UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Chilly smallmouths

Smallmouth bass fishing in cold water

Throughout the Southern Smallmouth Belt, the chilled waters of late fall and early winter can bring the promise of a trophy bronzeback bite.

Wal-Mart FLW Tour Pro Bill Chapman of Salt Rock, W.Va., is a smallmouth addict, with his passion for brown bass continuing well past the tournament season. His largest smallmouth - more than 7 pounds - came from Dale Hollow Lake during winter drawdown.

Wal-Mart FLW Series pro Jimmy Mason also turns to smallmouths when the tournament season comes to an end. The Alabama angler's personal best of 7 1/2 pounds came from Pickwick Lake during the coldwater period.

Perfect smallmouth scenario

Chapman, who primarily fishes highland reservoirs for smallies, acknowledged it is a different ball game, in terms of location and presentation, during the coldwater period than in summer.

"First off, on the flood-control reservoirs of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and eastern Tennessee, the drawdown is generally severe - anywhere from 30 to 70 feet," Chapman said. "The locations you were fishing in the spring and summer are high and dry. The winter drawdown concentrates baitfish and smallmouths in the deeper sections of the lake, which is basically the lower third of the impoundment. This time of year, if I venture up a creek arm, it's only a short distance."

During the initial stage of the coldwater period, Chapman focuses his efforts on steep (but not vertical) banks with a bottom mixture of gravel and clay. Once water temperatures drop into the upper 40s, he moves to more vertical rock banks that include ledges and bluff walls.

"Ideally, I like to find a combination bank - a tapered gravel slope out to the 15- or 20-foot depth range - that changes into a rocky bluff or shale ledge wall that falls into much deeper water," Chapman explained.

"I also fish the Ohio River for smallmouths in the winter," Chapman continued. "Surprisingly, you can catch some respectable smallies from the Ohio, particularly in the Parkersburg pool. Granted, a 5-pounder is a big fish for the river, but I get a lot of 3- and 4-pounders."

Chapman said finding smallmouths in the river is easier than searching for them in a reservoir.

"Most of the decent smallmouths will be stacked up on hard spots in eddy holes at the mouths of the tributary creeks," he said. "The bait and bass are looking to get out of the stronger river current, so it's to creek mouths they go. The problem is this: You have to go through a lot of saugers to catch the smallmouths. Then again, catching saugers all day long isn't so bad!"

Take a buddy fishing

Chapman relies on two lures for the coldwater period in both reservoirs and rivers. His first pick is an old Kentucky lure with a national reputation - the Silver Buddy. His second pick also has a long tradition - a hair jig.

"The Silver Buddy is my No. 1 cold-water smallmouth bait, hands down," Chapman said. "It does not look like much, but a guy can really catch fish on it when the water temperature is below 50 degrees.

"One day, a friend and I caught 50 smallmouths over 4 pounds on the Buddy - in 42-degree water! The coldest water temp that I've taken smallmouths on the Buddy was 34 degrees. But many people who try the Silver Buddy do not catch bass with it because they overwork it."

The Sliver Buddy is a thin, teardrop-shaped, metal fin with a dab of lead molded to the bottom edge and a line-tie on the top edge. When pulled through the water, it vibrates like crazy. It is available in 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-ounce sizes with several different finishes.

Chapman employs the 1/2-ounce model 90 percent of the time, and always chooses the original, plain metal, silver finish. He ties a plain, round-bend, cross-lock snap to his line; then he attaches the Buddy to the snap. "That's it - one snap, not a snap-swivel or other extra hardware to foul it up," he stressed.

Chapman chooses a 6 1/2- or 7-foot medium-heavy casting rod with 10-pound line for blade fishing.

"The shallowest I fish the Silver Buddy is 10 feet, "Chapman said. "How deep I fish it depends on the structure. I've caught smallies with it down to 40 feet; but most of the time fishing below 30 feet in the wintertime for smallmouths is not productive."

Now for the retrieve technique: With his boat positioned over deep water, Chapman throws the Buddy toward the bank into 10 or 15 feet of water. Once the lure settles to the bottom, he takes up slack and uses his rod tip to lift the Buddy off the bottom. He raises the lure only until he feels it begin to vibrate. He pauses momentarily and then begins to lower the rod tip at the same speed the Buddy is sinking. When it touches bottom, he lifts the rod tip again.

"It's that simple: just pick it up and set it back down," Chapman explained. "You do not want to snap the lure or raise it too far off the bottom, and never drop the rod tip too quickly; otherwise line will loop around the hooks."

An 1/8-ounce white, hand-tied bucktail jig perfectly imitates a minnow in cold water.If the blade isn't producing, Chapman turns to a 1/8-ounce white bucktail jig, especially when fishing the river. He ties his own on hand-poured jigheads with a 2/0 hook. For delivering jigs, he relies on a 6 1/2-foot, medium-heavy, fast-tip spinning rod with 6- or 8-pound-test line.

"Nothing looks more like a minnow than the slow undulation of long hair on a bucktail jig," Chapman said. "Throw the jig into 12 or 15 feet of water and work it down to 25 or 30 feet. Use the rod tip to lift it just off the bottom and let it swim back down."

A river runs through them

Although the Tennessee River impoundments never freeze, Jimmy Mason said water temperature will drop into the 40s. He added that Pickwick Lake and Wilson Lake fish entirely different from one another in the coldwater period.

"On the upper part of Pickwick, when the water temperature hits the mid-50s, smallmouth bass begin pulling out to the hard bottom flats off the river channel," Mason said. "In this offshore section, there are lots of old, submerged diversion rock walls built prior to the damming of the lake. The key sites are voids and breaks in the walls, especially where tributary creeks intersect the main river channel. I'm looking for about 30 feet in the channel with 12 to 18 feet on the rock structures.

FLW Series pro Jimmy Mason"On the other hand, Wilson is more of a deep bowl with little offshore structure in the productive fish zone," Mason continued. "During the coldwater period on this lake, smallmouths relate to shoreline bluffs and steep, rocky banks. The best situation is a rockslide or stair-step shelves that form little points along a bluff-like wall."

Mason stressed the role that current plays for positioning smallies on both impoundments at this time of year: "No current movement, no fish activity," he advised. "There is a difference between summer and winter fish location on a current break. In summer, smallies will be on the upside of the break. During winter, bass are going to be on the downside of the break, positioned on the edge of the flow just inside the slack-water area."

Like Chapman, Mason limits his lure selection in cold water.

"If I had to pick one lure for Pickwick, it would be a 3 1/2-inch Yum Mega Tube in either green pumpkin or wounded pumpkin with a chartreuse and red tail," Mason said. "Although slow-rolling a spinnerbait is Yum Mega Tubea close second, I catch more big bass on a tube in cold water than anything else."

Mason rigs the tube with an insider jighead. The soft-plastic body enables the tube bait to come through chunk rock with fewer hang-ups than a regular jighead. His insider jighead will range from 3/16- to 5/16-ounce, depending on the current flow.

"When fishing Pickwick's main river channel, I like to anchor so I can carefully work my casts back with the current to the boat," Mason said. "I let the current carry my tube over the rock piles and broken rock rows."

However, on Wilson, Mason's No. 1 bait is a 5/16-ounce Baby Boo Bug Jig with a 2 1/2-inch Yum Craw 5/16-ounce Baby Boo Bug Jig with a 2 1/2-inch Yum Craw Papi trailerPapi trailer. He hugs a steep shoreline that has current moving along it and looks specifically for irregularities that serve as current breaks. His casts are angled almost parallel to the structure. Letting the jig fall directly into about 15 feet of water, Mason then works the bait down stair-step ledges with small hops.

For both tubes and Baby Boo Bug Jigs, Mason uses a 6 1/2-foot, medium-heavy spinning rod with a reel spooled with 6- or 8-pound fluorocarbon line.

Don't forget the backup

While Chapman backs up his Silver Buddy with a white hair jig, Mason also carries backup baits for both Pickwick and Wilson.

On Pickwick, he modifies a 1-ounce spinnerbait for bottom-hugging and slow-rolling by downsizing the blades to a No. 4 1/2 Willow and a No. 3 Colorado. For a trailer, he adds a 4-inch Yum Forktail Dinger in pearl silver.

"To provide a better shad profile, I rig the Forktail perpendicular, rather than horizontal," Mason noted.

"On Wilson, there is a jerkbait bite that sometimes occurs around metal pole docks following several sunny days in the middle of winter," Mason said. "The metal poles heat rapidly and apparently warm the water, drawing bait and smallmouths up around the docks. I throw a suspending jerkbait in either pearl shad or clown. It is an awesome pattern, but the key is to find metal pole docks on the bluff slides - the banks where the smallmouths are already holding deeper."


Fishing the right spot for the coldwater smallmouth bite can require sonar.See what I found
While some fishermen may believe they can identify a good springtime smallmouth bank by looking at the shoreline, Chapman said finding the right spot for the coldwater period requires sonar. Not only are some of the best bluffs completely underwater some distance off the bank, but changes in bottom composition can be critical to finding fish as well.

"On my lakes at this time of year, smallmouth bass are lying in cracks and crevices among the rocks making it impossible to see them with a depth finder," Chapman said. "I simply identify areas to fish with sonar, not look for fish. I use my Lowrance X125 to read bottom contours and to tell the difference in composition - identifying rock and gravel from clay. In the case of rivers, I'm looking for hard-bottom, shell-bed readings."

Mason, of course, uses his depth finder to locate the underwater points and ledges along the steep banks on Wilson. However, on Pickwick the Lowrance LCX-26HD Sonar/GPS is particularly invaluable for offshore fishing.

"The unit comes preloaded with Hot Spots Elite maps that help me locate potential fish-holding locations such as creek-channel intersections, rock piles and rock rows," Mason said. "In addition, the color-line feature really shows the difference between gravel and chunk rock. With the GPS, I use different icons to mark my boat position and location of the structure; when I move to a new fishing location, the icons enable me to setup my anchor without disturbing the fish-holding site."

Tags: darl-black  tips-and-techniques 

/tips/2016-07-28-flw-podcast-128-mark-rose

FLW Podcast 128 - Mark Rose

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-23-1000-islands-day-3-midday-update

1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-22-1000-islands-midday-update-day-2

1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-19-flw-podcast-126-icast

FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-14-2017-walmart-flw-tour-schedule

2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-12-si-se-puede-yes-we-can

Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-5-rookie-lessons-learned

5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-flw-podcast-125-scott-martin

FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-review-lew-s-custom-speed-stick-lite

Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-reunited-and-it-feels-so-good

Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-2016-icast-preview

2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-07-flw-canada-kicks-off-at-tri-lakes

FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-tour-pro-cooksey-recovering-after-accident

FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-podcast-124-jeremy-lawyer

FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-29-stetson-blaylock-s-recipe-for-a-wacky-rig

Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-28-morgan-claims-third-flw-tour-angler-of-the-year-title

Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-24-three-things-by-dd-kentucky-lake

Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-23-how-to-catch-smallmouths-with-hair-jigs

How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-22-two-exciting-events-to-look-forward-to

Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-21-tagging-along-with-sprague-in-kentucky

Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »