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Suspending Jerkbait-King Of Wintertime Fishing At Lake Of The Ozarks

It is a bitter cold winter morning on the water. You are shivering from a long run as you walk up to put the trolling motor down. You make a perfect cast over a brushpile along the side of a dock.  In fact, it is so cold that you have to take a few moments to pick the ice out of the line guide on your reel. 

The strong wind is whipping right into your face as you contemplate moving to Florida. Alligators and blazing heat can’t be that bad right? . You begin to raise your rod tip again to make another jerk when the train hits. Your line jumps a foot as your rod loads up. It’s a toad! You get it halfway to the boat when you see it near the surface in the clear water. You slowly inch it closer and closer to the net, heart beating faster and faster as it shakes a head full of trebles. You have forgotten about Florida by now. Shoot, you could be in flip-flops and wouldn’t care at this point. You get it in the net and you realize it’s a true beast. “She’s pushing seven,” your partner says as he puts it in the live well. You quickly make another cast to the same spot and instantly hook up on a solid four-pounder. “Better slap a cull ball on that one,” you say to your partner as you start to take your gloves off. Man, do I love this time of year.

When it comes to wintertime fishing here in the Ozark Mountains, the suspending jerkbait reigns as king. There’s just something about its erratic dart-and-suspend action that drives lethargic winter fish crazy. I wanted to know a little more about these baits, so I interviewed Wayne Fitzpatrick, who is the owner of Fitz Fishing Tackle & Supplies in Osage Beach. The winter/spring jerkbait season can be broken up into three categories: early winter (December), winter (January-mid February), and early spring/pre-spawn (late February-March).

I asked Wayne how he would approach jerkbait fishing in December, and he emphasized that December is a time of Ten pounder caught by Wayne Fitzpatrick on a jerkbaittransition. You really have to pay attention to the water level this time of year. They usually start to draw the lake down to winter pool this month and that has a big effect on the position of the fish. If the lake is still at full pool that means that the fish will still be spread out and more difficult to locate.

Whenever you notice the lake level getting low and the water temps dipping into the upper 40s, that’s when Wayne will be tying on a jerkbait. The lowering of the water will suck the fish out of shallow areas, and onto 45-degree transition banks where they will winter.

When the water temps are between 45-49 degrees, Wayne likes to throw a larger bait, so he will go with a Megabass Ito Shiner or a Lucky Craft Pointer 128. On windy days he will throw the bait super shallow on large busted up rock, and will slowly pull the bait down with his rod tip. If the water is clear, Wayne likes to run away from the crowds on the lower lake and concentrates on the mid lake area around Hurricane Deck and the Niangua arms. If we don’t get a lot of rain, that portion of the lake will remain clear, and the fish don’t get as much pressure there as they do on the lower part of the lake.

As December turns into January the lake usually starts to dip into the lower 40s. This is prime time to throw a jerkbait. When water temps dip below 45 degrees, Wayne keys on points and brushpiles with his favorite bait, the Megabass Vision 110. Since the 110 was introduced, it has developed a legendary reputation on the Lake of the Ozarks. The 110 has a weight transfer system that allows the bait to cast like a dream, and a one-of-a-kind dart-and-suspend action that big fish can’t resist. He throws this bait on 8-10 lb fluorocarbon line.

As far as colors go, Wayne likes to look at the conditions. In clear water Wayne likes to throw ITO Natural, Pro Blue, Ito Wakasagi, and Elegy Bone. In stained water French Pearl or French Pearl OB are hard to beat.

The Vision 110 is not the only jerkbait that Wayne likes to throw in the winter. He will also use Spro, Lucky Craft, RC Sticks, and Smithwick Rogues. They all work well, but have different action, so he will experiment and let the fish decide which one they like the best.

With the colder water temps it is important not to overwork the jerkbait. Wayne likes to use a jerk-jerk-pause cadence, with the pause being the most important part. Wayne will count anywhere from eight to twenty seconds in between jerks. In cold water, feeding is very visual for the fish, and they really want an easy meal. The fish can see the bait from a ways away, and sometimes want the bait to be sitting in front of their face for a long time before they decide to bite it.

 If water temps get super cold into the mid thirties, Wayne will downsize his jerkbait to a Lucky Craft 80. The fish seem to be more willing to eat the smaller bait in super cold water.

Wayne makes several modifications to his jerkbaits this time of year. He likes to replace the front treble hook with a red Gamakatsu Triple Grip hook. This red hook gives the fish something to hone in on when they swipe at it. Wayne also emphasizes the importance of weighting the jerkbait so it suspends correctly. Wayne does this by wrapping lead wire around the front treble hook and trims the wire until it just barely sinks or suspends perfectly. It is important to check your bait often to see if it is suspending right because the bait will suspend differently as water temps change.

As water temps start to warm up in late February and March, fish begin to get more active. When water temps finally warm back up to around 45 degrees, Wayne will switch back to a bigger bait like the Ito Shiner. With the water warming up, you can start to work your bait faster, with less of a pause between jerks. He will target points and banks with chunk rock to pea gravel transitions. It is very important to chase the wind this time of year. If you find a good spot with wind blowing directly on it, you can usually catch them feeding right on the bank. When this happens, Wayne will take off the lead wire that he uses to weigh down the jerkbait. They go shallow in the wind, so you don’t need to weigh down the bait because they will usually bite it right away in shallow water.

A lot of people think we are crazy for being on the water this time of year. But if you like catching big fish, then you are crazy not to be on the water. Wintertime on the Lake of the Ozarks is the best time to catch a fish of a lifetime. The big fish are often schooled up allowing you to catch monster sacks. So next time you see a major cold front pushing through, don’t be afraid to throw on your cold gear, grab some hot hands, and hit the water. Merry Christmas everyone!

The various jerkbait brands, like this Smithwick Rogue – blue black OB have different kinds of action, so Wayne will experiment and let the fish decide which one they like best

 

This bass was caught on a Megabass Ito Shiner – Pro Blue

 

Megabass Pro Blue Vision 110

 

Megabass Ito Natural Vision 110

 

Megabass French Pearl OB Vision 110

 

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