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Fishing Lake Guntersville, Late Winter

Fishing Lake Guntersville, Late Winter.


There have been a lot of "rules" written about cold water bass fishing, and Lake Guntersville disproves them all. While January and February are great months to hunt large bass on Guntersville, I've noted that the tactics which dispel the myths of frigid waters cross over to most lakes I've fished over the years. It's easy to "over think" cold water strategy, and miss the key factors to simply getting to the right place at the right time with the right presentation. And the right time, the right place and the right presentation may not be what you thought it was.


One of the first lessons I learned on Guntersville is that during the late winter months, warmer water is not better. I find a lot more active big fish in water temps from 41 to 45 than I do when it warms up into the 50s. And when they are active, there is no need to slow the bait down, they hit a rattle bait at moderate to fast speeds in 5 feet of water or less harder than they do in the warmer months. They literally knock slack in the line. And yes, you can throw the deep water thinking out the window here, most big bass I find are in less than 7 feet of water all winter long, and especially into February. There are fish to be caught deep this time of year, but you don't have to go there.


The second lesson I learned on Guntersville is that warmer days are not better. Everything is backwards, in the summer months I catch most of my big bass on Guntersville during the mid-day hours when the weather is calm, stable and hot. During the winter months, I get a lot more big bites when it 's cold, raining or snowing and when the weather is seemingly at it's worst. I also do a lot better very early or right at dark during the winter months than I do in the warmer months. It may seem out of sync with typical bass fishing strategy, but there is no question as to how these fish behave. And again, I have noted this on many other lakes during this time of year. Cold water means the bass don't feed as often, but when they do feed they are out to eat, and big bass know how to do it right. The factors that trigger the bite are more profound in the winter months than in the summer, and of course the bass don't need to feed as often as they are expending less energy during most of the day. In January and early February, they almost only feed when they are triggered by weather or low light conditions. The nice, warm winter days we often have are great to be on the water, but I don't catch much until it turns nasty. It's my belief that they don't feed out of aggression at all during cold water periods, but rather only when nature's triggering factors kick in.


Open Water -


In January, I begin looking for bass around the areas they will spawn. Humps on the inside of the channel ledge, or points in the mouths of pockets are my first key areas. Some of the best areas are the inside channel slopes above Goose Pond, in the Rose Berry and BB Comer areas. I also like the humps in the Mill Creek area and in the mouth of Browns Creek. The humps that top out at feet and have nearby ditches with 7 to 10 feet are my prime target areas. Other areas are where the old creek channels intersect with the main river ledge, especially above Goose Pond on the inside of the channel ledge. The general tactic for me is keeping the boat in 7 to 9 feet and throwing to the top of the humps. Or, stay in the inside ditch and throw up onto the ridge, covering water and keying in on any high-percentage areas. (changes in the ridge, creek bends or shallower shell beds on the ridge and stumps). Through out January, big bass are moving up and down on these areas, staying only long enough to feed then easing back down into the deeper water surrounding the hump. Under normal conditions, there is old milfoil and/or hydrilla on the high spots, and it holds the bait that the bass are feeding on. As the days and weeks go on, the bass will spend more and more time on top of the humps, ridges and points as they get ready to move to and lock onto spawning grounds.


The open water humps produce huge fish in January and February, but there are a couple of key things to keep in mind. In my experience, the water needs to be fairly stable and clean. Very stained water due to rains or high winds has never been good for me. When the water is muddy, I look for cleaner water or move to pockets and creeks.

Too much current is not good, and during the winter months the current is normally faster than in the summer. Again I do a lot better finding big fish on the inside humps, ridges and ditches or in the big bays than I do sitting in the actual deep river channel. Pine Island for example, I do better sitting on top of the island throwing toward river than I do sitting in the river throwing up on the island. If the current is not extreme I do on occasion have success with the boat in the river, but the vast majority of the time I like to be off of the main channel.


Open water summary -


Clear to light-moderate stain is fine. Heavy stain or muddy water is not as good in the open water areas.
Stable water conditions are important
Humps, creek ledges, ditches with both old grass and stumps on the inside of the main channel ledge are best.
Keep boat in 7 to 10 working from 5 to 7 feet deep. Always remember to check shallower areas from time to time, especially during times of long, stable warming trends.
Fish early, late or during frontal passages with rain or snow for more bites.
Faster bait retrieves are good during active periods, (early/late or nasty weather). Slower presentations with a "pumping" motion are best during daytime hours and warm, stable days. (Work rattle baits more like a worm than a crank-bait during slower times)
Best baits (in order) XR-75 or 3/4oz lipless baits in natural shad colors, red or Chart/blue back. / 3/4oz spinner-baits in natural shad colors / Swim-baits / black and blue jig with green pumpkin chunks (1/2 to 3/8oz). Suspending jerk-baits in natural shad or clown colors.
The Banks -


As February comes in, a lot of big fish move to the banks and to the first pockets and sloughs. Most if not all of the grass is gone by later in February. A lot of people simply don't think shallow enough - early enough on Lake Guntersville... When the humps in open water slow down in February, it's because the waves of fish there I was catching moved to the bank, not to deeper water. I start putting the trolling motor in less than 5 feet of water. Often times if I'm not kicking up mud, I'm not catching any fish.
My two key areas are: Small, red clay (hard bottom) points or flats near the banks, especially in the mouths of pockets or creeks. Shallow sloughs, especially those with the cat tails or slough grass in the back. Even when the water temps are below 50 degrees, some big fish will be in less than 3 feet of water and on the bank. Big fish bed a lot sooner than many people believe, and we have found them locked on bed as soon as the water temps get into the mid and upper 50s. So, it stands to reason that they would be active in shallow water in late February as the water temps begin to move up.


Shallow red clay banks are critical in February, especially those with stumps. Stumps are really important as February comes in, as most or all of the grass will be gone by the end of February, and the bass are keying into hard, permanent cover. I catch a lot of fish off of stumps and wood in 2 to 5 feet of water after the 2nd week of February. Red clay banks off of the small islands are key target areas for me during this time. Any small, subtle point can have groups of big fish on it, especially if the point has stumps.


Creeks and pockets are good places to begin looking from mid February and on into March. In particular I like the pockets and creeks in the mid-river area on the south side. Stumps and old pad stems hold a lot of fish in 2 to feet of water in these sloughs. Many times I'll find active fish schooling on bait in the middle of the shallow secondary pockets or off of the secondary points in the sloughs. Again, the bite is better during early and late periods, with the late part of the day (just before dark) being prime time. The bigger creeks up river are always good, despite the pressure they receive. Mud creek turns on early with the shallow water bite. Rose Berry Creek has been good over the years, but the recent Holocaust (chemical grass eradication by the city of Scottsboro) in the creek may have made it a "once good" place to fish. The red clay points and islands from Chesen Hall and into the Langston area are always favorite areas of mine during late February. The stumpy secondary pockets or back toward the airport in Seibold Creek are always prime early shallow water areas for really big bass.

Typically I fish a few good open water areas if the conditions are right, then if they don't produce I move to the banks and sloughs. I spend about an hour or less on each area, if they are there you will usually know it within the first 30 minutes. I keep covering water in both open water areas and banks and sloughs until I know what they are up to. They will change day to day.
Again, if the water is really stained I eliminate the open water areas all together and focus on the banks and sloughs. The fish on the bank seem to always be catchable during stained or muddy water conditions, even in January.


If you are wondering just how shallow they will get in cold water, my top-water bite starts in mid February, sometimes with water temps still in the 40s and I find big fish right on the bank in 2 feet of water. A Zara Spook Jr with a slow, steady cadence has caught a lot of big fish for me under these conditions. I like to throw a big rattle bait (3/4oz) even in the super shallow water, but if it fails to produce I will sometimes downsize to a 1/4oz bait. The new shallow running lipped baits that run less than 2 feet deep are always good to try as well. In the past few years a buzz frog has been very effective in the old grass and pad stems in the pockets and sloughs during mid to late February.

The Banks - Summary -


If the open water bite is not producing quickly, move to the banks and sloughs.
Focus on small, red clay banks and points with stumps. Always fish small island banks and points.
I love to throw a big rattle bait, hold the rod tip up and crank it on the shallow points and sloughs.
The only way to fish too shallow is to see your bait laying on the bank.
Make long throws to very shallow water.
Target stumps, lay down wood, old Lilly pad stems and schools of bait in the secondary pockets and points in sloughs. (Mud Creek, Langston, Church House, Murphy Hill, Seibold, etc) Fish in 2 feet or less.
Fish early, late or during frontal passages for the most active bite.
The daytime bite gets better in February and the active/aggressive bite begins in February.
Make bait adjustments, as February comes in, a Texas rigged Lizard or Yum Dinger (any green color) is a good bet for slower presentations if the shallow water fish are not active.


Adjustments -


You can fish deep in January and February. The best areas have been deep water along rip-rap, or on either side of the causeways. (North Sauty highway 79 bridge for example). As with open water, the deeper water areas are better if the water is not too dirty and has been stable. If the water stable and the current flow is light, fishing the deeper shell beds can be productive. These areas are text book swim-bait locations. The term "shell bed" is relative. Most of the bottom of Guntersville is covered with shells. The highest spots on a ridge or hump usually have current wash and often are called "shell beds", due to the way the shells are gathered. Some of them also have more live muscles on them, but it can vary from season to season. The easiest way to locate shell beds is again, to target the highest or shallowest parts of any ridge or hump. Old, deeper creek ledges with outside turns are good areas, and anywhere a creek channel intersects with the main river channel is a good target area.


Tournaments -


Remember, you don't need 25 pounds to win a tournament on Guntersville, you need 30 pounds. If you have not been successful at increasing your weight, before you change your way of fishing you need to change your way of thinking. I've caught enough 25 to 30+ pound bags to know that tournaments are not being won on some secret location on some secret bait using some secret strategy. It is simply covering the right water at the right time with the right presentation. January is the time to begin rethinking your strategy. Develop a new plan and begin to implement it every time you get a chance to get out. Maximize your time, and don't fall back on things that haven't worked. The greatest achievement any pro has ever made is getting over the fear of not getting bit during practice. That alone will help create a new way of making changes in fishing strategy.


Troy Jens -

Troy Jens has been a full time professional fishing guide on the Tennessee River and BFHP contributor for over 14 years. For more information, visit www.anglingalabama.com And check the Bass Fishing Home Page fishing reports for regular updates. www.wmi.org

Angling Alabama - Troy Jens / Professional Fishing Guide / Experience the best of the outdoors on Lake Guntersville, the Tennessee River and North Alabama.

Call 256-683-7934
by TroyJ/Angling Alabama


     

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