First day fishing for bass and crappies
For those wise souls who went to bed early–and sober–getting up early to go fishing may sound like a good prospect as 2017 gets underway. The forecast is for relatively warm weather, in the 50’s, with morning showers, clouds in the afternoon–about as good a forecast as you’d want for quality winter bass or crappie fishing.
Add to that the fact that most area lakes will be pretty much empty–on top of hangovers it’s a big NFL day–and you have the basics of an excellent day on the water. Water temperature is likely to be upper 40’s and maybe 50’s in some areas in the afternoon, and both largemouths and “specks” like that just fine.
For bass, it’s likely to be a suspending jerkbait/swimbait kind of day, maybe with some bladed jigs like the Chatterbait or Strike King Pure Poison also in the mix. It’s likely to be a day where most fish are found at depths of 8 to 12 feet on the outside of the grass beds, where those last few strands of hydrilla still stretch toward the surface.
The suspending jerkbaits work best if fished slowly–count them down to 3 or 4 feet off bottom, and then fish them with sharp twitches punctuated by 5 second pauses. Spybaits like the Storm Arashi Spin can also be good for this type of action, though they are fished more with a slow, steady retrieve just fast enough to make the spinners turn.
Swimbaits can be anything from a half-ounce head with a 4-inch tail like the very good and brand new 360 GT from Storm to much larger, 1-ounce heads with tails up to 7 inches long, designed to connect with a mid-winter double-digit bass. These can be fished at depths anywhere from 6 to 20 feet deep, by varying the combination of head weight and tail size. They’re cranked steadily, just fast enough to make the soft plastic tails swim.
The bladed jigs add an extra wobble to any trailer put on them; they can be fished slower than bare swimbaits and still have very good action, and the polished metal blades on these lures add some flash that probably helps bring in distant fish on occasion. Best depth for these lures is typically 6 to 12 feet, right in the sweet zone for fishing a fairly warm winter day in North Alabama.
For crappies, tiny jigs from 1/16 to 1/24 ounce trimmed with minnow-shaped soft plastic tails of 1.5 to 2.5 inches are among the best locator baits. These can be cast with ultra-light spinning gear, or slow trolled at 1 to 2 mph on the lowest speed of most trolling motors.
Crappies in winter tend to school up in areas where creek mouths enter the main lake and at the front of deeper bays where brushy coves will welcome them to spawn in a few months. They also sometimes hang on bluff banks where shad tend to gather on sunny afternoons in winter–also good spots to check for bass.
As always in winter, the sonar will be the angler’s best friend–studying the depth finder for several hours may result in limit catches in minutes when you get on the right spot, but finding that spot, just as in 2016, will be the challenge in 2017.