Friday, February 21st
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Wintertime Jig Fishing Channel Banks At Lake Of The Ozarks

6.2 LOZ Winter Hawg on a Crock-O-Gator Zapper JigThe water temp has dropped well into the 40s and may sometimes be in the 30s on Lake of the Ozarks and the majority of fishermen have resorted to jerking $25 stickbaits on and around main and secondary points. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Not necessarily! This will often work, no doubt. However, don’t overlook some of the best jig fishing of the year.

During the winter months, bass really school up and tend to relate to certain types of banks and/or areas. The lake becomes much smaller once you key in on these banks. The fish will relate to main lake and creek channels, using them as security and travel paths while holing up for the winter. They simply position themselves on or at the ends of these channels throughout the winter.

When water temps are around 39-42°F, the water is the same throughout the lake’s depths so you are likely to find bass from 5-20 feet. On warm sunny days sun will penetrate some of the dark-colored banks and provide an attractive place for the bass to warm up. This will also cause crawfish to move around on the same banks. At a time when food is less available and the bass do not like to exert much energy for meals, they become opportunistic feeders. This is where the jig or similar bait can be extremely productive.

I have found warm and sunny days to be best for winter jig fishing at Lake of the Ozarks, or those days when a slow moving low pressure system has set on top of the lake. This may be the reason why the bass go crazy and feed heavily when we have a low pressure snow system hit the lake in the winter. When this happens, bass seem to really key in on a jig moving and stirring dust along the bottom. 

Jig colors in the winter can make a difference; I like jigs in natural colors like green, brown and black. But a jig with some subtle color, like maybe red, orange, blue or purple, can trigger bites on certain days or in certain conditions. If you fish for two hours without a bite, it’s time to try another color or combination to see if that will trigger a bite.

Start your jig-fishing quest by shrinking the lake as much as possible. For me this means finding fish as shallow as I can. I’ll head to the backs of creeks or coves with steep banks that flatten out at the very back and look for odd, isolated sections of small, dark rock in 5 feet of water. I’ll begin there and work my way towards deeper water until I start getting bites.

One of the best places to find shallow bass in the winter is at the end of a steeper channel swing bank as it starts to flatten out. This area warms quickly and will attract feeding bass. Also isolated stumps, large rocks, brush, and lay downs can be fish magnets due to the heat they absorb and put out. Bass will hold tight against these structures on most sunny days.

The number one key to fishing a jig in the winter is to never lose contact with your jig and what it is doing as you work it on the bottom. Small hops in place that keep your bait in the strike zone longer will work best. This also allows you to keep a constant rhythm and feel for what your jig is doing and what it should feel like. When that feeling changes SET the hook. Bass are extremely lethargic at this time and may just pick your jig up and hold it.

The rod/reel/line combo is critical in winter. There are many quality rod companies making great graphite rods these days. Loomis, St Croix, TFO, Falcon, etc. are available in a variety of lengths, styles and prices. This is where you want to chose carefully. Anglers can easily spend $200 to $500 on rod and reel combos. For the money, I have personally found that pairing Bass Pro Shops’ Pro Qualifier reel with the 6’10” or 7’ Falcon Cara is hard to beat. As far as line goes, Berkley 100% fluorocarbon in 12-15 lb works great when trying to detect the slightest of bites. It’s important to be comfortable with your rod/reel/line combo so these should be chosen carefully.

When setting out to look for a place to start fishing, a good map or electronics are a must. Maps that show well-defined contour lines and channels markings are a must because those are what you’ll be keying on.

Here is a series of pictures taken at various places on the lake showing the types of areas and channel banks to look for. Note where the contour lines get close together, which indicates a steep bank, and swing right up next to the bank’s edge. These pictures are from the 2 MM to the 70 MM. There are hundreds of these banks all over the lake. See addtional pictures at the end of the article.

 

During the winter at Lake of the Ozarks, the lake level is normally pulled down to a winter pool which is somewhere around 4-5 feet below full (659.8). As the lake is drawn down the bass will really move and bunch up on the channel banks making your area to fish even smaller. It is at this time of year that the odd-looking sections of banks are exposed and are much simpler to locate. Fishing these particular banks will allow you to set your boat in the creek channel just 30 yards off the banks. This lets you fish from 2-15 feet until you can determine the depth at which the bass are biting.

As the weather changes throughout the winter, the bass will feed differently. On stable days and low pressure days look for the fish to be actively feeding along the bottom as shallow as 2 feet. When the pressure is high or the first days after a cold front has moved through, the fish will tend to be barred in brush or backed off and suspending.

Fishing a jig instead of a stickbait in the winter gives you the ability to cover much more area at a slower and more thorough pace than other lures. This allows you to catch bass in both active and inactive moods at a variety of depths.

I can recall waiting many times to follow other anglers down a bank where I could see them throwing jerkbaits with no results, just to load the live wells with tournament winning bass all on winter jigs/or bottom baits. The Crock-O-Gator Swamp Bug and similar baits can be extremely productive due to their ability to look alive while sitting still on the bottom. Bass will key in on the Swamp Bug’s many legs and grub-like tail as it sits in the strike zone.

James is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed Lake of the Ozarks guide whose goal it is to make your fishing experience a fun and educational one.  He has been fishing the Lake of the Ozarks both for fun and competitively for 20 years with great success, and has spent many hours developing seasonal patterns to catch fish all year long. James has won around 20 of the bigger bass tournaments, and is best known for his jig-fishing skills. James is the owner of James Dill Guide Service and Crock-o-Gator Bait Company. You can learn more about James and his guiding services by visiting his website at http://www.jamesdillguideservice.com

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