downstream. That’s the key to locating and finding bass during the prespawn.
“After the water is pulled down to winter pool, the bass will pull back to the ditches,” Mosley said. “Follow the ditches until you find a point in the creek and fish that thoroughly. It’s also a good idea to work the ditches that lead to spawning flats, because you’ll find lunkers staging, and they’re ready to strike at a moment’s notice.”
Mosley has caught some huge limits fishing the ditches during the winter — prespawn months on Okatibbee — by working creeks and ditches. Some of his past catches included five-fish limits of bass averaging 4 to 5 pounds.
Just imagine catching a limit of 5-pound bass. It can happen, and Mosley has caught his share as well. While that may be the exception rather than the rule, it can happen during the prespawn in February if you find the right staging area and get onto a school of big fish.
“If you’re looking to catch a 5- to 7-pound bass on Okatibbee Lake, then February is definitely the time to do it,” Mosley said. “But you’ve got to get out there and work those prime areas and slow down.”
Get on the water
When you find the right spots, it can seem magical, and it doesn’t take a magic lure to catch them. You’ve just got to get on the water and fish those stumps, structure, points and creek bends along the ditches and stay alert, because you might just find the mother lode staging area chock full of 5- to 7-pound bass.
Whether you want to target smallmouths at Pickwick or largemouths on Ross Barnett or Okatibbee, Mosley’s patterns will work. In fact, they’ll work just about anywhere in Mississippi on similar waters.