Bass tend to hold tight to cover throughout much of the year, but when the water temperature drops into the low 50s, they abandon sunken brush, rocks and docks and roam open water in search of bait.
“Find schools of shad,” said Lake Anna, Virginia guide Chris McCotter, “and there’s a good chance largemouths will be near.” When he finds them, he’ll drop a spoon, little more than a flat piece of chrome with a single treble hook, down to those fish.
“I rely on my Lowrance X-65 color unit to look for schools of shad this time of year,” said McCotter. “Instead of tight clusters of bait, I want to see broken schools. That means the bass are busting them up and actively feeding on them.”
McCotter likes the intersection of two channels—either two creek channels or a creek channel and the main river channel—and if he can find a large flat 25 to 35 feet deep near that intersection, he’s confident bass will be close. Bait tends to stay on those flats and where the bait goes, so do the bass.
Can’t find bait? Look for gulls. Just a few birds scattered around the mouth of a creek is a good sign. So is a cluster of gulls circling over a small area. However, he doesn’t get excited about a large group of gulls sitting on the water. More than likely, he explains, those birds are simply resting, waiting for shad to come close to the surface.
Once he finds that bait, McCotter will either cast beyond the schools of shad and allow his lure to fall toward the bottom, or he’ll offer a vertical presentation and work his bait directly under the boat.
“If I’m vertical jigging with a spoon, I’ll just lower it to the bottom and bring it up just above the fish. Bass usually won’t go down to take a bait, but they will come up, as long as the lure isn’t too far above them. That’s where a good depth finder comes into the equation,” said McCotter. He added that it’s real important to let the bait fall with some tension on the line. Bass tend to hit it on the fall, and if you have slack as the bait drops, you’ll miss a lot of bites, especially when the fish aren’t real aggressive. You’ll also get tangled more if the spoon free-falls on a slack line.
“If you find what you think are bass on your depth finder but you can’t get them to bite, go find another area and then come back. Or if you stop catching fish, come back to that spot an hour or two later. I’ve done that many times and continued catching bass from an area that gave up fish earlier in the day,” noted McCotter. “Put a spoon in front of a bass this time of year, and sooner or later, he’s going to eat it.”
In colder water, anything below 50 degrees, McCotter said it’s critical to give the bait just a little bit of action. He simply raises and lowers his rod tip six or eight inches. In water above 50 degrees, he’ll put a little more action into his lure, lifting it up a foot or two and then allowing it to fall on a controlled slack drop.
“The biggest mistake I see my clients make is they jerk the rod tip up and just let the lure free-fall. You don’t need to rip it straight up. Just a nice easy tip-up motion and then a slow lowering of your rod tip will be all you need to do. You’ll feel more bites, too,” he said. “Striped bass seem to prefer a faster, more erratic action, so if you aren’t catching any bass, and there are stripers in the lake, try a more aggressive action. You may be looking at stripers on your depth finder.”
When he’s using a spoon, McCotter typically uses a ¾- or 1-ounce model, depending on the depth of the fish. Deeper fish require a heavier lure, if for no other reason than to get the bait down to the bass quicker.