MLF pro James Elam calls Tulsa, Oklahoma home, and spends plenty of time each offseason fishing the handful of well-known lakes within an hour’s drive of his front door. Oklahoma is in a unique situation (or maybe you can call it an identity crisis): Does it fish more like the Midwest or Texas? Or should it be grouped as merely the central region when it comes to how the fish behave during the winter months?
Even Elam couldn’t have a definitive answer to that question. Still, his approach is universal and utilizes productive techniques from all across the country when fishing clear bodies of water during the winter.
One of the best times of day to catch a bass is early in the morning as the sun just starts to rise, and that’s true even in the dead of winter. However, Elam finds that after lunch can be the best fishing of the day.
“I believe bass during the winter feed later in the day more often, and will move shallower to feed,” Elam said. “The time from around noon to four o’clock is a major feeding window.”
Bass anglers tend to turn into amateur meteorologists before a fishing trip, and Elam is no different, paying close attention to the extended forecast.
“We get winter fronts once a week like clockwork in Oklahoma, and the best fishing days are always the three days before the system comes through,” he added. “The ideal conditions for me are sunny days with a little breeze.”
During the coldest months of the year, Elam is looking for high-percentage areas that hold baitfish and hungry bass.
“One of the first things I look for, no matter where I’m fishing, is a flat with a ledge nearby,” he said. “This could be a creek channel swing with a deeper flat on it or a slow tapering point that drops to deeper water at the end. I also look for transitions where steep bluffs change to a more gradual slope, because that will also congregate the forage.”
There’s a point each year when Elam makes the switch from crawfish imitators to something that looks like a shad.
“I’ll throw a jig or crawfish-colored crankbait until that bite starts to fade away,” Elam said. “Then it becomes a shad-driven bite, and a lot of times they are eating smaller shad, so I downsize my lures.”
Even though he can’t use it on the Bass Pro Tour, Elam admits that an Alabama rig is hard to beat in clear, cold water.
“I never thought something could be better than a suspended jerkbait for cold water, but an Alabama Rig with 3-inch swimbaits is hard to beat,” Elam said.
Elam will also rig up a single swimbait or small grub on a 3/16-ounce head when fishing this time of year. He’ll also mix in shad-profiled crankbaits and jerkbaits.
“Jerkbaits are always good, and I find myself doing better with the deep-diving versions during the winter in clear water,” Elam advised. “If the water is a little stained, a shallower diver does better in my experience.”
As winter moves along and many waters experience a shad die-off, Elam switches to a vertical approach.
“That’s when I throw spoons, blade baits, and ice jigs,” he said. “Even a drop-shot, many times the bass see it fall, and that is the reason they get interested and bite it.”
One of the downfalls of fishing in the cold is often just staying warm. Over the years, Elam has developed a system to keep him comfortable.
“I’ll rig up three spinning rods and three baitcast rods so I can swap back and forth,” he said. “The hand that you reel with is always going to be the one that seems to get the coldest, and that little trick helps,” he said.
Elam is also a big proponent of wearing the right clothing and is a fan of the Simms Challenger Insulated jacket and bibs: “It’s made for ice fishing and does an excellent job of keeping you comfortable and fishing longer.”