“Every winter is different”….repeat after me, “Every winter is different”. Sometimes I tend to forget that and so right now I’m looking at a giant pile of brand new shaky head worms that I have invested my winter budget in and I can’t find a fish that will bite a worm to save my butt. For the last 3 years the shaky head has been my go to bait through the month of Feb. and I have amassed some giants over those 3 years on the shaky head but this year I had to change it up and I think I know why.
Back when I was in the Navy working on fighter aircraft, one of the many programs our squadron was required to maintain was the “Trend Analysis” program. The Trend Analysis program was a complexed study of every facet of each of our 12 aircraft and their many systems over a period of time in an attempt to find any trend in discrepancies that could later lead to catastrophic failures. I maintained the program for a few years and the attention to detail required in aircraft Trend Analysis is something that I try and transfer to our lake and fish habits. I’ve gotta be honest, tracking trends in fighter aircraft is far less complexed than tracking trends in fish habits. There are a lot of variables to fishing and the fish is a moving target. For the past few years I’ve flourished in the winter and shined like a diamond in a goats kulu when it came to Feb. and my shaky head pattern but this year it’s shaping up differently. It’s pretty much right in front of my face every day when I throw the worm and get snagged way more than I should and have little fish to show for it. It took me a minute but if you look at the water level data for the past 3 years you’ll see that the lake is trending downward and has been for a while. If you look at the past 3 years in data you’ll see that the lake rose sharply in each of those years and as the lake levels rose my worm bite took off. More than likely the bass were foraging the new shoreline from the sharp rise in lake levels where as so far this year there is nothing new for the bass to forage. Crawfish holes are drying up and submerged rocks are now dry. That leaves less options for the bass so it’s back to scrounging food in other places, with worms and crawfish out of the picture it’s most notably where the bluebacks and shad are hanging out.
The above hypothesis is why I have decided to drag swimbaits around endlessly to get my bites as I just needed to make the adjustment from worm to tiny swimbait. Basically, for the past 2 weeks my goal was to locate fish and drag a small swimbait slowly on the bottom to mimic the food source they are looking for. Here’s what I know; every morning when the sun comes up the bluebacks leave the shallows of the backs of the pockets and other shallow places and they move out to deeper water. The bass live in the lake and do this for a living so they tend to congregate in areas like shallow to deep drop offs and across flats in an attempt to ambush the bluebacks as they return to deeper water when the sun rises and warms the surface. This is important to remember, I’ll capitalize it for you: BLUEBACKS LIKE AND CRAVE SUNLIGHT and spotted bass like and crave bluebacks. My biggest suggestion is to find an area, whether it’s the back of a creek or the back of a pocket in a creek, if there is bait present in shallow areas and you see sporadic fish scattered on the graph, back off to deeper water, say maybe 25-30 feet and cast a little swimbait rig up into the shallows, dragging it down the slope or ledge very slowly. This week, I found a school of hundreds of fish and all that the bass were doing was feeding on bluebacks as they made their escape from shallow to deeper water chasing the sun as it broke the tree line. The key is to work the bait slowly, stopping every once in a while to see if dead sticking the bait will trigger a bite. I know it’s like watching paint dry but the rewards can be good. Here’s a picture of my setup this week and the bait I used to catch over 70 bass.
If we have a cloudy day, which we have a lot of right now, the bluebacks tend to scatter more so another trend I’ve been tracking is the striped bass trend. Striped bass on Lanier are very elusive in the winter but at the same time they are more predictable. During this time of year the gulls and loons can give away the location of the stripers and one cloudy day this week I chased the birds with a small spoon and caught a few nice stripers for a friend and his family to eat. If you’d like to learn more about the striper technique I’m using right now check out my bog posts about loons and gulls last month.
Water temps are mainly in the upper 40’s right now and here’s a few random pictures from my week: