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Fishing Reports

Fishing Report For January 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

This report is from the Bassing Bob monthly meeting with Bassing Bob’s experts and a few guests. With us this month are Bassing Bob experts Jack Uxa of Jack’s Guide Service and Wayne Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitz Fishing Tackle & Supplies. James Dill, owner of Crock-O-Gator Bait Company, Bassing Bob’s third expert, was not able to attend the meeting this month. However, we were lucky that several guests were able to join us this month to give their unique perspectives on bass fishing Lake of the Ozarks.

This report is from the Bassing Bob monthly meeting with Bassing Bob’s experts and a few guests. With us this month were Bassing Bob experts Jack Uxa of Jack’s Guide Service and Wayne Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitz Fishing Tackle & Supplies. James Dill, owner of Crock-O-Gator Bait Company, Bassing Bob’s third expert, was not able to attend the meeting this month. However, we were lucky that several guests were able to join us this month to give their unique perspectives on bass fishing Lake of the Ozarks.

Joining us as guest contributors this month: Roger Fitzpatrick who is considered one of the best bass fishermen at Lake of the Ozarks and in the Midwest; Ben Verhoef, president of the University of Missouri Bass Fishing Club and successful tournament fisherman; and Chase Fitzpatrick, representing the bass fishing youth movement. Chase and his dad Roger finished 3rd fishing the October 2013 Alhonna Fall Tournament together.

This report can be viewed as an audio report on the Bassing Bob video page. There are 5 videos for this report. Look under the “Videos” tab for the videos titled “January Expert Bass Fishing Meeting at Lake of the Ozarks, Part 1 of 5, Part 2 of 5, Part 3 of 5, Part 4 of 5, and Part 5 of 5.

The input and advice offered by these experts and guests is based on many years of bass fishing experience at Lake of the Ozarks. In this report, they share their thoughts on what fishing has been like in the month of December and what to expect in the month of January.

Jack began the discussion, saying it has been a little cooler than it usually is in December, and the water temperature is just a little colder too. The water level has also been higher than usual for December. Jerkbait has been Jack’s primary bait, but the jig has played a role too, as has the Alabama rig. The reason the jig has played a bigger role for Jack in December is because it’s been fairly sunny on the days when he’s been out. To fish a jerkbait successfully, Jack says it should really be at least a little windy, and cloudy.

The water temperature at the end of December is already in the low 40s; usually it’s closer to 45 degrees as December moves into January. Ameren will start the drawdown after the first of the year, and Jack is looking forward to that because it will consolidate the fish in creek channel banks and secondary points. The bass are there already, but will move into these locations in even greater concentrations once the drawdown begins.

Bob asked Roger, who is known for his skills jig fishing, if he’s been using the jig a lot in December. Roger says he’s actually been focusing more on jerkbait as his go-to bait, and the Alabama rig has also been playing a bigger role. Roger says he prefers to fish on really windy days, and wind and cloud cover matter a great deal when fishing the jerkbait. On days with bluebird skies, Roger will pull out the jig. He too is looking forward to the drawdown which will bunch the bass up in certain locations.

Roger said it’s important at this time of the year to find the baitfish. With the water level as high as it’s been, he says the fish are still in the backs of cove, but as they start to draw down the lake, the bass will start to pull out. Right now, Roger says the average fisherman can just go down the channel banks and throw their bait at the rocks and they’ll catch some fish. He just recently saw big gizzard shad actually on the rocks swimming down the banks like they do in October. With those shad there, you know the bass still aren’t very deep.

Bob asked Chase if he likes fishing with a jerkbait. Chase says he prefers the jig because it’s heavier and easier to cast. Bob asked him if he had any recommendations for other kids who want to learn about fishing. Chase said having a pond next to his house to practice in has been very helpful because it gave him a lot of opportunities to practice. He says the most important thing is time spent practicing because the more you fish, the better you get.

Ben also likes to fish with jerkbait at this time of year. He doesn’t like to throw the Alabama rig as much but he acknowledges that it sure catches some big fish. Ben says that right now the fish are scattered but once drawdown commences, anglers should target isolated boulders and transitions at the first point out from the shallow areas. Transitions are places where something about the structure changes, like where pea gravel transitions to big boulders to ledges. Most of the time these transitions mean the water depth has changed too. Ditches are also good places to target. These are places where there would be a creek if the lake wasn’t here. To figure out the places under the water where there are ditches to fish, anglers should look up on the bank for the places in the terrain where runoff collects to drain into the lake.

Brushpiles also play a role; just about any kind of structure holds bass when they draw down the lake. The bass just congregate around those places so you need to target those areas.

Roger shared a tip he got from a fellow angler years ago that helped him learn to locate bass in the winter using stickbait. He said to choose a cove and pull into it, but don’t pick a giant cove. Drop your trolling motor at the point and spend the whole day practicing, staying at least a cast off the bank. Don’t pull the trolling motor up until you’ve fished the whole cove. If you don’t get done with the whole cove before it’s time to quit fishing for the day, start at the same spot the next day and fish until you’ve finished the entire cove, going all the way back to where it gets 3 – 5 feet deep. In that cove you’ll find 3-5 spots that always will hold fish when it’s cold and the water’s low. Before electronics, that’s how anglers had to work to find the fish by trial and error, fishing really slow with stickbait, and keeping track of where those spots are for future reference.

Wayne talked about how much water temperature dictates how fast you actually fish. He says that when the water’s really cold, he might still work his first cast really fast, but if that doesn’t work, he’ll slow it down and try letting it sit. When the water temperature is above 45 degrees, you can still move pretty quickly, but below 40 degrees, you need to really start to slow things down.

Shade can help compensate for lack of wind on sunny days when the water’s flat. Even the shade just off docks will give you a better chance of catching fish than a sunny bank with no wind. Jack says throwing an Alabama rig off docks can work, focusing on fishing along the sides or at the front of the dock on the deep end. When the water’s in the mid-40s, docks still play a role worth noting, but once it gets below 40 degrees, not as much.

Roger said that sometimes later in the day when the sun is heating things up along the bank, he’ll switch from a stickbait to a jig and throw it on the back corners of docks because sometimes under these circumstances the bass will be laying up under the shallow corners, maybe under the jetski hoists.

Wayne added that if he knows there’s a good brushpile under the dock, he will probably still have some success catching a bass throwing a stickbait there, almost touching the brushpile. Wayne reminds anglers of one of his favorite sayings: Once a good dock, always a good dock.

Bob asked Jack what he focuses on when he has guests on his boat, how he teaches them to find the fish and what he’s looking for to get his guests catching fish. Jack says he looks for wind as the first part of the equation, then baitfish, then trying to figure out the specifics of where the bass are holding.

Ben said color of bait isn’t as important as how the bait is weighted, the rate of fall and the action. You don’t want bait to sink quickly or to float, you want it to suspend just right, and to sink ever-so-slowly. The bass will watch it as it sinks and if they like what they see, come up to get it.

Jack talked about water temperature as it relates to fishing different areas of the lake to give anglers an idea of how much variance there is from place to place. Jack was fishing the Glaize at Party Cove a few days ago and the water temperature was about 40 degrees, but around the toll bridge area the water temps were up to 43/44 degrees. Wayne was fishing the Big and Little Niangua about 5 days ago and there was ice on water with the temperature at 37 degrees. A few degrees can make a lot of difference in how active the bass are.

The Niangua always freezes over more quickly than other parts of the lake because it’s shallower. Jack cautions people not to drive their boats through the ice if they have to crack through it because doing this can really scratch up a boat.

The discussion moved on to color choices. Jack gave a few of his general rules of thumb. On overcast days, he suggested lures with a black back, silver sides and orange belly. When it’s cloudy, you can get funky with colors and go with reds, pinks and purples.

On sunny days, you want something with some flash and/or with a blue back. Translucents also work well on bright days without cloud cover.

Jack talked about what a uniquely useful color Aurora Black is because it’s got flash, but it’s also got a dark back, which makes it work well in a variety of conditions.

Bob mentioned that as the water has gotten colder, he’s actually had more luck with one of the smaller Aurora Black-colored lures he has than one of the bigger ones. Chase commented that he’s caught some big bass throwing a crappie jig on the banks in the past (in the spring). Jack suggested it might have something to do with the size of the shad that are dying off at that point in time. He says shad of a certain size tend to die at the same time, and if it happens to be the smaller sized-shad that are dying when you’re out fishing, it might be that the smaller lures may be what the bass will go for.

The discussion moved on to weighting a jerkbait. Bob asked if there is a time when you don’t want the bait falling at all and only want it to suspend. Roger led this discussion giving his specific strategy. He will have 3 stickbait rods set up, all with the same line size (10 lb P-Line fluorocarbon). One rod will have a jerkbait that’s perfectly buoyant and neutral, with no sink, which he’ll use most of the time to fish the banks. He’ll have another one that will rise slightly which he’ll use to fish the shallower brushpiles; he’ll pull this one down to right where he can feel the pile, then ease up and let it float up over the limbs. The last one will sink very slowly; this is probably the one that works the best catching numbers of big bass in schools.

Chase described how he and his dad Roger would weight the jerkbait to get it to sink certain ways. They would use the bathroom sink and fill it up with water. They’d put one of the dots [SuspenDots – also available as SuspenStrips] and stick them on the jerkbait, then push the lure down in the water about halfway to see what happens. If it was sinking too fast, they’d pull off the dot and cut some of it off and try again. If it was rising too fast, they’d add some more weight and try again. They’d continue doing this until they would customize their jerkbaits to have the action they wanted it to have.

Wayne prefers to use lead wire to weight his jerkbait because he feels he can fine tune it better for his needs. He’ll cut off about a 3” piece and wrap it around the front hook 4 or 5 times. He’ll put 10 lb test fluorocarbon on and use the minnow sink in his shop to see how it’s working and to adjust the weight. He wants the lure to sink with the extra lead on it. He’ll keep trimming the wire until it’s either just buoyant or it falls very slowly when he pulls it down. Wayne likes to use lead wire instead of the dots because he finds it’s easier to customize, plus the wire doesn’t fall off like the dots sometimes do. If they fall off while you’re on the water, they can be tricky to reapply because the lure is wet and your fingers may be very cold. You definitely need to make sure your weights are applied and adjusted the way you like before you get out on the water.

Roger reminds anglers that it’s important to check their bait periodically throughout the day because it may have been damaged at some point, and it may not be obvious that it was damaged. Check the bill to make sure it hasn’t broken off, and check the hooks too because these may get bent or break off.

Jack asked the group if they replace the hooks on their lures before they go out to fish tournaments. Roger says he will replace his hooks regularly. He prefers to use the KVD short shank triple grip treble hooks as his replacement hooks.

Bob talked about his difficulties in changing out hooks and getting them attached right. He says Wayne introduced him to a smaller, thinner set of pliers that have helped him do close-in work much more easily than when he was using bigger pliers (See video 3 of 5 at 4:54 for visual of these small pliers.)

There was a brief discussion about a couple of techniques they use to store an Alabama rig; Bob & Jack talked about how they use a split ring to hold the arms together, and Roger suggested a zip tie to do the same (see Video 3 of 5 at the 5:45 for visual demonstration of this idea.)

Bob discussed the spinners he uses for the dummy baits on his Alabama rig. In particular, Bob likes the Hildebrandt Willow Blades he finds at Wayne’s shop.

Next up for discussion was jerkbait brands. Jack said Smithwick Rogues have a lot of flash to them, are durable, and work well with a spinning rod. They’re not as good for use with baitcasters because they’re too light but you can add weight to them to make them better for use with a baitcaster. Jack says his “workhouse” jerkbait is an RC Stick; they do everything he asks out of them and they’re affordable.

Wayne says for a tournament, he’ll use Megabass jerkbait. He’s had a lot of success with this jerkbait brand so it’s what gives him confidence. Roger also throws Megabass because it’s his confidence bait too. If he had to pick one color year round in all conditions, he’d go with the Megabass ITO Natural. Castability is what’s most important to him, especially because he’s often fishing in the wind and a Megabass launches very nicely. He says Smithwick Rogues are outstanding too.

Wayne tinkers with his lures quite a bit. He likes to replace the front hook with a red hook because he thinks it helps a bass zone in on his lures. Chase likes to use lures with a red hook too; it gives him confidence in his lure.

Bob asked about fishing different areas of the lake in the winter. Almost all tournament fishermen will stay in the lower lake. Wayne said if you take the Alabama rig out of the equation, you can compete about anyplace on this lake with a stickbait. However, if the tournament regulations allow fishing with an Alabama rig and anglers are fishing from Hurricane Deck on up to the Gravois, you probably won’t be able to compete with a stickbait in those same areas.

Ben prefers to fish the area around the mouth of the Gravois during tournaments in the winter because of the clear water. Jack said that a jerkbait is good to use if the water is clear, mostly clear or lightly stained, but anything stained or heavily stained isn’t jerkbait water; that’s where you’ll throw your jigs.

Roger will fish mostly between the Lodge and the dam in the winter up through March most of the time. It’s usually a little bit warmer in this part of the lake, but Roger says he doesn’t really even look at the water temperature because he has gotten fooled by using the water temperature as a guide. Water temperature is a huge factor, but once it gets really cold (around 39 degrees and below), he stops taking note of it.

The next topic up for discussion was the Alabama rig. Cloudy, nasty, windy days are best for using the A-rig, but even in sunny conditions, it’ll work. Jack says the most important thing for using an A-rig is the wind, but shade can also play a role. Bob pulled out one of his A-rigs to show one of the swimbait heads he gets from Fitz’s shop which has a little keeper on it to keep the bait from sliding down. It also has a brush guard on it; Bob says he’s caught some big fish above brushpiles so the brush guards can really keep you from getting hung up (see Video 3 of 5 at around 21:30 for a look at this set up.)

The group discussed the kinds of swimbaits they use on an Alabama rig, and agreed there are many made that work well. Some of the specific brands and styles mentioned were Keitech, Zoom Swimmin Flukes (junior and regular), Mann’s, Gene LaRew, and Berkley 4-inch Hollow Belly swimbait.

As far as the harness for an A-rig, when you’re learning, you may want to go with a less-expensive type because they can get hung up in brushpiles so easily. Jack suggested Berkley’s offering because it works fine and it’s not so expensive. Also, really need to fine tune what you throw it on because you need a pretty heavy rod and line. Wayne says 65 lb braid line is what he sees most people using to fish the Alabama rig, mainly because if you do get it hung up, you can pull it out most of the time without breaking the line, making it possible for you to get this expensive lure back. Companies are starting to make several different kinds of braids now; PowerPro makes one called Super Slick and it seems to cast better, comes off the reel more smoothly and doesn’t make as much noise as regular braid does. Wayne says he still would rather throw the Alabama rig on 25-lb mono than braid; Jack says he still prefers the 25-lb mono or fluoro too because with the braided line, he’ll makes a cast and it’ll seem to die mid-air. Roger says mono or fluoro are also much better than braid in temperatures below freezing.

Bob asked everyone to describe the line and equipment they prefer when throwing jerkbait. Wayne & Roger both prefer 10 lb fluorocarbon P-Line. Jack uses a 6’6” medium-action rod that has some flex to it, 8-10 lb test fluorocarbon; he prefers 8 lb test over 10 lb test. Anytime he has a big fish on the line, he’ll baby the fish when reeling it in to keep the line from breaking off.

Wayne says if you’re using lighter line, he suggests that after you catch a fish, even if it’s just a small one, check the line by holding onto the lure and giving the line a snap to see if the line breaks. He says a lot of the time, the fish you caught will have damaged the line enough to weaken it, so before you cast again, test it. If it breaks, just retie the lure and you’re ready to go.

Jig fishing in the winter – Bob says he’s been catching more quality fish on a jig in the last three weeks than on a jerkbait. What is it about the Crock-O-Gator jigs and Ring Craws that produce so many big bass on this lake? Jack talked about how many rocks this lake has, and therefore a lot of crayfish. Jigs are great when you want to go slow and you want to fish rocks. Jack showed a good wintertime jig (see Video 4 of 5 at 13:15) to run along the bottom.

Bob asked the experts and guests if they could only take one bait with them, what would it be, and what would they leave at home?

Jack:  Leave the buzzbait, topwaters, and deep crankbaits at home. At this time of year, he’ll be throwing either a jerkbait, a jig or an Alabama rig though he admits he doesn’t throw the Alabama rig as much as he needs to in order to use it to its maximum effectiveness.

Roger:  Taking the Alabama rig out of the equation, he prefers a stickbait or a jig. He says he’s not a big fan of the Alabama rig but he can’t ignore it because it’s so effective. He’d leave the big 1-oz jig, topwaters, and DD22-type baits at home. Roger says a spinnerbait can be a factor all winter long if the water gets some color, but not as long as the water stays clear.

Ben:  For his baits to take, he’d go with Megabass Vision 110 and the Megabass Ito Shiner in the Pro Blue color. He’d leave the buzzbait at home and any topwater. He’d also take the Alabama rig out with him.

Wayne: He’d take a Megabass Vision 110 and the Ito Shiner. His second bait would be a jig or a beaver-style bait. He normally has two stickbait rods and one jig rod. If he’s thrown the stickbait in the brushpile and didn’t get a bite, he’ll try the brushpile with a jig. He’d leave the big worms, big jigs, and Carolina rigs at home. 

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