A lot of fishermen seem to get spring fever pretty early in the year, and this is the time it hits. Deer season has been over for a while, and everybody is raring to go, with spring on the way and tournaments getting started late in February.
What a lot of people — and I’m one of them — forget is that it’s still winter, we’ve still got low water temperatures in most of our lakes, and a lot of us try to go to the bank too soon. I have to remind myself that when the water is cold, I can turn on my Humminbird electronics and go out at the end of January and the first of February and fish offshore, in deep water, with a spoon or a drop-shot rig.
At least for the first part of February, most of our fish will still be in deep water. We might have a few days of 70-degree weather that will get them moved up, but for the most part, they’re going to be offshore. Knowing that, it’s still a great time to catch fish, because I love to eat fish and because a jigging spoon and a drop-shot rig will catch white perch, striped bass, catfish and hybrid bass — anything in the water — in addition to largemouth and spotted bass.
To get started, you need to look for bait. Being that a lot of the water up north is frozen over, we get a lot of fish-eating birds in the south where they can still dive down and eat shad and herring. Pay attention not only to seagulls, but to loons and cormorants. They’ll be in areas where there’s a lot of bait, and the fish we want to catch are going to be around bait.
I like to start on the lower end of a lake because the water is clearer. And while you get a little bit of vibration from a spoon or a drop-shot rig, fish are pretty much feeding by sight. You want just a slight stain on the water or clear conditions. When you find a good concentration of birds in, say, a square mile of water, it’s time to start looking. I have two units on the console of my Phoenix bass boat: a Humminbird Helix 10 and a Helix 8. I’ll have one of them turned on to down-scan and the other turned on to side-scan so I can see bait, fish and structure as I idle along.
The main-river channel in a lake is where I’m going to concentrate, because the bait and fish are going to stay close to it. If they aren’t out in that deep channel, they’re going to be barely up on the flat next to it, and I can see them. In fact, I won’t start fishing in the winter until I’ve found a good concentration of bait. I see bait on my electronics, and I start looking for structure that the bait can be relating to, because it’s easier to catch fish that are relating to structure.
Structure or not, I’ll have rods out with spoons and drop-shot rigs tied on. There are a lot of different spoons you can fish: I like a Hopkins Shorty, but here around Lake Greenwood near my home, a Berry spoon is very popular. I’ll fish a spoon on a 6-foot-6, medium-action BPS Carbonlite baitcasting rod with a Johnny Morris signature series reel spooled with 12- to 14-pound BPS fluorocarbon. I fish spoons on fluorocarbon because there’s no stretch, and because it’s so sensitive; you can just feel the bites so much better.
I think it’s important to fish jigging spoons different ways. A lot of people I’ve fished with have one way they hop a spoon off the bottom, and I think what the fish want can change from day to day — and you need to be able to. I’ve seen times when the bass wanted a spoon that was hopped off the bottom about 12 inches and let flutter back down, and I’ve seen times when they wanted you to jerk the spoon 36 inches off the bottom and let it flutter back down. It’s like fishing a Texas-rigged worm or a jig; you have to figure it out every day.
As far as a drop-shot rig, I fish it on a 6-foot-6, BPS Carbonlite spinning rod with a Johnny Morris signature series reel spooled with 8-pound BPS fluorocarbon. Most of the time, I’m tying a quarter-ounce sinker on the bottom of my drop-shot rig, although on a flat-calm day I may go down to 1/8- and on a real windy day, I might go to 3/8-, but I never go heavier. I come up about 12 to 18 inches and tie on one of two hooks. If I’m going to fish a bait weedless, I’ll tie on a 1/0 VMC straight-shank hook. If I’m going to just nose-hook the bait, I’ll use a VMC Spin Shot hook, which has a built-in swivel that keeps you from having any line twist. I’m going to fish a 4-inch Kut Tail worm from Gary Yamamoto.
With the electronics we have now, you can see all kinds of stuff on your down-scan; it’s almost like playing a video fishing game. You can see the bait, the fish, your drop-shot rig, your spoon, the fish moving toward your bait. You can catch ‘em so good this way, it’s one of the main reasons that I make sure that I don’t look shallow too soon; there’s too much good fishing in deep water in February that I don’t want to miss.