For the past few winters I’ve spent more and more time throwing the shaky head worm rather than fishing the deep stuff. The more time that passes the more I’m convinced that there is a population of larger fish that cruise the shallows all winter in search of bigger ticket meals such as crawfish, bream and larger gizzard shad rather than the millions of threadfin shad and blueback herring that are stacked in the deep ditches. I have yet to figure out why these bigger fish would want to leave the “sure thing” but if they are like me, maybe they just get bored with the same old seafood diet and go searching for the meat and potatoes. I’ve found that these bigger fish cruising the shallows generally hark up a array of regurgitated chow from crawfish pieces to decomposed bream. I can tell they are in the shallows for bigger meals judging from what they’ve been eating. Since I’ve established the pattern of bigger fish cruising the shallows in the winter, it’s just a matter of finding and catching them.
Years ago I was all about the crankbait all winter. My thought has always been that the fish, like me, enjoy the warmth of the winter sun and I would always gravitate towards the sunny rocky shorelines with my crankbait. I would tie on my crankbait, beat the banks with reckless abandonment and usually run across a few fish by days end. That was my strategy back in my cranking days but for the past few years I’ve decided to slow it down and learn more finesse with less power. Probably the most frequently asked question I get is “what worm do you use“. That seems to be the key to success with the shaky head but you need to be able to define success. My definition of success with the shaky head may differ from yours. I think back to a few years ago when I was fishing as a boater in a BFL tournament on Lanier. I had been on a great crankbait bite and spent most of the day cranking with little to show for it. With a little less than an hour left till weigh in my back seater tied on a little green pumpkin finesse worm on a little screw lock ball head and put 5 keepers in the boat to cash a check. I didn’t make the switch quick enough and I didn’t cash a check. On another occasion I was on a guided trip and my guest absolutely smoked them on the same little setup of a green pumpkin finesse worm on a ball head. One thing to note was that most of the fish were smaller keepers in both instances but nonetheless it was fish and it was success for those cases.
For me, success has a different definition now. Primarily because I live on the lake and I can fish several days a week but for the past few years I’ve grown tired of numbers in favor of quality. With the shaky head it’s hard to rule out quantity at times because it’s just a good bait for Lanier. It’s bailed thousands of tournament anglers out of a bad day and helped cash a lot of checks I promise you. Lake Lanier offers a lot of rocky shoreline plus shoreline structure such as docks and those two areas are perfect for the shaky head tactic. With my knowledge of where the bigger fish may be in the winter it was just a matter of the right offering. A few years back I went through my jig phase and enjoyed the thump of a big ole spot pounding my jig. That will get your heart racing but I wanted to slow it down to light tackle finesse with big fish in mind. That’s when I found the 5 inch senko type baits on a shaky head. The 5 inch stick baits are fat, beefy and heavy. They sink quick and the smaller fish tend to leave it alone. The 5 inch bait on a 1/4 ounce ball shaky head out performed all the other worms I’ve used including the good ole 6 inch trick worm for big fish just about every time. Another thing I like about the senko type rig is that I can throwing it a mile, control it and I can feel everything with my light tackle spinning gear.
Speaking of gear, a lot of times in the winter months with the shaky head the bite can be subtle, For that reason I switch my gear to a more visible line such as hi-vis braid with a flouro leader. I want to be able to see my line at all times so I usually tie on about 30 feet of 7-8lb good fluorocarbon to a load of 12lb green flouro braid. I use a modified Alberto knot, appropriately named the “Jimberto” knot for the flouro to braid and I like a good Shimano spinning reel such as the 250 Ci4. I’m using a 7′ 6″ MH rod with a lot of backbone so I can make a good hook set on these bigger fish and that boney mouth.
Location is a big part of the process and probably the second most asked question I get. In the creek, it’s just a matter of me going back to places I’ve caught big fish in the past. Some of my favorites are the deep dark rocky bluffs. Those deep dark areas are a place that big bass like to wait in the shadows and ambush a unsuspecting meal. Probably the absolute best area is a dark rocky bluff very near a dock and very very near deep water. There are strings of docks in the creek as well as all over the lake that offer this setting. My second favorite area is secondary points in the creek. These points will load up with bigger fish as we get closer to the spawn. I’ve found that the bigger fish spawn the earliest in the creek so usually they are in a post spawn feeding mode and staged up on points going back to spawning areas as early as late Jan. On a sunny day these staging areas are a magnet to bigger bass as well as foraging food moving around the warmer water. As the fish warms in these sun soaked areas, there color gets richer and their metabolism speeds up a bite. The fish are much more aggressive and much stronger than the cold slow fish in a ditch and that’s why I like to target them. I’ve gotten to the point of accepting less bites for better quality so if you ask me how I catch the bigger fish in the winter, there’s a few tips that may help this winter.