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Red Hot Winter Time Bassin (Part I)

Posted by Larry on December 23, 2010

Here in the Midwest many of us look forward to the morning chill that signals the changing of the seasons. As the fall colors start to fade and the nip in the air becomes more prevalent our excitement begins to build. It’s not just for the upcoming holiday season and the time spent with family and friends.  Nor is it just for the upcoming hunting seasons and the chance at monster bucks, upland birds, and water fowl. A lot of us enjoy those winter time activities; but personally, my excitement grows from the anticipation of red hot winter time bass action.

(Part I)

Here in the Midwest many of us look forward to the morning chill that signals the changing of the seasons. As the fall colors start to fade and the nip in the air becomes more prevalent our excitement begins to build. It’s not just for the upcoming holiday season and the time spent with family and friends.  Nor is it just for the upcoming hunting seasons and the chance at monster bucks, upland birds, and water fowl. A lot of us enjoy those winter time activities; but personally, my excitement grows from the anticipation of red hot winter time bass action. There are a group of anglers out here that don’t follow the societal norms of winterizing boats and putting tackle away to await the spring thaw.   While the snowbirds and southern folks among us are now saying, “what is this loon thinking”?  And most are now positive that we Midwestern winter time bass anglers are truly nuts. However  true in some cases,  when the snow, wind, and winter storms start to take hold of the central part of our country, so does the red hot winter bass action.  

In December, our highland Ozark reservoirs start to come alive with the hottest bass catching action of the entire year. It gets so crazy that it’s hard to understand until you experience it firsthand. Places like Bull Shoals, Beaver Lake, and my favorite, the world renowned Table Rock Lake, transform from some of the best bass fisheries in the country to one of the bass fishing world’s best kept secrets. In Mid December, when the water temps start approaching the magical 40 degree range, a mythical migration begins where these lake’s shad populations start creating mega-schools. These schools can grow to 50+ feet in diameter and 300+ yards in length. The guts of the major creeks and deep channel bluffs become their preferred winter time hang outs. As these aquatic buffets begin forming, the predators soon follow and on Table Rock from December – February that means bass, lots of bass. On Table Rock during the winter catching all three species is very common, but the Kentuckies are the most abundant. A winter fishing trip to one of these Ozark beauties targeting the schooling bass is one of the most exciting, action filled angling adventures you could ever enjoy.  I start looking forward in anticipation to my first mid-December trip soon after the normal tournament season winds down in October. I am a relative newcomer to this thing we call “Video Fishing”, but with some simple tackle, good electronics, and an understanding of where to look, it doesn’t take long to start taking advantage of the winter time bite.

If you aren’t a regular on these highland reservoirs the first thing you need to do is get rid of your bass biases relative to cover and depth. Growing up in western Kentucky and spending most of my military career stationed in the south, my understanding of fishing deep meant 8-10ft with the occasional 20ft ledge coming into play. My home lakes on the Tennessee River just didn’t require you to think about deeper depths to catch fish year round. Moving to the Midwest in 2005 and joining the local bass club, I soon started hearing stories about catching hundreds of bass a day during the winter doing this thing they called “video fishing”. No not the latest Xbox, Wii, or PS2 game.  These guys were vertical fishing for schooling bass in 40, 60, 80, and even 100 feet of water. Like most fish tales, the stories were unbelievable and I was very skeptical at first. But the more I listened, the more enchanted I became.  Even then, I couldn’t comprehend schools of bass in the hundreds and maybe thousands.  

It wasn’t long until my first Midwest winter and after several of the usual winter time power plant lake trips, I was ready to try this “video fishing” thing.  The bass club guys finally succumbed to my continuous nagging, whining, and crying and invited me along on a December trip to Table Rock in 2006. I started my preparation with some online research and a seminar from one of the best vertical fisherman in the club. After a couple weeks of anticipation and a stop by Bass Pro Shop to pick up the needed tackle, the day finally arrived and off we went.

I can still recall that first trip like it was yesterday.  Being the hard head that I am, I figured I could take what the guys taught me in the seminar and the subsequent answers to my follow up questions and make this thing happen.  Oh not so fast puddle jumper. After struggling all day that first day without a clue, I was just about to head in humbled and humiliated.  I was already thinking about the stories that I would have to endure back at the room later that night. I had seen some of the guys throughout the day and knew they were just slaying the fish. Feeling sorry for myself, I decided to make one more pass along a main lake point before calling it a day. That’s when I noticed something that looked like an isolated cedar tree in about 60ft of water. I dropped the ½ oz white spoon down like I was taught and had done a zillion times previously that day without reward. I watched the spoon falling on my electronics and stopped it just above the tree. I hopped it once, the graph exploded as fish swarmed out of the lone tree, and the rod loaded up.  Not sure of what had just happened or what I had on the end of the line, the excitement was unnerving. It felt like I had just hooked into a nuclear sub and the images on the graph reminded me of a video game called Missile Command, I played as a kid.  After a struggle that seemed to last a half hour, I finally landed the 3lb spot.  From that moment, my addiction grew to all consuming and unbearable.

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(The right image is a school of actively feeding bass under a school of bait; the vertical lines are the lures being dropped into the strike zone)

After four winters of practice, some great mentoring, and a couple of rounds of electronic and tackle upgrades, I am convinced very few things in the outdoors can compare to the excitement of this thing we call “video fishing”.  The rest of this article will focus on the basic tackle and techniques required to be successful. We hope that part II of this article will narrow the learning curve, so even a relative newcomer can get out and take advantage of our winter time bass bonanza.  Next week, we will discuss some of the basics like where to find the fish, electronics, and the tackle you will need to get started.

Until then, let your excitement grow by enjoying some of these “video fishing” videos I found on You Tube.

Table Rock: The Cold and the Beautiful

Getting Grubby at Table Rock

Fishing With Table Rock Loons

New Year's Day Bass Fishing

Special thanks to Robert Greene and Robert Jorgensen for their collaborative efforts on this article