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5 Winter Bass-Fishing Destinations

5 Winter Bass-Fishing Destinations
Here is a list of hot fisheries during the colder months of the year.

Want a cure for cabin fever? Just want an excuse to leave the snow shovel at home?

Whatever your reasons, now’s a great time to tie into a trophy largemouth, as many fish are at their heaviest in late winter with the spawn still on the horizon. To help you plan your winter getaway, we put together this list of our five favorite trophy largemouth destinations for winter.

 

Jacob Wheeler and former Indianapolis Colts player Ellis Johnson found refuge from the cold weather with a few Florida giants.

Lake Toho – Florida

Where to stay: Kissimmee, Fla.

What to take: paddle-tail swimbaits, vibrating jigs, lipless crankbaits, flipping/punching gear, swim jigs, topwater

Good eats: The Catfish Place, St. Cloud, Fla. – Get excellent locally sourced seafood and sandwiches at angler-friendly prices.

Don’t miss: Lake Tohopekaliga – or Lake Toho, as it’s often referred to – is located in the greater Orlando area, which is one of the busiest vacation destinations in the world, especially if you’re bringing the kids. Whether you prefer Disney World, golf or relaxing by the pool, you will not find a better family-friendly fishing destination in the country.

The Fishing

Florida and winter bass fishing are synonymous. The combination of mild winters, healthy fisheries and great amenities makes anglers from across the country head to the Sunshine State each winter, and Lake Toho is often one of the prime destinations.

FLW Tour veteran and Florida stalwart JT Kenney says that there’s a reason so many anglers looking to get away from the cold head to Toho.

“Around here there are a lot of places that fish well in the winter, but Toho in particular is a great place because of all of its variety,” he says. “There are a lot of different things you can do there to catch bass even in tough conditions.”

Depending on the weather, the bass on Toho are well into their prespawn pattern by early January, and you’ll start to see some fish show up on beds by the end of the month as the water temperature moves up into the 70s.

“The best time to come is probably late January into February,” Kenney adds. “There will be fish in all three phases of the spawn then, so you have a lot of opportunities to catch both numbers and trophy-sized bass.”

Kenney’s standard approach to winter fishing in Florida starts with covering water with moving baits in the mornings and flipping heavy cover as the sun comes up, all the while looking for spawners.

“There can be really good schooling activity in the winter,” he adds. “I like a lipless crankbait or a topwater for that. Then as the sun comes up, I’ll flip and frog while looking for spawners. It can be an absolute whack-fest if you’re on the water when a wave of spawners comes up.”

 

Lake Chickamauga – Tennessee

Where to stay: Island Cove Marina and Resort, Harrison, Tenn.

What to take: lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, umbrella rigs, swimbaits

Good eats: Jacob Myers Restaurant on the River, Dayton, Tenn. – Refill on outstanding steaks and burgers with a view of the Tennessee River.

Don’t miss: Downtown Chattanooga is only a short 30-minute drive from the lake. The “Scenic City,” Chattanooga has a host of museums, a vibrant music scene and plenty of entertainment options to make it worth bringing the family.

The Fishing

There’s probably not a lake in the country that has seen more recent fame than Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga. Rumors of big fish coming from the Tennessee River impoundment started circulating on Internet forums about four years ago, and since then the lake has produced the BFL single-day weight record (40 pounds, 14 ounces) and a confirmed 49-pound stringer during the month of February, both caught by FLW angler and local guide Rogne Brown. Brown’s success as well as other anglers’ have quickly made Chickamauga a destination for anglers looking for some green gold this winter.

Forrest Wood Cup Champion Jacob Wheeler has friends in the area and has spent quite a bit of time on the lake in the last several seasons. Not coincidentally, he has caught some really big bass from “the Chick.”

“It’s unbelievable how healthy Chickamauga is right now,” Wheeler says. “There’s been good grass growth, and the shad population is doing really well. Both have contributed to the ridiculous fishing.”

That said, Wheeler describes the winter fishery on Chickamauga with the word “fickle.”

“It can get really cold, so depending on the weather, the lake can, at times, fish pretty poorly for numbers,” he explains. “However, the winter is absolutely the best time to hook up with a fish in the 7- to 10-pound class. A lot of days you might only get four or five bites, but I guarantee they will collectively weigh well over 20 pounds.”

The weather also dictates the presentation, and Wheeler has learned over the years that during winter on Chickamauga, it’s not wise to rule anything out.

“If it’s really cold, I’ve caught them on bluffs and points on a jerkbait or umbrella rig. There can also be a good lipless crankbait bite on the flats and creek mouths with grass,” he says. “I recommend fishing a lot of different stuff the first couple of days and then dialing it in. On Chickamauga in the winter, if you keep an open mind you’ll have a great chance at the fish of a lifetime.”

 

Clear Lake – California

Where to stay: Lakeport, Calif.

What to take: big jerkbaits, swimbaits, glide baits, umbrella rigs, vibrating jigs

Good eats: Happy Garden Restaurant and Bar, Clearlake Oaks – Enjoy good Chinese and Thai food with boat-friendly parking.

Don’t miss: Clear Lake is located in Lake County, which is in the heart of wine country. Although neighboring Napa and Sonoma counties get more publicity, the local wineries and vineyards are a must-visit for wine fanciers.

The Fishing

While Chickamauga is a relative newcomer to the list of big-bass producers, California’s Clear Lake has a pedigree in big-bass production that has stood the test of time.

Big bass, northern California’s unbelievable weather and beautiful vistas – what’s not to like?

Not much if you ask rising FLW star Mark Daniels Jr.

“Clear Lake is one of the most you-won’t-believe-it-til-you-see-it fisheries in the country, and winter is when you’ll want to see it,” says Daniels. “Every winter, the biggest stringers of the year are brought in by tournament anglers. It’s nothing to see stringers in the mid-30s, and if you’ve only got 20 pounds, you probably aren’t going to do very well.”

Daniels recommends targeting offshore structures like rock piles and deep grass lines with some combination of moving baits such as crankbaits, jerkbaits or glide baits.

“I prefer the southern end of the lake in the winter,” he adds. “Clear Lake bass like to get out on some of that rocky structure and feed on crawfish and hitch to prepare for the upcoming spawn. There’s a lot of that type of structure on the south end, and you can fish a lot of different areas in a day.”

Hitting docks and grass lines with a vibrating jig or swim jig can also be a successful pattern in the winter.

“If it’s been really warm and sunny for a few days, I like to target shallower cover like docks and grass lines in the creek mouths,” Daniels says. “The bass will move up and start feeding in those areas even in the winter, especially if you can get around some healthy grass.”

Lastly, Daniels emphasizes that no angler should leave Clear Lake without throwing a swimbait for at least part of a day.

“It’s one of the things the lake is known for, and catching a giant on a swimbait is a daily occurrence in the winter. Soft swimbaits like the Little Creeper All American Trash Fish and the Osprey Talon do a great job of generating strikes from Clear Lake giants.”

 

Lake Amistad – Texas

Where to stay: Amistad Lake Resort, Del Rio, Texas

What to take: jerkbaits, square-bills, football jigs, spoons

Good eats: Manuel’s Steakhouse, Del Rio, Texas – Manuel’s offers great steaks, seafood and service. It’s also very close to the lake.

Don’t miss: The Devils River feeds into Lake Amistad and offers an amazing rafting or kayaking experience, with fabulous fishing along the way. There is also the Amistad National Recreation Area, which offers ancient Native American pictographs and other archaeological treasures.

The Fishing

No list of the best winter largemouth destinations would be complete without at least one entry from the Lone Star State. Long have snowbirds flocked to Texas for the beautiful weather, wide-open spaces and giant largemouths.

Although there is an abundance of Texas lakes to plan a winter getaway around, Lake Amistad offers the best combination of extreme natural beauty, excellent amenities and, of course, amazing fishing.

A Rio Grande impoundment, Amistad is located three hours from San Angelo, Texas, home of FLW Tour angler Austin Terry. Terry has spent a lot of time on Amistad and burst onto the FLW scene in January 2013 by bringing in 59 pounds, 3 ounces over three days to win the Rayovac FLW Series event held on the lake.

“In the winter, the fish group up big time, and if the conditions are right you can absolutely whack them,” Terry says. “It’s also a time when the fish are at their heaviest, so you’ve got a better chance at hooking up with a trophy during the winter than any other time of the year.”

Classic winter bass locations such as bluff walls, channel swings with timber and any healthy grass are all places that Terry recommends anglers look for Amistad bass.

“There isn’t some secret way to fish Amistad in the winter. Just get out there and cover some water,” he says. “I like to throw cranks and jerkbaits around rocks and wood, as well as fish any remaining healthy grass.”

Don’t overlook the deeper structure, either, especially if it’s been cold.

“There can be a phenomenal football jig and spoon bite in the winter as well,” Terry adds. “Look for rocky points that taper into deep water and any humps or bars that have rock on them. Sometimes the fish will absolutely gang up on spots like that, and you can catch them one after another. Use your electronics to make sure the area has bass though before you fish.”

 

Lake of Egypt – Illinois

Where to stay: Marion, Ill.

What to take: jerkbaits, jigs, crankbaits, spinnerbaits

Good eats: Triple-‘E’ Bar-B-Q, Marion, Ill. – Feast on amazing barbecue in the heartland. The pork chop is highly recommended.

Don’t miss: Lake of Egypt is located in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest. This beautiful 280,000-acre paradise offers hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking and many other activities.

The Fishing

The downside to all the great destinations previously mentioned in this list is that they are either very far south or way out west. That’s quite a journey for Midwestern anglers.

Fortunately for them, there is Lake of Egypt. A 2,300-acre power plant cooling reservoir located in southern Illinois, Lake of Egypt offers anglers a great opportunity at a nice bag of largemouths while the rest of the Midwest is in winter lockdown.

FLW Tour angler Travis Loyd hails from nearby Kinmundy and spends as much time as he can each winter catching Lake of Egypt’s abundant largemouths.

“There’s nothing better than catching a 15- to 17-pound stringer of fish to warm you up on a cold winter morning,” Loyd says. “Lake of Egypt has a great population of bass, and the water stays warm enough all winter to keep them biting.”

To Loyd, the key to success on Lake of Egypt is to look for steam rolling from the stacks at the generator as you approach the lake.

“If there’s steam coming out of the stacks, it means they’re generating and the fishing should be really good,” he explains. “I concentrate on the warm arm in the winter and fish the lake just like it’s early spring. Jerkbaits, jigs, cranks and spinnerbaits all work well on classic prespawn cover.”

Later in the day if it’s sunny, bass will often school up to chase bait and can be caught with a swimbait, lipless crankbait or even a topwater.

“It’s definitely something to catch schooling fish in January on an Illinois lake, but I’ve seen it on Lake of Egypt,” Loyd adds.

With decent weather, winter trips to Lake of Egypt frequently result in 20-bass days with the best five pushing into the high teens.

“We Midwesterners don’t have the benefit of living near excellent largemouth fishing in the winter,” Loyd says. “Lake of Egypt is an exception to that rule, and it’s worth the drive to chase away that awful cabin fever.”

Tags: tj-maglio  article 

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