December is a great month to fish for largemouth and striped bass in North Carolina.There are a lot of lakes around here where you can go out in December and find quality fish in that 10-foot depth range — there are other states where if you want to catch fish in the winter, you have to go in really deep water.
One of the best patterns that I’ve found works in December is to fish any kind of bluff wall you can find with a crankbait. It can be a place where a creek channel or the river channel run up close to a bank, or it can be a real bluff. Either way, you want to be sitting in 30 to 40 feet of water but close enough to cast to the bank. They can be on the main lake, up in the creeks — wherever they are, they’re hard to beat.
A key to fishing these steep walls is to keep your bait in the strike zone as long as possible. You can’t do that if you’re setting up a cast away, casting toward the wall; you have to set up and fish parallel. If you parallel the bluff or the big drop, you can get your bait down to where the fish are and keep it there.
I love to fish at Buggs Island in December and January because I can catch stripers and bass together, and while Buggs Island doesn’t have a lot of bluff walls, fish are going to be on them. If you’ve got a stump or a brush pile on that bank, that’s even better.
The other kind of place that fishes the same way as a bluff bank is when you’ve got a shallow point that sticks way out. It might have 6 or 7 feet of water on top, and it falls off abruptly — something like an old roadbed.
Both of these kinds of places all collect a lot of bait in the winter; the key is that hard bottom, that rock, which holds bait and fish.
If you catch me on the water in December, most of the time I’m going to have one of two crankbaits or a jerkbait tied on. I like a Berkley Bad Shad, which is a Shad Rap type bait that will dive a little deeper than most shad baits; it’s a tremendous bait in the winter. I like a Berkley Digger 8.5, another diving bait that puts off probably more vibration than any other bait, and I like a Cutter 110 Skinny, a jerkbait that’s ideal for fishing in cold water.
A jerkbait is a great winter bait. How fast or slow you work it depends on whether you’re fishing on a warming trend or on a cold front. The colder it is, the slower you work it. When it’s cold, I like the Cutter 110 Skinny. If the water temperature is above 55, I’ll be throwing the regular Cutter 110.
What’s really nice about the Bad Shad and the Cutter is that those baits can call fish up from 20 feet of water. They’re great open-water baits. The Digger is more of a cover-type crank bait; you fish it when a bluff bank is full of stumps or brush.
As far as colors are concerned, this is not like early spring fishing; you’re going to fish shad, white and pearl patterns; those are going to be the best colors. If you get some milky water like we sometimes get this time of year, yellow/brown can be really good.
I absolutely love December because I can catch stripers and bass in the same places on a crankbait. Man, when you a striper hits a crankbait, you know it; he blasts it, and he takes off about 20 yards of line in about 10 seconds. They are so fun to catch. What’s happening is that all the bait gets all wadded up, balled up, going into the winter, and everything will be feeding on them.
If I’m going to spend much time on the water this month, I’m going to a lake that’s got bass and stripers. I’m going to go to Buggs Island, Gaston and Badin.