Thermometers in central North Carolina showed 17 degrees at 9 a.m. at the Ebenezer Road Recreation Area last February when Andre Powell backed his boat trailer toward Jordan Lake's dark waters.

No one else had braved the elements that morning and left water droplets to freeze on the concrete, which would have made returning to the top of the ramp incline an icy-dicey adventure.

It would be six months before UNC's 2006 football season would begin to unravel. So this day Powell, a Tar Heel assistant coach, was relaxed and looking forward to a day of bass fishing, even though the weather was tailor made for duck hunting instead of trying to fling lures attached to monofilament that quickly froze line guides.

A former Lockhart, S.C., high school football star who played fullback and later coached at Indiana and Virginia, Powell was John Bunting's runningbacks and special-teams coach for six years at Chapel Hill. If there were any bright spots for the Tar Heel football team during 2006, they were Powell's units - particularly his kick-return teams. Brandon Tate, a rangy 6-3 return specialist from Burlington Cummings, was a threat to burn opponents any time they were silly enough to boot the ball to him. And Durrell Mapp, a Cummings player who was recruited by Powell, was the Tar Heels' best defensive player the last half of the '06 season at linebacker.

Powell relaxed each spring day (after football practice) and summer by bass fishing. He became involved in tournament bass fishing while coaching at UVa for George Welsh, then discovered the fun available at Triangle lakes, such as Jordan and Falls lakes, after moving his family to Durham.

During the spring, nearly every day found him at one of those lakes. Last summer he discovered Kerr Lake (Buggs Island).

But springtime just isn't enough to keep bass angler's skills sharp, so Powell had to adjust his fishing to his work schedule. And that meant fishing at times that'd only suit a polar bear. Perhaps it was good Coach Powell, at 6-2, 280 pounds, is nearly as big as one of those northern bruins. Only dedicated bass anglers fish at Piedmont lakes during February, but the itch to fish had overwhelmed Powell. He can't stay off the water for long stretches.

"I like to start bass fishin' when the water gets up to the 48- to 57-degrees range," he said. "I've caught fish when it's colder, but it's really tough."

This day actually was a typical February day as far as water temps were concerned.

"Usually, the water's gonna range from 48 to 49 degrees this month," Powell said. "Of course, I think you'll get a little more action when they days start getting a little longer and you get a little more sunlight. That's when the rocks start to warm up in the shallows and bass get active there.

"I think bass actually start moving a little when the (water) temperature gets to 48 degrees. They're usually deep, but they'll start going shallow when the temperature gets to 48 degrees."

There's another advantage to fishing during late winter for Powell. He, as are many bass anglers, is a "hawg" hunter - and targets lunker largemouths (6 pounds and bigger). And there's no better time than February.

While Powell was walking the practice fields for Welsh at UVa and before he discovered central Piedmont's three premier bass lakes, a Raleigh angler landed the top bass at Shearon Harris, a 13-pound, 2-ounce giant, during February in the early '90s. Likewise the best largemouth from Jordan Lake, Phil Cable's 14.38-pounder, came during a blustery early March day in 1992.

So cold water - at least water that's been really cold and is just starting to warm up as winter loosens its icy grip - is a key to catching really big central N.C. bass.

"I think the bass have a slow metabolism all winter, haven't eaten much, and they know that pretty soon, in a month or two, they'll be spawning," Powell said. "That takes a lot of energy, so when the first little bit of warm weather hits and the water temperature rises a little, it's like ringing the dinner bell for these bass that haven't eaten much during the winter.

"Little shad baitfish begin to stir some, too. So it's like (the bass) have been starving. You put a bait in front of their noses, and they're going to smack it."

But, as with most winter-time fishing, finding and catching a lunker isn't a sure thing.

"The weather can change pretty quick, and that will change what the fish will do, as far as biting," Powell said. "You can't plan on catching a lot of fish, but usually the ones you do catch will be good quality fish."

Powell said as a UNC assistant football coach he only got to fish when he had some free time.

"I fish when I can, so that puts a crimp in my style - so I'm out there now," he said, laughing.

During 2005 he fished the N.C. Division of the Wal-Mart BFL circuit. During 2006 he fished the Piedmont Division.

When he's at Jordan or Falls Lake, he keys his February fishing efforts at rocks.

"The first thing (bass) will come to at Jordan is rip rap," he said.

For those who don't know, rip rap is the rocky sides of road extensions across lakes or tributaries that usually have bridges.

At Jordan Lake, popular winter bass-fishing rip-rap locations include U.S. 64, which spans the lake from Pittsboro to Wilsonville, Ebenezer Church Road next to the launch ramp that leads across the Beaverdam section, and the Farrington Road crossovers at White Oak Creek and another farther north at Farrington. Another good rip-rap area includes the rock walls near Crosswinds Marina.

At Falls Lake, the best places to try bass during February exist in the lower riverine section, nearer to Raleigh than Durham.

The N.C. 98 Bridge near the Upper Barton Creek Access Area is close to deep water and also crosses the Water Fork-Lowery Creek tributary of Horse Creek farther east. Perhaps the best winter rip-rap spot is at N.C. 50 bridge near the Highway 50 Recreation Area. The Cheek Road Bridge, en route to Ledge Rock Access, also has rocky banks.

The special nature of the granite chunk rock (in addition to preventing erosion) that makes up "rip rap" is that it holds heat by absorbing sunlight. And that warmth attracts baitfish which, in turn, lure predatory species, such as largemouth bass.

However, Powell knows there's a secondary characteristic of rip rap that makes it attractive to bass during a cold month such as February.

"People think it holds bass because the rocks warm up a little," he said. "The real key is access to deeper water."

Powell said he learned that lesson at Kerr Lake, too.

"Not only could it be rip rap (that attracts largemouths), but it can be points," he said. "That's what's going on at Kerr Lake (Buggs Island).

"You got to go to the points to fish 25 or 30 yards on either side of the point (near deeper water). That's where you'll have a chance to catch fish in February."

Although he's not certain it's because Jordan Lake is fed by warmer New Hope Creek and Haw River (the Haw's influence may be negligible, however, because it joins the main lake's body only a few hundred yards from the dam), Powell said the largemouth bite turns on at Jordan Lake before bass become similarly active at Falls and Harris lakes.

"(Bass) are always looking for bait in this lake, especially during February," he said.

One other factor that makes rip rap so good as a late-winter area is it provides cover for crawfish. The holes, crack and crevices created by rip rap are perfect watery bungalows for crawddads.

And a bass would rather eat a crawdad than any other meal.

"I came here (Crosswind Marina's rip-rap wall) during the summer when the water was really clear, and I was amazed at the numbers of crawfish I could see," Powell said.

"You got to figure if there's crawfish there in the summer, the bass are going to be around, even during February."

Powell said he likes to use a Rattlin' Rogue crankbait at the rip rap at Jordan Lake, particularly along the Crosswinds breakwall.

"At certain times of the year, that's a really good lure," Powell said. "You can use a Bomber (crankbait) too. I think it might be the sounds they make (that bass like); they might sound like a crawfish. Or it could be the action; I don't know for sure, I just know they catch bass when it's cold weather.

"I've had better luck with the Bomber, actually, at Falls Lake and Lake Anna (Va.). The Rogue works better here (Jordan)."

Powell said he likes to use
10-pound-test line because it allows a Rogue crankbait to dive deeper.

"I use 10-pound-test, and the (lure) will go 7- to 8-feet deep," he said, "whereas a Bomber will get down only about 5 feet."

Powell also changes his lures as the month progresses and the water warms.

"Early in the month the fish will be 10-feet deep mostly," he said. "So that's when you can use four different types of lures - the Rattlin' Rogue, a Spot or Rat-L-Trap or the Flat-A."

When March arrives, he switches to the Flat-A in silver flash color or the Bomber "Coach Dog."

The normal color for a Coach Dog is chartreuse with dark green stripes, but Powell sometimes paints his Coach Dogs in fire-tiger colors.

"It's got a little more red and flake colors in it," he said. "(Coach Dogs) are flat-sided crankbaits with a tight wiggle, and they get deep quick.

"If the water is really clear, I'll throw the Flat-A in flash-silver color; it the water's stained, I'll throw the Coach Dog."

Bomber Lures are good, but Powell said he's not adverse to using other lures for cold-water bass.

"Everybody's making flat-sided lures," he said. "Any (lure) with a tight wiggle that gets down relatively deep will do the job - Bagley Baits makes 'em, and you can use a DD-22 (lure)."

Powell said his best day fishing Jordan's rip rap occurred during early February last year when he caught three bass weighing more than 6 pounds each.

"It's really tough to get on the rip rap during tournaments at Jordan," he said. "Guys are lined up there usually."

In that case, Powell goes looking for rocky clay banks.

"If you can find a rocky clay bank, the wave action will make holes in it and crawfish will hibernate in there," he said. "When the water gets warm enough that the crawfish come out in the early spring, they attract bass. It's similar to a lot of rocky clay banks at Buggs."

One other tactic Powell learned from former Elon coach Skip Seagraves.

"I was fishing with him one time, and we were at a rocky clay bank," Powell said. "He tied on a bubblegum-colored Wacky worm. I thought 'No way that will work.'

"It was windy, and he put a split shot on about a foot above the Wacky Worm so he could cast it.

"He wore me out with it fishing rip rap and clay banks with rocks."

Andre Powell was dismissed by new UNC football coach Butch Davis just before Christmas. He interviewed for the Howard University head coach's job during January.