Every Jan. 1, anglers everywhere want to be the first of their peer group to catch a fish. I have not tried to fish at a minute after midnight, but I have launched my boat a little before light on Jan 1 to get a head start. Yes, I have a problem, the same problem all of you have - we are obsessed with fishing!
January is one of my favorite times to fish in North Carolina. We often have very mild winters. Even if we don't, we are blessed with several power-plant lakes that can provide warm water and steady action all winter. Hyco, Wylie, Norman, and Sutton can be good no matter what the weather does.
On lakes without power plants and on rivers, fish can get very concentrated in specific spots and be a blast to catch. Water colder than 43 degrees can be challenging, but it depends more on what the temperature was beforehand. If the lake was frozen and now it's 43 degrees, that constitutes a great warming trend, and fish should be feeding. However if it was 50 degrees and drops to 43 degrees, it can be tough.
One of the most common misconceptions about winter fishing is the thinking that the fish have to be deep. Fish could be anywhere, even with ice covering the surface. I've seen bass swimming under a thin sheet of ice in one foot of water in a little lake I grew up fishing.
Much of my time this month is spent in less than 10 feet of water unless I can find bait in deep water. You'll find me finesse-cranking in shallow water and fishing suspending jerkbaits around points. If there is still grass, lipless crankbaits can be awesome. If they do not respond to these faster-moving baits, I switch to a grub on a jighead.
I fish a grub with an eighth-ounce jighead and 8-pound fluorocarbon most of the time. Having a very sensitive rod is very important in order to feel light bites and the bottom. I use a Daiwa Steez 6-foot-8, medium-light rod. The grub is probably the most-consistent winter bait in the tackle box, but it is not very exciting. I like it when the bass are really sluggish - the kind that just barely can shake their heads when hooked. Who really wants to fish when it is that slow? I guess only us bass addicts.
If you can find balls of bait, it can be great fishing with spoons or swimbaits under the schools. To catch bass in open water under bait with a spoon is something of an art, and I'm no Van Gogh. Although challenging, it can be very rewarding if practiced properly.
Another great thing to try in the winter is a large, 1-ounce spinnerbait slow rolled over deep ledges with bait nearby. This is how I prefer to fish deep. I basically will run or idle around different areas of a lake and look for bait on the depthfinder. If they are all at a certain depth, then I look for structure at that depth. It is a lot of work, but this is how I've caught most winter giants.
Last but not least, the standard weedless jig can be the ticket for most conditions. It is a deliberate bait that penetrates cover where bass live. A jig is the bait most of us think about for winter fishing. It can be quite good, especially for a couple of big fish, but it is hard to find the mega-schools with it. Still, I never go without one in the winter. My starting bait is often a 3/8-ounce black/blue jig with a matching Culprit Tailgate Special. If you fish deep rocky lakes, a football head may be a better choice. I really like to focus in creek arms - especially keying on banks where the old creek channel swings up against the shoreline.
Be the first one out this year. January is cold, but the fishing is on fire.