A cold biting wind swept across the gray waters of Lake Anna and sporadic rain stung our faces as Bill Mathias and I cast our lures towards a hidden underwater island. It was winter and the weather was foul. But we felt our chances for a big bass were good. After all, this is the season when most giant largemouths are caught.
Inching black jigs dressed with pork rind across the sunken structure, we watched our lines and waited for the gentle tug of a lethargic winter bass. Suddenly Mathias' rod bowed deep. A hard-fought battle ensued before the guide worked a hefty fish close to the boat. I scooped towards it with the landing net and 10 pounds, 10 ounces of bass came thrashing aboard.
That's the kind of reward that keeps diehard anglers fishing right through the dead of winter. It won't happen every day. But the potential for citation sized bass (8 pounds or heavier) is best from right now through early April.
Here are some tactics that will be worth trying on Anna, Smith Mountain, Kerr, Gaston, Chesdin, Chickahominy, the tidal Potomac and other prime bass waters throughout Virginia, as well as smaller nearby ponds and game department lakes.
Crawl a Jig and Pig. This is the tactic Bill and me used when we fished Lake Anna on that cold winter day. Later in the afternoon on that same outing it produced another 9 pounder.
A ¼ to ¾ ounce black jig is best, with a rubber skirt or hair dressing and a weed guard. Dress the jig with a pork frog, crayfish, lizard or eel in purple, brown, red, blue or black.
Cast this out to points, brushy cover, submerged humps and drop-offs and reel it slowly back after it touches the bottom and the line goes slack. Pickups will be soft in winter. As soon as you feel a slight tapping on the line, set up hard with the rod and also reel quickly to help drive the hook into the fish's mouth.
Bounce a Grub. This technique is similar, but if fish are skittish a plain jig-head with a plastic twister tail is better than a jig and pig. Work this with more of a lift and drop presentation instead of just crawling it like you do with the jig and pork. Often fish will strike as the grub flutters down after the lift. Be ready and set up quickly. I like leadheads of 1/8 to 3/8 ounce for this fishing. These can work in the same areas mentioned earlier and also closer towards shore as fish start moving in shallower when spring approaches.
Good colors include chartreuse, pumpkinseed, smoke and watermelon. Stock both twister tails and paddle type plastic bodies. Twister tails work better when the weather is warming. Use paddle tails when it's cold and fish prefer a lure with a more subtle movement.
Jig a Spoon. This is a tactic that will score not only with largemouths but also other gamefish like crappies, white bass and stripers. You can use vibrators, tail-spinners, blade lures and plain jigs, but the best lure for vertical jigging is a hammered metal spoon such as the Hopkins in ½-3/4 ounce size. Find fish on a depth finder or good structure and then lower the spoon down to the bottom or where you have marked fish on the sonar.
Try a short lift and drop presentation, raising the spoon 12-24 inches and then letting it flutter back down. Watch for strikes on the drop. The line might shoot sideways or simply stop falling or you might feel a slight tap or jerk. Set up fast. If strikes don't come, try longer lifts of the rod, as much as 3-4 feet, letting the lure fall freely back down afterwards. Make sure excessive slack doesn't form in the line, though, or you may miss strikes on the "drop."
Winter bass tips
• Use a thermometer to check the water temperature. Some parts of a lake may be 42 degrees while other areas are only 38. That four degrees can make a huge difference in your catch rate.
• Concentrate on northern shorelines. They receive the most sunlight and warm more quickly from southerly winds.
• Cast to boat docks with metal roofs and exposed rocks. They soak in the sun and convey warmth back into the water, attracting baitfish and bass.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.