Winter bass are a different breed

This chunky marsh bass smashed a gold Rapala F11 ripped though the eel grass in a narrow bayou.

Find deep holes in the marsh, and the fish will be there

There it was — the sweet chime of my mother ringing the dinner bell on the back porch, signaling it was time to come in from the garden to eat.

While I equate picking and shelling butterbeans to being pecked to death by chickens, my love of eating them makes the aforementioned tasks worthwhile.

My peaceful walk back to the house for dinner was interrupted by a loud, unidentifiable squawking sound.

Then I woke up.

The loud squawking was my alarm clock — the sweet, chiming sound wasn’t the dinner bell but the wind chimes outside my bedroom window letting me know there was a stout breeze. Knowing the lay of the land and the time of year, it was a stout northerly breeze.

It wasn’t a light tinkling chime, either; it was more like the clanging made when my son would grab the bottom of the chime and whirl the circular disk inside the varying-sized pipes to see just how much racket he could make.

We’ve all been there, wondering whether it’s worth the effort to get out of bed and go fishing. The adages we’ve heard over the years roll through our minds.

You gotta go to know. The best time to go fishing is when you can.

The older I get the more I find myself being a fair-weather fisherman, while others roll with the punches and adjust their game plans based on what cards Mother Nature has dealt them.

Kyle Graham is one such angler. He actually excels in what most would consider miserable conditions to fish in — a stout north wind and extreme low tides.

“Tides will get real low — 1 ½ to 2 feet below normal,” Graham said.

The extreme low water levels and falling temperatures of December force bass to congregate in the deeper holes of a bayou. These conditions also force bait into the holes, keeping the bass healthy and fat throughout the winter.

To find the deeper holes, Graham combs the marsh during the warmer months to locate key locations during a high tide when there’s plenty of water.

Look for holes in main bayous, as well as bayous a little more than the width of your boat.

“Usually in the bends of these smaller ditches there’s deeper pockets, and the fish will congregate there,” Graham said. “You just got to get out and find them. Once you find them there’s usually a little bit of structure either people have put there or Mother Nature has put there.

“A lot of times the smaller drains will be 6 to 8 inches deep; then you’ll go a little bit farther and it falls off into 7 or 8 foot. You just have to do your homework, explore and find these places.”

It’s just a matter of being observant and noting key locations.

“Troll along the banks — anywhere you see there can be a drop-off or the bank could be undercut, anything like that, will definitely be something to remember when the water does fall out,” Graham said.

This angler is a firm believer that daylight is a good feeding time year round, but he prefers to fish certain parts of the tide.

“You want the tide to be low and falling,” Graham said. “It can be low and coming in, but once it gets to that certain point the bite will end. The fish will disperse; they will not be stacked up. You just need to put the trolling motor down and go down the bank. Once it gets to a certain point when it’s coming in, they won’t be ganged up. They’ll leave the area.”

So he tries to time his trips according to the tide charts.

“You want to be there the last hour of the tide movement, whether it’s coming in or going out,” Graham said. “You want to be there the hour and a half before total low tide and the first hour and a half when it’s coming in.

“You want to be at the end of the falling tide and the beginning of the rising tide.”

To target bass in the marsh during the winter months Graham has a few go-to lures he uses based on the tide levels.

When the tide is low he uses crankbaits to dredge the holes. He uses an inline spinner and minnow-type baits on a high tide.

“I like to throw Rapala DT4s, DT6s, sometimes even a DT10 in these holes in the marsh,” Graham said. “A lot of times, if the water comes up and there is grass, you can rip a Rapala F11 through the grass or you can use a Snagless Sally to pull the fish out.”

In early December, or even later into the winter if there hasn’t been any sustained freezing weather, there will still be some eel grass left.

“When you have eel grass and the tide is coming up, then you use your (Snaggless) Sally’s or your shallow-water crankbaits and rip it through that grass and catch tons of fish that way,” Graham explained. “Eel grass will form points; fish will gather up there, and it won’t be 2 or 3 feet deep.”

Graham uses a 6 ½- to 7-foot medium-action rod with a Shimano Citica or Curado spooled with 20-pound Sunline monofilament for all three of the baits above.

While not particular on the rod brand, he is a big fan of Shimano reels because of the durability and smooth casting.

Graham said the typical bass caught using this technique usually weigh between 1 ¾ to 2 ½ pounds, but he has seen the occasional 4- or 5-pounder caught in the cold-water marsh.

Fishing this time of year can be hot for trout, redfish and bass. It boils down to having the right frame of mind to deal with the weather, the confidence in your ability to find fish and the right gear to stay warm.

So if the dinner bell in your dreams ends up being a wind chime ringing like an 8-year-old is using it for a rope swing, then tuck into the marsh and dredge those deep holes you found with a Rapala DT6.

You just might find the mother lode of bass chilling on the bottom. Hey, you gotta go to know.