Of course, it is February, and a lot of years, that means the dead of winter. But if you really want to back your boat down the ramp and try to catch some bass, it's good to know which lakes in your area fish better during cold weather than others. My home lake, High Rock, is absolutely horrible to fish in the winter; that's why so many fishermen go down to Badin and Tillery. Buggs Island is a good winter lake, but right next to it, Gaston has never been a good cold-weather lake. Wylie has been a pretty good winter lake.
When you decide which lake to fish - and you really need water that's close to 50 degrees - know that you need to look for the clearest water around. You do not want to fish dirty water. I know that it warms up a little quicker, but the fish are still so sluggish; fish are more aggressive in clear water.
Once you find the clear water, you're looking for a certain kind of place where bass might be active. You want to find a steep bank where a fish can move up out of deep water to feed without having to move very far. Steep drops, bluff banks, riprap banks - these are places where you'll find fish. You want to be able to sit in deep water and cast to the bank. In fact, I really like to set up where I can cast parallel to these kinds of banks so I can keep my baits in the strike zone the longest time.
That brings us to way to catch bass in February. Even if you get a little warm weather, bass are still going to be acting sluggish. They don't want to chase baits. That's why crankbaits, jerkbaits and jigs have traditionally been the No. 1 weapons bass fishermen use in February.
I'll usually be looking to fish a crawfish-colored crankbait that runs about 10 feet deep, but if you go to Arkansas and Missouri, some of those Ozark lakes, or even to Tennessee and Alabama, a lot of those lakes really seem to get a great jerkbait bite. If you can fish it correctly, a jerkbait may be the most-productive bait you can fish. It's hard for me to fish it slow enough, but some of the guys who are really good at it will let them sit 30 or 40 seconds. That's hard for me to do, but those guys catch a lot of fish.
A jerkbait is a long, minnow-shaped bait with three treble hooks. There are smaller jerkbaits with two trebles, but they're better during the summer. The thing that makes them so good is that they'll sit there in the water and suspend, and they'll even back up a little. Bass will come out of 10 or 15 feet of water to get one.
What you need to be able to do is fish a jerkbait about five feet deep. You cast it, crank the reel handle a few turns, then jerk it down. You fish it with a jerk-jerk-pause, jerk-jerk-pause action, and the pause needs to be a long time. Some pros who are good with a jerkbait will let it sit 30 or 40 seconds. A lot of times, they're fishing it over a tree where they know there's a bass, knowing that fish will eventually come hit it. It's sort of the same thing we do with a crankbait when we know there's a bass around a stump; we hit it from all angles until he finally bites.
You want to fish jerkbaits in natural colors: blue/silver, silver/black, gold/black. Clown can be a good color on smallmouth bass. You want to fish colors that imitate the shad or other baitfish. I fish a jerkbait on 10-pound mono, but you can fish it on fluorocarbon, because it will help you get the bait down a little deeper and stay down. Trilene 100 Percent Fluorocarbon is about as good as you can buy. I'll fish a jerkbait on a 7-foot Lew's rod; I want a soft, graphite rod. I'll use a Lew's Tournament Pro reel with a little faster retrieve ratio: probably 6.4-to-1, because you're not really cranking it, and because they hit it on a slack line, you need a little faster reel to catch up to them.
One thing I've noticed about the pros who catch a lot of fish on jerkbaits is, the best jerkbaits are the ones that anglers have been modified. They take baits out of the package and do things with them - the way I have added weight to crankbaits for the last 25 years. To get jerkbaits down five or six feet and get them to suspend there, a lot of guys add Suspend Dots to the belly of the bait. A lot of guys will add strips of lead. The thing I've seen done the most is to wrap lead around the shank of their treble hooks. The guys who do that tend to switch out the hooks that come on the bait for smaller hooks. Bigger hooks often take away some from a bait's action, so going to smaller hooks will help that.
You can mess with jerkbaits and get them to run and suspend just the way you do crankbaits: in a swimming pool, or if you've got a pond where you can see down four or five feet. You don't want a bait to roll from side to side when you retrieve it, because it will do that when you jerk it. You want it to have just about neutral buoyancy when you pause it. You can test all these things just the way you tune a crankbait.
So when you go out on the water this month, a jerkbait is something that, if you haven't tried one, can be a really effective bait for catching those big, female bass that seem to stir earlier in the year.