We can all agree that 2020 was a tough year. Between many places being shut down and inventory issues brought on by unprecedented demand, it was (and in some cases still) a mess. Not being able to attend fishing shows was one of the many aspects that we (and others) missed about 2020. Needless to say, the return of ICAST last week was a blessing and a long overdue meeting of friends and family, ambassadors, pro staff anglers, and more – both new and old.
For those unfamiliar with the changes in ICAST and IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), the shows are now happening at different times of year – ICAST in July, and IFTD now taking place in October. Historically, both shows happened at the same time – which was ALOT to take in, but great for those wanting to get the most of both worlds. Needless to say, even though ICAST is now more focused on the conventional side of fishing, we still had a TON of people stop by the TFO booth to check out our fly gear, and make trips to the casting pond to try out the new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly, as well as some familiar favorites like the Axiom ll-X. While the fly stuff was getting plenty of love, there was a lot of attention aimed at the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, as well as the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models.
We were able to film a few videos with TFO Ambassadors Rob Fordyce, Joey Nania, and Jonathan Moss going over some of the new stuff, as well as some classics.
Our good friends at Tackle Warehouse stopped by for a bit to interview Joey Nania, and go over some of the new Tactical Elite additions. Check out those videos below.
Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Elite Swimbait Rods with Joey Nania | First Look 2021
New Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Elite Spinning Rod 7’6″ Med Lt w Joey Nania | First Look 2021
Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Bass and Tactical Elite Comparison | First Look 2021
Be on the lookout for more content from ICAST. We had several friends and dealers stop by to shoot some content on the new conventional gear, and we can’t wait to share them on our socials as they become available.
Often thought of as one of the toughest times to consistently catch quality bass, the late spring to early summer transition can be a challenge at times – but can also be extremely rewarding! The key is truly being versatile and not getting stuck with just one game plan in mind.
When bass finish up with their annual spawning rituals, there is a lot going on in their tiny little brains. First off is recovery – the spawn is a stressful time for a bass where they are particularly vulnerable, and are often caught by the lucky angler that lands the perfect cast on their bed. With this being said, the recovery period where a post spawn fish just truly won’t bite doesn’t last long!
Within a matter of days, a typical shallow water spawning bass will make its way offshore looking for the most healthy environment to post up in, where feeding opportunities come easy, and the water quality is the best. In most lake situations, deep water is the key to consistently catching post spawn bass.
How deep those post spawn bass might go is greatly dependent on water clarity. In muddy water situations, such as current oriented rivers and reservoirs, “deep” might be 8 to 12 feet, whereas on clear water lakes, bass might spend their post spawn days in 15 to 35 feet of water. The clarity truly makes a big difference.
Knowing where bass spawn is also very important to finding where they hang out post spawn. It’s very important that an angler must understand that different species of bass will spawn in different locations! While largemouth typically spawn in shallow protected pockets and creek arms, spotted bass and smallmouth bass often spawn on main lake banks, points, humps, and road beds. The key is finding deep water such as a point, a ledge, a brush pile, or a grass line! These places provide a safe environment that is normally rich with oxygen and baitfish where the bass can begin to feed and regain strength!
Your bait selection is the final key to catching post spawn bass, and a lot of that depends on the main forage base and the type of deep water your lake of choice has to offer. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fast moving reaction baits and slower baits ready to go in my arsenal.
For your reaction baits, as the fish begin to recover, chatterbaits and swimbaits can be great fish catching tools. For my personal Chatterbait setup I rely on the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Glass Bass Rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The balance between tip and backbone on this rod is absolutely perfect, and with light weight high quality components, I rarely miss a bite.
For my swimbait, I love the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE LW 74CB-1). While also being perfectly balanced, this rod has just a touch more sensitivity that allows me to detect and capitalize on light bites in deep water. For my post spawn slow moving techniques, I also keep things pretty simple rotating between a Ned Rig, a Drop Shot, and a Carolina Rig.
With all of this deep water talk, you truly do need to keep an open mind when targeting bass in any season. Remember the principal that not all bass do the same thing or behave the same at the same time! On any given day, there are tons of different ways to catch a bass and while typical post spawn fishing revolves around deep water fishing, the shallow bite should never be ignored!
When bass are finishing up their spawn, many other species such as bluegill and shad are just beginning their annual spawning rituals! With that in mind, baits such as topwater walking baits, frogs, swimjigs, and flipped soft plastics can be used with success for post spawn bass. The key for the shallow bite is low light. This traditionally means early in the morning or late in the evening but cover such as docks, grass beds, and over hanging trees can hold post spawn bass throughout the course of the day.
Keep an open mind and never kick a dead horse too long. If you do these things and rotate through all of the possible options, you will greatly reduce your bad days on the water!
August can be a challenging time of year for bass anglers, but very rewarding for those that know where and how to look for fish. Being willing to be versatile and switch up your tactics is crucial, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania does exactly that when fishing the Coosa River system in Alabama. If you aren’t familiar with Joey or the Coosa River system, just take a look at his Instagram (@joeyfishing), and you’ll get a glimpse of the very healthy bass that come out of these lakes and rivers. If there’s anyone that knows how to find these fish, it’s Joey Nania.
We got on a call with Joey in between his family time and guided trips to catch up, and to talk about how he’s finding (and catching) bass during the hottest and most difficult times of year – the dog days of summer.
To start things off, let’s talk about the fisheries/areas where you are fishing and what brings you to this area.
I’m from Washington state originally, but my family and I now live in the hot, but very beautiful state of Alabama. I specifically chose Birmingham (Pell City, AL) for the many amazing fisheries in the surrounding areas. I mainly fish the Coosa River system, which entails Weiss Lake, Lake Neely Henry, Lake Logan Martin, Lay Lake, Lake Mitchell and Lake Jordan. There’s a ton of diversity and fishing options within this river system, and for a guy that fishes tournaments and guides around 200 trips a year, this area is paradise.
Sounds perfect for you. What do conditions typically look like on the Coosa River this time of year? How do you decide where and when to get out on the water as opposed to other times of year to maximize your fishing time?
We get the four seasons like everyone else, but we get some long, hot summers! It’s not uncommon to have days in the 90s for 3 months consecutively, with water temps in the high 80s to low 90s. When there’s not much current and things are tough like they are right now – the fish are all over the place. When there’s a lot of flow, fish set up on specific places on the main river and places that current flushes over, and they really group up in big groups. When the oxygen gets low and there’s not much current flowing, the fish start to disperse. That tends to happen on one end of the lake to the other.
Typically, I like to narrow down locating the fish by breaking down/targeting different sections of the lake –which I’ll break down in two sections:
1) The Upper End – Where you’ve got your narrow, winding rivers with lots of lay downs and trees/logjams and then you’ve got rock piles. Those are the three structure options up in the rivers that I like to focus on.
2) The Bottom End – As you come down toward the bottom end of the Coosa River lakes, they widen out and you’ve got big major creeks flowing in. Every lake on the Coosa River has several big feeder creeks that are good contributors of fresh water that are also great backwaters for the fish to go to when they are spawning. The bottom end has a lot more open areas for the fish to roam, feed and hide.
I typically like to focus more of my time fishing the upper ends of the rivers this time of year. It’s narrower up there so when they do run the water (generators), at least there’s flow that you can feel. When they’re only running one generator on the bottom ends of our lakes, you really can’t feel a whole lot of current. Water is typically warmer there, thus more lethargic fish.
Let’s talk about fishing the bottom ends of the lakes first. Where are you looking for fish and how are you targeting them (baits/setups)?
On the bottom end, if I’m going to fish the main parts of these lakes and the bigger creeks, what I target a lot of the times is docks, grassy areas, and then you’ve got your offshore fish. When fish leave those deep schools where they group up by the hundred, a lot of them to go to brush piles. There’s always fish in man-made brush piles on these lakes in the south. I’d probably say the brush pile bite is the best, but in the dog days of the summer, no matter where you are, offshore fishing is always an option. There’s plenty of fish that spend most of their life offshore.
From Frogs To Flipping Baits – Working The Banks
The key to being successful during the dog days of summer is being versatile – especially on the lower ends of lakes. Typically I like to start shallow, and fish that way as long as possible. You’ve usually got shade and willow grass and other types of grass, which produces oxygen and provides excellent places for bass to find a meal. A lot of the times I start off with a frog pattern or swim a jig, but it seems like for me, as it gets hotter the swim jig bite typically fades away. You can still get some on the frog, but I really love flipping. Just slowing it down a little bit and you can be very efficient and cover a lot of water and hit the little shade pockets and really get the bait in front of the fish when you slow it down and pitch it down down the bank. It’s not really flipping, it’s pitching – Taking that underhand cast and skipping it under the overhanding cover; it’s just a very effective way of fishing this time of year.
For this scenario, I really like fishing the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE MBR 736-1). I love that 7’3” Heavy! To me, that’s the most versatile heavy line rod that TFO makes. I throw this rod a ton. The 7’3” is the most effective rod for skipping, pitching, fishing tight covers, flipping jigs – Pretty much every bait I fish with anywhere from 17lb lines to 50lb braid, I rely on that 7’3” Heavy. It has such a perfect backbone for setting the hook. You can crack it and feel there’s no give when you set the hook really. But the tip is nicely tapered. It’s almost like a hybrid medium heavy rod in my opinion, but that’s what’s neat in that there’s no industry standard to come up with each power and it be the same for every company. This rod and other TFO rods are so perfectly balanced, and they’re true to what they’re supposed to be – an easy and reliable rod to fish with.
I like to throw the 7’5” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE FS 756-1) for fishing with frogs on mats. With this style/setup I’m typically making longer casts and forcing them out. I like to have that longer rod/leverage to get them out of the mats.
In terms of patterns, my go-to is the pop-n-frog. The new Z-Man Leap FrogZ Popping Frog. Bluegills make a really specific noise when they slurp a bug off the surface. They’ve got a really perfect cupped mouth. I feel like 90% of the time when they are eating your frog in open water or up under stuff, they really probably think it’s a bluegill. It’s just something up there that looks good to them. They’re predators and just looking for a good meal, and when something’s pretty big and twitching above them, they’re probably going to eat it. When a bass is sitting up under a tree or in the grass in the summertime – they’re comfortable. They’re sitting, they aren’t moving. Just in a holding place waiting to strike when food presents itself. Its almost like when you’re sitting in your chair at home and your wife comes home with a pizza – you’re probably going to go after that pizza (laughs).
For my jigging set-up, if the water is really clear, typically I’m using 20lb fluorocarbon on a high-speed reel. I use an 8:3:1 reel so I can be very quick and efficient. Usually when I’m working the banks, I don’t keep the bait out of the water for very long – just in and out. Working that jig, just trying to fish every single piece of cover that could hold fish.
What about retrieval patterns for fishing top water stuff?
I really think one of the keys to fishing frog patterns is the fact that the bait can walk. You can make the bait walk the dog where it’s jumping from side to side. That walk the dog action where you’re twitching and popping 5 to 6 inches from to left to right each time you twitch it – it makes the bait stay in the strike zone longer. On really hot days, it might not hurt to fish it a little slower, but there might be days where you’ve got to make them react, and slower retrieves might not trigger that response. I just vary it up depending on the day. Find what works and stick to it. Changing your retrieves, changing your tactics, and just knowing that each day is different is key to finding more success on the water during the dog days of summer.
Let’s say the sun is coming up and the morning bite is slowing down on the banks. Now you’re deciding to focus on the offshore bite. How are you looking for fish offshore and what are you throwing?
My very favorite way of catching bass is on deep schools. Part of that is being a guide and its just so much fun to put people on fish and that usually works the best for my clients. There’s certain summers where there’s definitely schools of fish to be found offshore. Our school fish here disappeared in the last month, but that doesn’t mean they always do that or they’re going to do that everywhere. So really, for the deep schools – what I’m going to start doing if the dams are running current, I’m going to start idling, and looking out offshore for schools of bass. Learning how to use your electronics is definitely important in the dog days of summer. As soon as you leave that bank, its super important to know where to look for fish and how to get the bait in front of them.
Brush Piles & Finesse Jigs
If there isn’t any generation current and I can’t find any schools of fish because its so hot, I’ll go and start fishing brush piles. It doesn’t have to be deep brush piles. Some of the best brush I fish is in 8 to 12 feet of water. One of my very favorite brush baits to throw is a CrosseyeZ Power Finesse Jigwith a TRD BugZ trailer in the back. For this setup, I’m fishing the same rod – 7’3” HeavyTactical Elite Basswith an 8:3:1 reel. I’ll use 17-20 pound test fluorocarbon cause I’m fishing it out off the bank and I like to have it fall through the water a little better with a lighter line. This is a prefect combo for a finesse jig. Sometimes the fish want something with a little bit more finesse, so if that’s the case, I’m switching over to a spinning rod.
Spinning Rods & Ned Rigs
A spinning rod is definitely something you’ve got to have ready during the dog days of summer. To me, a ned rig is one of the best rigs you can throw out there and also a dropshot. My favorite ned rig set up is a 1/6 oz. Ned LockZ Jighead. That 1/6 oz. is the right weight for fishing that depth, but if I’m fishing docks and stuff where its more shallow, I’ll do 1/10 oz., but that 1/6 oz. is great for getting down quicker. The bait I use is a Finesse TRD. I actually rig mine weedless. I fish it like a miniature shakey head on a Jighead just much smaller. That way I can throw it into brush and when the bait swims with that shakey head style rig, it makes it swim at a 45 degree angle rather than standing straight up off the bottom, and I just feel like I get less drag and it looks really good, too.
The spinning rod that I use for this set up is the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass (TLE SHS 6104-1). I use 10lb braid to an 8 or 10lb test fluorocarbon leader. In October, TFO is coming out with a 7’1” Medium Light that is an amazing ned rig rod that has a perfect back bone for that style of fishing with a great tip as well. Highly recommend that rod when it does come out!
Let’s switch things up and head up river. Talk about how you are fishing these sections this time year.
I typically spend more time on the river sections in the summer as there is more shade/cover, typically more current/flow from the generation, and the area for the fish to be in is a lot narrower compared to the bottom end of the lakes so it can be easier to find them. What I’ve been catching them on lately is my favorite way to catch them – which is flipping my finesse jig toward the banks. There’s also a pretty good squarebill bite a lot of the time during the dog days. Ive got a 6th Sense Crush 100x Squarebill I throw that will get down to about 6 – 8 feet where I can fish logs and other structures off the bank.
The rod I’ve been using for this setup is the 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod that is coming out in October. That rod has that unique 60/40 bend where its 60% carbon fiber/40% fiberglass. Great rod for throwing crank baits, really perfect for throwing squarebills, but also an incredible chatterbait rod. Fishing those outer trees off the bank with a medium crankbait on all the rivers throughout the South is a good way to make fish react.
If the tree bite dies, I usually look for rock piles offshore that create any visual disturbance in current flow on the river. Basically any type of structure/rock pile that holds perpendicular to the current where the current rolls over it, there’s usually a great spot for bass to hold up in, and I have a lot of success targeting those areas. I really enjoy fishing a 6th Sense Cloud 9 C10 Crankbait on offshore rock piles in 6 to 12 feet of water. I typically stick with shad colors, but if the waters a little dirtier, I’ll go with a chartreuse.
I like to do long casts in this scenario because I want my bait to track on the bottom for a longer period of time and hit all those rocks/lips where the drops are. For this situation I’m throwing what I think is by far the best cranking rod for this scenario, and it’s the 7’10” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass. This rod is the perfect flexing catapult that launches crankbaits and for making those longer casts.
A Forgotten Tip…
We’ve talked about the offshore fishing on the bottom end, and hitting up the upper main river sections where’s there’s more grass/laydowns/structure and it’s a little cooler, but one forgotten tactic that not a lot of people think about is fishing the very back ends of creeks this time of year. It seems totally weird to go about 5 miles off the main channel to the very back of a shallow creek when its that hot out. Anytime we get any rain, the water is going to flush into those creeks, so when I’m going down the river, I like to target the back ends of those feeder creeks where the water is a little cooler. If you really do your homework and target specifically spring creeks, you can find bass that are pretty much residential in that everything they need is provided by the resources in those creeks and they really don’t need to migrate to the lakes. You can find some really nice bass in these creeks.
For the angler working on a budget, or to simplify a boat setup – If you could only take 3 rods/baits for this time of year, what would you take and why?
1) The finesse jig would be my first pick. Jigs are such an old school way of fishing, but they really are one of the most versatile baits there are. Especially if you get one that’s weighted properly – you can fish one from 2 feet deep to 20 feet deep, and really feel it down there and make it move the way you want to.
2) No matter what time of year, I like having a chatterbait rigged up. You can fish them shallow and slow roll it a little bit deeper. Chatterbaits just get bit. Especially the Chatterbait Jackhammer that hunts and cuts. I like to fish a Zman Diesel MinnowZ swimbait trailer off my Chatterbait Jackhammer. The ultimate setup for this scenario is with a 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod. I fish it with a 6:8:1 reel and 17lb fluorocarbon.
3) I really believe that having a spinning rod and having a ned rig is important. No matter what time of time, having a neg rig ready is such a good idea. This is probably my most trustworthy/reliable setup for clients anytime of year. For this set up, I’ve using the 6’10” Medium Spinning Tactical Elite Bass, but I’m really excited for the upcoming 7’1” Medium Light Spinning Tactical Elite Bass that’s coming out this fall.
Based out of Pell City, Alabama, Joey Nania has been a TFO Ambassador since 2012. He is also an ambassador for Z-Man baits, Bass Pro Shop, and many other brands. Prior to coming onboard to TFO, he began fishing tournaments since he was 12 years old. He worked his way to fishing in high school and Junior Bass tournaments, and is now fishing professional tournaments regularly. Joey runs a guiding service, Joey Fishing, where he is on the water with clients about 200 days a year. Outside of guiding, you can find Joey on the water with his family, as his wife and two sons, Zeke and Eli love to fish as well. You can follow or get a hold of Joey on his Facebook or Instagram pages or at his website.
Depending on where you live, winter is almost over. The spring thaw has started, which means it’s time for spawning bass. Temple Fork Outfitters ambassador Joey Nania shared a handful of tips with TFO blog editor Mike Hodge on how to fish the spawn, so you’ll be prepared to catch a big bucketmouth.
Spring Time is Prime Time
“Spawning bass is all about spring. And there’s a couple key factors that have to mix properly to get the fish where they will spawn. One of the keys is water temperature. It depends on where you live. For instance in Florida the fish can be finicky and they come up when the the water’s warmer. Some bass will spawn when the water is in the 58-degree range. The magic number is 60 degrees. The bass are going to spawn on either a full or new moon when the water temperature reaches the 60, 70-degree range, anywhere in that range. That’s when it all starts. They will be in pre spawn and staging before that. When the water warms up and you get the moon phase, that’s when they really go. They start fanning and doing their business.”
Shallow Water and Structure
“There’s a big difference between largemouth spawn and where smallmouth and spotted bass spawn. Largemouth spawn in shallow pockets and in shallow flats. They liked to be protected and tucked up against some structure like a dock or laydown tree or a hole in the grass bed in four feet or less. So you want to be shallow in a flat area like a pocket or a super shallow creek flat near structure. Stumps are good. Next to a dock, something that they can get next to — for protection.
Don’t Forget About the Other Species
“Spotted bass and smallmouth spawn similarly. They’re going to spawn on flats and points and rocky, gravel structures, where largemouth are more on pockets. Flats, humps, any shallow spot four feet or less, that’s where spots and smallmouth will spawn — and more in open water. It’s not going to be protected as much. It could be on a flat in the middle of a creek.”
Strategy and Tools of the Trade
“With the smallmouth and the spots, a lot of times you can’t see them. They spawn on the more open-water structures. My favorite (setup) for catching those species when you’re blindcasting, where you think they’re spawning and you’re picking off areas, I like to use a TFO Pacemaker, 6-10 medium with 20-pound braid to a 10-pound fluorocarbon leader. A Carolina Rig with a 3-foot leader is a little trick also for blindcasting on the flats on the open-water beds. I like to fish a lizard or a Fluke on the back of it.”
Patience is Virtue
“It’s all about presenting it slow. One of the most important things is when you see a piece of structure that looks right, when you throw that bait, you want to wait, three to five seconds before you ever move it. After that, give the bait little small movements until you’re out of the strike zone. Fishing it slow is really important. Sometimes if one is bedding there, it might take multiple casts, even if you can’t see them.”
Sight Fishing Strategy
“You have to find the fish first and having a good pair of polarized glasses is very important for that. Once you’ve found them, you want to use little craw baits, Texas-rigged soft-plastic crawdad baits. Those tend to make them mad. The Shaky Head also works good for that.”
Minimizing Expectations and Playing the Game
“This is important. Every bass you find on the bed is different. One of the biggest keys is to be able to see the fish and how it’s moving, what it’s doing and to tell if the fish is catchable or not. Some fish are easy to catch and some bed fish are very difficult to catch. If you keep hunting for those easy-to-catch ones, you can normally find enough to have a productive day and catch some good, quality fish. You’re looking for ones that are easy to catch. If it’s a giant, I’ve worked fish up to an hour before I got them to bite. If it’s a big fish and if you’ve got an hour to spend, that’s not a bad idea. The key is if the fish leaves and doesn’t come back for maybe three to five minutes, it doesn’t care that you’re there. If it leaves and comes (right) back, then you know have a catchable fish. Pay attention to the signs. If they start looking up at the bait, and once they start turning up, all it takes is a little pop. Understanding the mood of the fish is important. It can be frustrating at times.”
Any more tips on spawning bass? Feel free to comment. Next week, we’ll look at how to catch spawning bass on fly.
Lake Okeechobee is one of the top bass lakes in the United States. It’s also one of the most challenging, given its sheer size and changing conditions. Two-time junior Bassmaster world champion and TFO Ambassador Joey Naniaweighs in with a few tips on how to find bass in Lake O.
Preparation is Key
“The big thing is to do your research learning those key areas like the Monkey Box, certain places like that. Do your research on those backwater areas with good hard reed lines. But from what I heard the last hurricane wiped out the hard reed lines. And normally the key on that lake is finding the hard reed lines, even with the wind is blowing. Find a reed line that’s got good backwater behind it. Those kind of places are going to filter out the dirt and the sediment and the mud. Those Florida bass love to be in that clear water. Your best bet to catch them is in that not-sediment-filled water. Those reeds lines filter that out.
Expect the Unexpected Given Florida’s Recent Tropical Weather Trends
“A lot of stuff has changed. It’s one of those flat, shallow Florida lakes. A hurricane comes through and that can change the whole lake. It’s the same in Louisiana in those low-lying marshes. That vegetation can easily get ripped up and destroyed and killed. It can become a mess. Daytime decisions are a big thing. Understanding the wind, which way it’s blowing and which way things will be protected or blown out. Running away from the wind can be very important to having success.
“I’ve always done well in the rim canal, those canals that go all the way around the lake. There’s some good backwaters off those rim canals. Those places are going to stay a little more stable in terms of wind conditions and weather.”
Think Outside the Box
“The spawn is always a good time. A lot of fish will spawn through the fall and into the winter. That will depend on the conditions. One of the most fun times I know of is to go down there is post spawn — April — when the fish are still shallow, but a lot of them have done their thing. They’re just in a full feed mode. That’s a great time to swim a jig. They’re done spawning and they’re in full feed mode. They’re feeding hard. That time of year is a lot of fun.
The key is finding clean water, somewhere that’s not filthy and dirty. And then it’s a matter of figuring them out. …”
The Right Equipment
“A 7-6 heavy action rod to punch the grass mats. Something to punch with 65 to 80-pound braid, something in the 1-2 ounce range to consistently punch through with every pitch. You don’t want half your pitches not go through the mat. A heavy rod with a good backbone to throw a decent jig with a soft tip. That’s really important. I would say a 7-6 Heavy Pacemakeris a great rod. The 7-6 is a perfect length. It’s not so long that it’s overwhelming and too much to fish with. It’s a got a good bounce to it. You can flip with that thing all day and not get tired. I would use a high-gear ratio reel for the punching technique, something that can punch through those mats and get the bait back to the boat quickly to get to as many fish as possible.”
The Right Technique
“It’s about getting as many flips as you can and hitting them in the head when you’re punching. With punching, it’s important to know when you’re getting the bite and nine times out of ten, your bite comes on the initial fall when you pitch it in there and let it drop, or it will be on the first hop, when you pitch it through the mat, hop it, let it fall, and they’ll get it. And if the water is really cold, you have to hop it in the hole for a long time. Normally, it’s punch it in there, let it fall once and hop it, let it fall and get it to the next good looking area or clump.
Don’t Get Frustrated
“That lake can be overwhelming. It’s overwhelming because it all looks the same. Finding the right area that has the right water quality and grass and an abundance of different grass. Work that area. And you’ve got to think there’s a population of fish that use that backwater to spawn and go through their life cycle. It’s finding that right area, hunkering down and figuring out are they on the outer edges and outer reed lines in the deeper water, or are they up in the flats trying to spawn? Do that type of thing.
“One type of grass to look for and there are a couple different types that grow on hard bottom. One of them is Arrowhead. If I’m in Florida and I find Arrowhead grass and it grows in sand. It’s 2, 3-feet tall with a spear-shaped arrowhead on it. That’s always a good sign for hard bottom. And any time you’re around a full moon the first couple months of the year finding that Arrowhead grass with that sandy, hard bottom in those backwaters is really important.”
Manage Your Expectations
“(Lake Okeechobee) is not as good as it used to be it seems like. Lakes go through cycles and weather changes. It will rebound, but it’s down right now from what it used to be. Hopefully it rebounds strong. I’m sure it will. That’s how these lakes work. But it’s certainly not what it was at one point. It’s still a great destination, but I would wait till the water warms up a bit so you can get stable warmth before you schedule a trip, sometime in March or April. January and February in Florida is always up and down. Normally you’re going to hit a cold front of some sort.”
If you liked this story, let us know. If you want more bass fishing info, check out this interview from TFO advisor Cliff Pace.
Largemouth bass are known as a warm-water species, but this is not to say you should pass on winter fishing. TFO Ambassador and two-time junior world bassmaster champion Joey Nania provides six tips to make your time on the water more productive during those chilly stretches.
Expand Your Strategy by Going Deep
“I would say one of the biggest mistakes people make is not being versatile in the winter. On any given day of fishing, whether it’s winter, spring or summer or fall, there are a lot of fish that are shallow and there are a lot of fish that are deep. Deep-water winter fishing is one of the more forgotten techniques. What a lot of guys do is fish a crankbait and a jerk bait, and those are two techniques that always I have ready to go in the winter time, and the little SR 7 shad rapper, crawdad color, is a great crankbait. Also (I use) a jerk bait. A jerk bait is a great way to catch them shallow. In the winter time, I always give those shallow fish a chance.
But a lot of times with your numbers, a lot of times where your bass are living is out deep. Learning how to fish deep is important for fishing success throughout the year, because shallow fish do not bite every day. No doubt about it. You can catch them up shallow, but normally you’re not going to catch a ton of fish. You’re not going to get a consistent bite or numbers. The majority of the population is deep.”
Lures to Use and Where to Fish for Bass
“For deep fishing, there’s a couple different baits I like to use. One of the main ones is a 6th Sense Divine Underspin, with a fluke-style bait on the back of it. That’s good to be slow rolled on the bottom for deep schools, and then my second favorite is the bass Underspin and Nedmiki rig. The Nedmiki is (for) a vertical technique.”
Structure. Structure. Structure.
“What I do is use my depth finder. The key in the winter and the summer when it’s warmer is bass are going to be holding in current-oriented places in the structure. They’ll be right on the brush pile or right on the tip of the point or right on the brink of the ledge. But in the winter time, they lay in the holes and depressions and pretty much in the valleys and troughs between structures. They lay in the deeper holes, because that’s a softer bottom, a mud bottom and they’ll lay out there in the cold with their bellies in the mud and they eat shad. I like to locate those fish with my Underspin fan-casting in those deep holes and deep depressions. I’m talking 16, 17 out to 25 feet deep. A lot of times it will be near a creek channel, but a lot of the times, they won’t be on a creek channel, they’ll be in holes in the pocket, in the deepest part of the pocket, something like that, a pre-spawn staging deal.”
Use Your Technology
“The easiest way to find these fish is with your depth finder using your side imaging looking for those white dots. In the summer when I’m graphing deep, I like to use my down imaging. I still use my side imaging, but the down imaging shows me where those schools are sitting. In the winter, those schools will be scattered 5, 10 feet apart. It’s harder to see them on the down imaging, but on the side imaging you’ll see fifty to a hundred dots between two pieces of structure pretty much with high spots on the bottom.”
Pay attention to Water Temperature
“They pretty much do the same thing all year long. It just gets a little bit tougher. The colder the water is the less they’ll eat because their metabolism is slower. The colder the water the slower it will be. That’s why it’s important to do that vertical fishing out deep. You’ve got to drop a Nedmiki or Damiki rig or a jig head with a minnow. You’ve got to drop it right on their head and jiggle it in front of their nose. It’s really important to have a sensitive rod when you’re doing that. It’s important to feel those bites. I’d say it’s important to have a (TFO) 6-9 GTS Tactical, Drop-Shot rod, medium light. You want that light, soft rod for vertical fishing. It’s almost ice fishing from your boat. You’re pretty much ice fishing. You’re vertically dropping it on their head, and a lot of times once you catch one, more fish will come into the area to investigate.”
Patience Pays and Here’s Why
“Their feeding zones are a lot smaller. They’re not going to feed all day long like they do in the hotter months. It’s going to be a narrower window, when they actually do eat. The key is finding those places the fish are using and looking for life and activity using your graph. The other way you can find fish is birds. If you see birds diving in a certain area and you look on your graph and see if their diving between two holes or whatever. I look for that a lot. But when the water temperature gets down to 48 (degrees) or so you don’t see as much of that bird activity, either.
“I still think the winter bite is really good in the morning time, but in the afternoon, there always seems to be a spike (in feeding too). In the winter, if you have a front pushing in and you can get out there pre front, those fish will feed a little better. That barometric pressure makes a difference than it does in other times of year. If you’ve got a good day with a front pushing in, that can be really important. Wind can push those fish a lot, too, if the wind blows and moves the water and bait fish, those fish might hold closer to wind-blown structure.”