Friday, November 20, 2020

Bass Fishing Bluffs in the Winter

 

Bluffing In The Cold

By Marc Rogers

The winter season can prove a difficult time for many anglers. When the water temperatures fall into the 40-degree range and below the bass’ metabolism slows drastically. They become lethargic and feed infrequently, sometimes only once per week. This lethargic behavior makes them more difficult to catch.

Presenting slow moving lures along bluff walls is a very productive technique to catch bass in cold-water conditions. Bluff walls have some key features that other structure lacks. Bluff walls allow bass to reach a comfort zone in both temperature and depth with less distance to travel by moving vertically. If the bass desires a ten-foot depth change they have the opportunity to move just ten feet when positioned along bluff walls.

The key to bluff fishing in the colder seasons is a slow, vertical presentation. Jigging spoons and jigs tend to be the most productive. While both lures can be productive the jig is a little more versatile than the spoon for a slow presentation and bass key on crawfish for a cold season diet.

Finesse jigs are often a good choice for winter bass fishing. The slow metabolism of the bass, a cold-blooded creature, requires much smaller meals in cold water conditions. The presentation of the jig should also be slow because crayfish are also cold-blooded creatures. A fast moving crayfish in cold water is very unnatural and not effective for catching bass. Also, bass will not chase bait when its metabolism is running at such a low rate.

The finesse jig presented to the bass should be natural crayfish colors. Bright colors are great for grabbing the bass’ attention in warm-water conditions but cold water is a completely different situation. Natural colored jigs, presented slowly, are much more effective during the winter. The best colors to use are brown and dark green colors. Under most winter conditions water clarity is not a factor in color choice because the lack of rain allows for the water to remain clear. Clear water allows these natural colors to be seen easily by the bass.

Larger jigs are effective at times and many anglers believe this is because the bass will look for bigger meals at fewer intervals to conserve the energy required to pursue prey. Others believe the larger profile attract the bass’ attention and it is the slow presentation that is the key to the baits effectiveness. Regardless of the thoughts, it is ideal to tie both baits onto two different outfits and present both in the same areas throughout the day.

Football head jigs are the best choice when presenting jigs in rocky areas. The football head design keeps the jig positioned upright because of the wide profile of the jig head. Also, the wide profile minimizes the chance of the jig head getting wedged in crevices throughout the bluff.

Bluff walls offer a variety of structure and cover for the bass. The broken rocks, strewn throughout the bluffs, are ideal for Smallmouth bass. Smallmouth bass tend to prefer rock cover more so than Kentucky and Largemouth bass. Also, Smallmouth bass will often school with others of similar size during the winter. If a Smallmouth bass is caught the angler should spend some additional time in the same area to target the possible school. Anglers targeting Largemouth bass should look for fallen trees (commonly called dead falls) along bluff walls. The Largemouth bass prefer the additional cover provided by the fallen timber. However, the lure presentation for Largemouth bass is generally the same as for Smallmouth.

Spinning gear is a better choice for presenting lures to bluff walls. The spinning reel allows an angler to leave the reel’s bail open, which aids in the vertical presentation, by allowing the lure to free-fall through the water column. To get a true vertical presentation with a bait casting reel anglers must pull line off the spool while the lure is falling. With either reel, if the spool is locked after the cast a lure will fall with a pendulum like presentation and not keep in contact with the structure. Keeping the jig in contact with the structure is key to mimicking a crayfish falling along the bluff. Once the jig rests on the many small ledges on the bluff it should be moved slightly, allowing it to fall to the next ledge. The key to detecting a strike is paying close attention to the line after the lure lands on a ledge. Many times the strike is so light an angler cannot feel it.

There are many effective cold-water presentations available to anglers pursuing bass in impoundments. Current weather and water conditions play a major roll in which ones are most productive on any given day. However, if you find you favorite impoundment to have water temperatures to be in the low 40-degree range or lower you should spend some of your time presenting jigs on bluff walls. Clear water conditions will make this presentation even more productive.

Bass Fishing Fall Feeding Frenzy

 

The Fall Feeding Frenzy

By Marc Rogers

The transition from summer to fall is one of my favorite times to bass fish. Many of the bass are getting ready for the fall feeding frenzy while there are still a few left holding onto the summer patterns. Fishing holes for bass holding to cover and structure are generally over. The thermocline is a thing of the past in the Midwest Region as the lakes begin to turnover.

Bass know that colder times are on the way when the evening temperature cools the water surface. This causes the denser, cooler water to fall into the depths pushing the warmer water to the surface. The baitfish begin to school so thick on the surface of the coves of lakes it appears an angler could walk across them without getting their feet wet. Bass are quick to recognize the baitfish and feed heavily on them. There are many ways to catch bass during this season but the most exciting is with a top-water lure.

On large lakes the fall transition does not occur at the same time throughout the entire body of water. The upper ends and major tributaries generally start the change to the fall patterns before the lower lake. This is when fishing location can be the difference in an angler having a productive day or a fishless day. Listening to other angles success or failures can cause more problems than help if the success stories do not include the location.

Midwest Fishing Tackle Pro-Staff Member Alton says “when I am not having much success catching bass in the early fall I change colors or depth. However, slight changes in both are often all that is necessary. Slight changes are much more pronounced in the fall than any other times of the year.” He refers to changing from a brown/orange to a brown/green crawdad colored crankbait or presenting a lure at four feet instead of seven feet deep. Alton says a minimal change can make a big difference.

Watching the baitfish movement is often the key to locating bass during the early fall. The bass are preparing for winter and will follow the forage. Finding the schools of baitfish is generally easy because they cruise just under the surface and cause a slight disturbance in the water. While watching for the surface action of the baitfish bass will make it quite clear when they are near and feeding. The water will explode just after the baitfishes begin breaking the surface as the feeding frenzy begins. There are several ways to catch these feeding bass and shad imitating lures are the best choice.

Pro-Staff Member, Aaron Hunter, relies on the Zoom Super Fluke for most of his shad imitating presentations. He says, “The fluke is my favorite because it is so versatile. I can work it on or just below the surface as well as all the way to the bottom.” He reported he has tried swim baits but still relies on the fluke when others use swim baits. Aaron agreed top-water lures are the most exciting to use because of the violent strikes but many times the sub-surface presentations produce the bigger bass. He likes to cast a lip-less crankbait into the school of surface feeding bass and let it fall. He said “I have found many times the bigger bass are below the schools waiting for the falling wounded baitfish. I let the lure fall about five feet below the surface and start cranking with a lift and fall presentation.”

When trying to put a limit in the live well to cull from I prefer a top-water presentation. My first choice is the Rebel Pop-R followed by the Storm Chug Bug. The Pop-R is a great popper and the Chug Bug gives the popping sound with the ability to slide the lure back and forth similar to a Zara Spook. Once a limit is caught I start with a wide wobble crankbait like the Storm Wiggle Wart. I can cover a lot of water with a crankbait and it is quite effective for fall bass when they are chasing baitfish. Large bass can be taken on top-water lures but generally the schooling fish are just solid legal bass and the bigger ones do not reside in these schools.

The bass are quite aggressive during the fall and will not hesitate to chase fast moving lures. However, if the aggressive bite is not working it pays to slow down and present jigs on secondary points where they may still be waiting to make the fall migration in search of baitfish. Aaron said “I always have a jig tied on a rod every time I am on the water. The jig is still my go to lure for a big bass anytime of the year. I start out swimming it just off the bottom and only drag it on the bottom if the slower presentation is necessary.”

Fall is a great time to experiment and allow the bass to tell you what is the best presentation is. Top-water lures are the most exciting but will not always produce the biggest bass. Also, not all of the bass are making the fall transition at the same time. The main lake is usually the last area where this change takes place but keep you eyes open in search of the schools of baitfish for some hot top-water action.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Clearwater Lake is Great Smallmouth Fishery

 By Marc Rogers

Nestled in the northeast Ozark Mountains lies a smallmouth bass fishery few are aware exists. Clearwater Lake, a small impoundment on the Black River, is located just minutes west of Piedmont, Missouri. Clearwater Lake is controlled by the Army Corp of Engineers and its normal summer pool level covers just 2,000 acres. However, the lake level varies drastically, and during heavy rains it can reach flood stage and cover 10,000 acres or more as the water backs up into the Black River and Logan Creek arms.

Many local residents flood to the lake on holiday weekends and throughout the summer months. They take advantage of the many area campgrounds and resorts near the shoreline of the lake and river below the spillway. While enjoying the boating and swimming, something is happening below the water surface that is known mostly to only local anglers. Clearwater Lake is growing some big bass willing to entertain the anglers during any season. 

The most overlooked opportunity Clearwater Lake has to offer is the smallmouth bass fishing during the fall through spring. As the temperatures begin to cool in the fall, the smallmouth bass travel from their shallow summer hideouts in the Black River downstream to Clearwater Lake. Some tagged smallmouth bass have been reported to travel as far as 30 miles to the lake during this annual migration.

Once arriving in the upper ends of the lake, the smallmouth have only one goal. Smallmouth bass are intent to fatten up for the coming winter conditions, and stories of anglers catching trophy smallmouth are not uncommon around the town of Piedmont. 

Due to the size of the lake, big boats are not necessary to cover the entire surface during a day of fishing. Small aluminum craft, as well as fully loaded bass boats are all common on Clearwater Lake. 

Several tournaments are held throughout the entire year on the lake and the heaviest bags weighed in are during the cooler weather from November through March. Many times the winning weight exceeds 20-pounds and all five fish are smallmouth bass.

The techniques used most often by local anglers consist of crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs, shaky heads, and the Alabama Rig. Crankbaits and jigs are usually a crawdad pattern while jerkbaits are most often shad patterns or bright colored chartreuse patterns. The most productive Alabama Rigs consist of soft plastic shad baits with several chrome blades on each wire for added flash.

My favorite crankbait for any season on Clearwater Lake is the Storm Wiggle Wart. While the crawdad patterns catch big bass, I often throw a shad pattern with great success when bass are keying on the abundant shad population. Seldom do I find reaching depths of more than 15-feet with any crankbait is necessary to catch bass in these waters. During the cooler seasons, the smallmouth bass are mostly taken in water less than 15-feet deep and at times less than 5-feet deep.

When fishing a Wiggle Wart, I maintain a steady retrieve while digging the lure’s lip into the bottom. Anytime the lure is paused by hitting underwater debris, or deflects off the many rocks and stumps on the lake’s bottom, it is subject to getting engulfed by a big bass.

Jerkbaits are popular with Clearwater Lake anglers. Most prefer lures in shad or chartreuse patterns that will suspend just below the water surface. A twitch-and-pause retrieve is deadly on the winter-time smallmouth bass in the shallow area of the upper creek and river arms. However, both largemouth and spotted bass can be just a eager to strike this offering

Jigs are a favorite of many local anglers during the cooler weather due to the ability to present the lure slowly and maintain bottom contact. A jig in a crawdad pattern is one of the best ways to imitate a slow moving crawdad and are known to catch big bass in any water. Local anglers Aaron and Alton Hunter log many hours on Clearwater Lake and reside just minutes away from the lake’s shoreline. They report fishing a football head jig and slowly dragging it along the bottom during any season. “My biggest bass from Clearwater have come on football jigs”, Aaron said. “I sometimes throw a brush head jig in the heavy cover as well as a soft plastic craw on a jig head with no skirt, poured in a custom-made mold”, Alton added.

At times, a shaky head presentation is needed to coax finicky smallmouth bass to inhale anything. When a finesse lure is needed, a shaky head rigged with a 4-5 inch finesse worm is ideal. Natural colors such as green pumpkin, watermelon and pumpkin seed are most productive.

When bass are actively chasing shad, the Alabama Rig is hard to beat. “I use a 5-wire rig with custom made jig head on my A-Rigs”, Aaron reported. The jig head is a special made round head with a light-wire hook and a hand-made lure keeper wire. “I like the light-wire hooks because when they get hung I can bend them and get my rig back. I use heavy braid line with the A-Rig”, Aaron said. Both Aaron and Alton say catching doubles on the Alabama Rig is not uncommon when the smallmouth bass are after schools of shad.

Clearwater Lake is a great fishery during any season. Anglers pursue all species of fish including bass (largemouth, spotted and smallmouth), crappie, bluegill and catfish during every season. The lake rarely freezes over and public boat ramps are open all year. However, if your desire is a trophy smallmouth bass, visit Clearwater Lake from November through March for some phenomenal results.