Top Ten Fishing Tips for Shallow Southern Reservoir
By Mike Gerry
Top Ten Winter Fishing Tips for Lake Guntersville
Fishing in the winter on Lake Guntersville, can be rewarded with some outstanding size “lunker” bass. Over the years the winter always produces big fish in fact the lake record caught by Charley Bertus was caught in February years ago. In order to catch those lunkers the winter fishing comes with some very distinct patterns that seem to stay fairly consistent over the years,
The lake in the winter goes through some definite cycles that you must acknowledge before we talk about how to catch those big fish. Guntersville will change weekly as the winter moves on, you will see the grass dying and floating in the early part of the winter, the water will cool and seem to drop in temperature weekly until it hits about 42 degrees and the grass will change at the deeper depths enormously but this occurs only in the late part of the winter. The last thing the lake will experience is turn-over, and if we do not have a real cold winter this may not occur, you see the water will stay warmer at deep depths until the top 10 feet of water gets cold at a consistency throughout the lake then the top ten feet of water drops to the bottom called “turnover.” This takes most the winter to do so, the last couple of years it has warmed so fast that we didn’t experience turnover. As we all know average temperatures were up this past year, and with such a hot summer we should have a real cold winter and hence should produce turnover for the first time in a few years. So be aware of the stages the lake will go through, as I will refer to them as I give my winter fishing tips.
1.The early winter is generally the toughest of the winter fishing, this occurs because there is still a lot of grass and the bass have many ways to feed on the bait left over from the late fall fishing and spawn. This time of year I become very consistent in working a jig in 10 to 14 feet of water. I believe the jig bite in early winter is a great way to start catching those big bass. I personally use a hair jig; “Punishers Lure” hair jigs are as good as it gets. They also have a garlic-based trailer that the bass just love and when they bite it they seem to hold on longer for you to set the hook. I like the hair jig because it drops more quickly to the bottom, it doesn’t take a heavy jig to get to the bottom, and the profile is generally small. One thing I have proven over the years a bass likes smaller baits in the cold water, and these big rubber skirted jigs to me are just to big for winter fishing.
2.In the early part of the winter you will also see the bass moving from the deep to the top of the shelves, shallow for some feeding, when this occurs you still have a good opportunity to fish areas of the lake that has 10 plus feet of water nearby with shallow water on the shelf. I like fishing a finesse worm during this period, its small enough to generate a bite so the bass don’t have to be real active to feed on it. A small finesse worm thrown to the top of the shelf can produce some great catches in early winter. Not to many years ago, in December we caught fish for three maybe four weeks on a shelf back in a creek during the middle of the day to the tune of 10 to 20 a day. All the fish were in the same area for weeks, they moved deep at night and as the day warmed they moved up to feed for nearly a month. I remember at the time thinking man these fish are in 4 feet of water in the middle of December and just killed them on a finesse worm. This pattern has repeated itself many times over many years and should continue.
3.As winter progresses and more of the grass dies off it will be time to start using your depth finder to locate these small patches of grass in 10 to 12 feet of water, finding an area like this that the cold water hasn’t touched yet can produce some great catches. At this point in the winter I get out my big worm and get it to the bottom of these small patches of grass, put that big worm on the bottom and shake it until you feel something tugging. The key here is being patient, letting that big worm create a bite by letting it stay in contact with the bottom and shaking it, for several minutes at a time is the key. So be patient and fish extremely slow, and when that worm hits bottom forget those tendencies to pick it up and drop it, just let it sit on the bottom and let the bite come to you. You will find if you get your worm on the bottom and consistently keep it in contact with the bottom structure the winter bite will be very good.
4.We will now move into the mid part of the winter, its consistently cold, the water temps are now below 50 degrees maybe into the mid 40’s and it’s extremely tough to get a bite. This quite frankly is a great time to take out that jerk bait; Suspending jerk baits are the best there is. Pulling this bait in creeks and on points throwing up to 8 to 10 feet of water from a deep edge can really be a productive fishing pattern. A jerk bait worked extremely slow, by pulling it, letting it sit and rock in 5 feet depths just absolutely creates a great winter bite. You again have to be very patient, pull this bait for about 6 feet and let it sit in the water some times up to a couple of minutes, twitch it slightly and let the bait work. Last winter I experienced something with a jerk bait I may never be part of again, we were working a creek in the upper part of the lake, found a school of bass and in about three hours became part of catching about 33 pounds best of 5 fish. The thing about this day was that we caught 17 bass over 5 pounds during this period plus several others. The guy I was with was in a zone on this bait, I may never experience this again in my life time, but believe me I will also never forget it. I believe if you have a soft tip rod, and slow retrieve and the patience to twitch this bait it is by far the best winter bait you can use on Lake Guntersville.
5.The next tip I will talk about is fishing rocky type areas, although Guntersville is not a lake of numerous rocky ledges, it is a pattern that I have always gone to in the mid winter and caught fish. The lower end of the lake seems to have more deep rock points and areas than the upper part. I always head to the rocks in mid winter. You see the rocks hold heat, and on those cold yet bright sunny days the water will warm a little around the rocks. Fishing this extremely slow with a deep running crank bait, or jig is a great way to find that trophy bass. Going back to Charley Bertus record fish, it was caught around rocks on a jig. I know Charley very well and I can tell you he gets to those rocky areas winter after winter and catches Guntersville Lunkers consistently. Don’t forget that these causeways are all lined in rocks and have depths around them of 10 to 15 feet and are excellent areas for the mid winter bass to be hanging out. One thing I believe about a deep running crank bait is to use one that will suspend, not only does it allow you to fish it slow, but it also lets you rest as there is nothing more tiring on the water than pulling a crank bait while trying to get it to 20 plus feet of depth. A key to getting that crank bait down deep is line size, the smaller the line like 8 or 10 pound test the deeper the bait will go. You just have to loosen your drag so when you do catch a fish that you finesse it to the boat.
6.One thing in mid winter that I always do is work my Carolina Rig with a big worm, most of the grass is gone or at least only small patches exist. The Carolina worm fishing is a great way to get to 20 plus feet of depth and slowly work this bait up a point or down a ledge and consistently catch fish. Case Plastics has an 11 inch floating worm called the “Big Mama” that is ideal for a Carolina rig. You see part of this presentation is knowing how long to make the leader, you want this bait to be able to get to the bottom yet the worm rise up enough off the bottom to catch a suspending fish sitting above the trash on the bottom. Using a big worm that floats like Case Plastics “Big Mama” worm is just what you need to get that big bite. Over the years I have also used with great success a 6-inch lizard, and produced many fish on a Carolina rig with it. The key to catching fish in a Carolina rig is to pull it, or drag it, use your trolling motor to move the bait, if your in contact with the bottom you always have a chance at a big fish with a Carolina rig.
7.It’s now time to get into the later part of the winter, your seeing some upward yet slight movement in the water temperature, and the lake is experiencing turn-over. Well here is an old fashion tip, whenever I see the lake has turned over, I go immediately and take out my box of jigging spoons. That’s rite, there is no bait more productive after the lake has turned over than a jigging spoon. Get rite to the deepest part of a creek, maybe where a bend in the creek occurs take out that jigging spoon and start working it by dropping it and popping it. I’m telling you, this is an old fashion way to win a tournament but it is one that can be done. This bait for some reason creates a reaction bite even as the bass are in their slowest most docile state. I have caught fish in the late winter this way for many years, the bass are just suspending looking for an easy meal and the jigging spoon seems to produce year after year. It seems that all you need to do is find something in a creek that the fish will attract to, like a bend in the creek or a change in bottom structure and your jigging spoon does the rest. Remember when you go out and catch fish this way in early February with the weather just terrible to send me an email and thank me for this tip.
8.Another old fashion way to find fish on Guntersville in late winter is to look for the bait fish, generally the seagulls will lead you to the bait fish, and you can bet in late winter if the gulls are feeding on the bait fish the bass are close by. This tactic is very simple the gulls are easily recognized from your boat they will be flying and diving to the water in large numbers, all you need to do is run to that area and start fishing. Many times this is occurring over deep water and it makes it an ideal time to pull a big spinner bait through those bait fish. Work your big spinner bait slowly and you should have a productive time. Baitfish means bass so always be on the look out for those gulls diving and feeding.
9.One thing I always do in the late winter is start working the humps; there are many areas on the lake with sunken islands or humps that sit in the middle of 10 to 15 feet of water. Over the years humps in late winter are where the movement of the bass occurs to start feeding. They move up on top with the sun and back down to the deeper depths as the sun goes away and it gets cold. Because by this time of year the grass is generally gone, I throw a heavy rattle-trap, up to a 1oz. I try to make long casts as far as I can across a hump and pull that rattle-trap over these humps. Those of you who have fished with me over the years in late winter know how strongly I believe in a big trap, I tell my customers, get that trap out there as far as you can throw it, pull it back with an erratic movement and you will catch fish. The other thing I try to make sure of is that we are using a braided line with this big trap; it allows you to keep it up, burn it and provides a hook set as is does not stretch when getting a hit.
10. The last tip I’m going to discuss is finding remote drops in the lake, in other words find the drop offs that exist in 20 feet of water. Many times we feel we are fishing in 20 feet of water and should be catching fish, but are not and that is because even at 20 feet the bass need something to hold them to a particular spot. If you find a 20 foot shelve and see that this area has a drop from 20 to 30 feet and comes back up close by then you have a remote drop and hence a spot to find bass staging. It’s these remote drops that hold big bass. I know for a fact that many of you run down the lake and see a remote drop on your depth finder and make no attempt to fish it; the winter is just a perfect time to stop and work this deep dip in the bottom. I promise you it will produce some lunkers. There are several lures that work and will produce a bite in this case, anything from a jig to a Texas rigged worm or a Carolina rigged worm can all be productive.
Well I hope these winter tips will help you be a better and more productive winter fisherman. Over the years I have had productive days with the water temperature as low as 36 degrees, the bass do respond when you find them and these tips have been proven to help you find active bass. I can tell you that we all get stuck in pattens, me included; and when the fish aren’t biting you must be willing to adapt by trying different things. My tips are an opportunity for you to learn and change.
I guide and fish 12 months a year and would be happy to get out with you and work some of these tips and put some lunkers in the boat together.