It’s not often in the South you can have an entire lake basically to yourself and catch tons of fish, but according to Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit vet David Williams, that’s exactly what can happen around the Carolinas this time of year for those willing to put the gun or bow down and pick up a rod instead.
While Williams admits it can be tough for him to stay out of the woods in search of deer, the fact of the matter is that he knows some of the best fishing opportunities he’ll have all year happens between November and February, and it’s a relatively simple program to run – which is more than enough to lure him out to the lake.
Fishing in the winter can be a little tough, especially if you haven’t been on the lake much lately to keep tabs on where the bass set up shop for the winter. Williams, however, has a simple rule of thumb to point you in the right direction.
“Around here on a lot of the lakes, the fish will actually get pretty far back in the creeks, like the last third of creek,” says Williams. “If you have a couple cold days in a row, the fish drop off into the ditch. Then, if we get some of those 65-degree days and it warms up the red clay bank, the fish come out of ditch and move onto bank. You get a little bit of heat on that stuff and they’ll move to it pretty quick.”
Knowing where to look on a map is a good start, but now is when your eyes and electronics really factor into finding fish.
“I like to idle through an area and see who’s home,” he explains. “If you find the bait, the fish aren’t far away. Usually, you’ll see clouds of bait sitting up pretty high with some fish around them. Most of time the stripers and hybrids stay in the bait more, and it seems like the spots and largemouths stay down below them.
“This time of year, the birds will give them away a lot, too. “You can ride around until you see birds. They won’t lie to you. The birds usually feed early or late, so if you see them diving, you know they’re going to be around the bait.”
What makes this program even more appealing, according to Williams, is that once you locate where the fish are holding in a given pocket, you can usually run the pattern across the rest of the lake. So, if the fish are holding on a flat next to a ditch or creek channel, you can look at your map and find similar areas that will likely be productive.
“There can be a lot of unproductive water this time of year, but once you find them, there are a lot of them there.”
There are a lot of times in bass fishing when overcomplicating a lure choice isn’t hard to do. This isn’t one of those times.
“Typically, if it’s cold, I pretty much stick to an A-rig or a jerkbait,” Williams says. “The fish will gang up pretty good in the ditches, and you can sit there and catch them every cast with an A-rig. But, if they’re suspended more, that’s when I go for a jerkbait.”
For his umbrella rig, Williams runs Zoom Z Swim swimbaits (shad colors) on 1/8-ounce heads. He’s not fishing terribly deep – generally 20 feet or less – so there isn’t a need for super heavy heads. On the jerkbait side, his go-to is the Duo Realis 100SP or 110SP (also shad colors) because they aren’t huge jerkbaits, so they match the size of the baitfish pretty well.
For those warmer winter days, Williams knows to reach for a crankbait to cover the bank in the same areas he would fish when it’s cold. There are several crankbaits that fit the bill, like a Rapala Shad Rap or Strike King 1.5, but William’s favorites are either a Duo Realis M62 5A or M65 8A, depending on the depth. He’s a big fan of craw patterns for his winter cranking.
There are a lot of excuses to not go fishing this time of year. Though, if you like catching bass and avoiding the crowds, you should definitely consider keeping the boat hooked up to your truck instead of the 4-wheeler.
“I’ve had some of my best days ever on the water this time of year,” Williams adds. “I’ve had days where I was sitting there catching 13-, 14-inchers every cast and then, when they come up schooling, I’d catch 4-, 5- and 6-pounders. It might not be like that every time, but you can catch a bunch of fish right now. Plus, there’s less pressure, so you may be out there and not see anybody. It’s nice to be out and have the lake to yourself.”