We hope you’ve recovered from you turkey and stuffing (or dressing) induced coma because now it’s decision time. What do you do between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve? Do you unscrew the reels from your rods and stow your gear until next spring or…do you spool on fresh line, don additional layers of clothing and get right back out there?
2013 Bassmaster Classic champ Cliff Pace of Petal, Mississippi is usually at home this time of the year. It’s off-season for the pro tournament trails but Pace still enjoys getting out and fishing bodies of water in the southeast part of the country. Typically Cliff’s going to do that relatively close to home in southern Mississippi, in Louisiana and especially on the Louisiana Delta.
“Down here, this is the absolute best time of year to fish, primarily because our waters are at the most stable point they will be throughout the entire year,” says Pace. “The bodies of water down here aren’t affected by rainfall as much this time of year. Unlike spring, summer and early fall, you don’t have a tremendous amount of rainfall in late fall and early winter, and it allows these bodies of water to get very low and to get the clearest and cleanest they’re going to get throughout the year – and the water quality helps to put the fish in a true feeding mode.”
Power Fishing Mode
For the southern coastal states from Mississippi east to Florida, fishing tactics can vary from area to area, from fishing jerkbaits to flipping and punching mats, using shallow crankbaits and spinnerbaits, but primarily it’s a power fishing trip. “I’m not going to be doing a lot of dropshottin’ or finesse things in this part of the country this time of year,” states Pace.
Although it’s a power fishing game, you do need to be attentive to lure size now. Pace explains, “All your little cold water baits like small compact spinnerbaits or small jerkbaits or flat-sided crankbaits with compact profiles are going to be what works best. Even though you may be flipping a heavy jig or punching mats with a heavy weight, an overall small bait profile is desirable.”
Crisp, Green Grass
“Primarily, this time of year, the number one thing down here (and this holds true throughout much of the Southeast in the late fall) is to fish a body of water that has aquatic vegetation, and you want to find the vegetation that’s still living,” advises Pace. “As the vegetation starts dying off, bass will gravitate to whatever vegetation is still alive. I don’t know what makes some vegetation live longer than others. I’ve seen this happen often on lakes like Guntersville, AL and other lakes across the South, where you’ll have certain little patches of grass that will maintain that green, crisp, living growth even though a lot (or even most) of the vegetation will die out. When you find that real clean, crisp grass and the grass around it is dying out, it aggregates all the bass that had been spread throughout a big area into that one smaller area. They’re going to go to that grass that is still standing, that’s still living, and that’s still growing. There’s something about it that just suits them better. They would just much rather be in that live grass than in the dying grass.”
“So that’s the number one deal down here in the late fall season.”
“Many anglers in the fall, they think about fishing in the backs of the creeks as the shad migrate back there, and that’s very true on some bodies of water, primarily your bigger, deeper manmade reservoirs, especially lakes that do not have a lot of grass. You take a highland lake like, say Grand Lake in Grove, OK. Those fish are going to follow the shad back into those creeks. But the fish in the southern part of the country from Mississippi all the way over to Florida, it’s a different kind of a deal. You don’t have a lot of feeder creeks that feed a body of water. Normally, these are just larger, flatter bodies of water with less depth and less contour changes. They’re more lowland type reservoirs. Typically most all of them have some form of aquatic vegetation and that ends up being the key. You really want to focus on the aquatic vegetation that is still living and spend your time fishing that. That’s where you’re going to be around the most fish for sure.”
“How long this approach will hold up through the winter really depends on what kind of winter that we have. Everything this time of year is dictated by the weather. You go fishing today and it can be 70 degrees in the afternoon and it can be a phenomenal spinnerbait bite. You go two days from now when a cold front’s coming through, and you may catch every fish that you catch by flipping mats. You really have to adjust your techniques here this time of year to what weather you have for the particular day you’re going to spend on the water. Much depends on the sequence and timing of those cold fronts in shaping how harsh of a winter we’ll have. I’ve seen years when some grass survived throughout the entire year, and I’ve seen years where every blade of grass in a lake died by the end of December. It depends strictly on what kind of winter we have, and some winters are obviously colder than others.”
January and February
In these lowland waters across the South and wetlands like the Louisiana Delta, the natural habitat revolves around emergent, submergent, or floating aquatic vegetation that grows in the water or along the shoreline. In addition, there’s submerged woody cover like stumps, logs, trees, brush and manmade structure like pilings, docks, bulkheads, jetties, riprap, bridges, culverts, etc.
Pace instructs, “If the grass does completely die-off in a lake during winter, then fishing becomes more about any kind of hard structure that you can find, be it pilings, boat docks, laydown trees or whatever. The fish are going to gravitate to those harder structures once that grass all dies out. They’re going to get on anything out there that’s in their environment that they can use that’s a hard piece of cover that’s going to persist or be permanent for the fish through the winter, and they’ll spend the remainder of the winter on that type of cover until the grass starts to come back in the spring.”
“Typically that’s a January and February deal. Normally it takes that long for the grass to die out.”
Run and Gun Mode
Pace continues, “One of the main things about fishing in the fall for me, especially down here on these bodies of water is typically these fish are really in a feeding mode. They are easier to catch at this time of year than they are at any other time of year. So for me, if I fish an area for 45 minutes to an hour and I do not catch any fish, I am going to move. This is not a time of the year to hole-sit on your favorite old fishing hole like you would in the summertime, just waiting for the resident fish to turn on and bite for say a 2-hour period of time throughout the day. This time of year, fish are gorging themselves and their priority is to eat. They are more prone to follow bait and pursue a food source this time of year than they are at other times of the year. The constantly changing weather patterns due to frontal passages make them move as well. So if you go out there and you spend some time fishing, and you haven’t had success in an area where you typically do, it’s possible those fish just aren’t there. They moved. You need to move. This is a time of year when a run-and-gun style approach (until you locate where the fish are) is very, very useful.”
Visibly Schooling Fish
“A lot of times in the fall, you’ll have visibly schooling fish on the surface. That can help you narrow your search tremendously. You really need to keep your eyes peeled for that as you run and gun,” Cliff teaches us.
Many anglers look for visibly schooling fish at other times of year (in summer or early fall) in open water or on offshore structure on deeper lakes. In late fall, visibly schooling fish may be right up against the bank or around the dwindling patches of any type of good, clean living vegetation. Once you become attuned to the types of places where they’re pushing bait up top, you can drive through larger areas in the boat, and spot it happening here and there.
Those are tournament pro Cliff Pace’s essential points for late fall and winter success – find the crisp green grass, find the food source, and you’ve found the bass.