A bass’n plan: Head south for open water

The Great Lakes region offers fabulous bass fishing – except during the winter when the lakes are frozen and the seasons are closed.

If you’re like most bass aficionados who need fishing fixes badly come January, why not pack up your gear and head south for a cure?

We’ve compiled a list of five top-notch bass destinations to consider between now and March, which gets you back in plenty of time for catch-and-release season.

Planning a trip requires considerable forethought, says Kevin VanDam, arguably the nation’s best pro bass angler.

“Do your homework and research a destination thoroughly before you pick a date and location,” said VanDam. “You can eliminate a lot of unforeseen problems that way.”

For example, if you’re planning to hire a guide, remember that the good ones, along with the popular fish camps and lodging around the lakes, book-up early during prime time seasons.

You can find most of what you need to know on the internet. Reputable guides’ websites offer details about when to go, licensing, lodging, and the kind of fishing you can expect at various times of the year.

You should also factor in the moon phase before choosing the week you go. If your fantasy is to catch a 10 pounder on a bed, plan your trip around the full moon when spawning activity is highest. On the other hand, if you hate bed fishing, avoid those periods and look for the dark moon periods in the pre-spawn when the fish are more active.

And keep in mind that the weather can be disruptive in the south during those months. There’s nothing you can do about that other than be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you.

Don’t forget tackle needs, either. Northern anglers probably don’t have the larger baits and colors that yield better results on southern lakes. You also may have to beef up your rods and line, too, so factor all of that into your research.

Here are five destinations VanDam and I selected as ideal bass fishing vacations for anglers:

Kentucky Lake, Tenn.

This lake is closer, but the weather can be a little more iffy in early spring than more southern destinations. However, Kentucky Lake is chocked full of bass because of the influx of grass beds. It’s very good in late February and March, weather permitting. VanDam recommends the first two weeks of March for shallow crankbaits, jerkbaits, Red Eye Shads and umbrella rigs. He recommends Fishtales Lodge at Paris Landing on the south end of the lake.

Lake Lanier, Ga.

Located near Atlanta, Lanier provides a chance to catch big spotted bass. “Spots,” which are rare in northern waters, look similar to largemouth but fight and act like smallmouth.
February and March are prime times to target rocky shorelines and docks. The jerkbait and swimbait bite is terrific that time of year, a prespawn period when you can have a chance to catch 6 and 7 pounders. If it’s cold, don’t fret it; the spotted bass bite better in nasty weather. 

Okeechobee, Fla.

It’s one of the best in the country from now through March for producing an 8 pounder or bigger. The Big O has had its issues with low water levels, but it’s on the upswing and has experienced huge spawns in recent years.
Fishing is good in January, but February and March can be better because of more stable weather. Cold fronts are tough on Florida bass.
If you want to catch a giant, bass always bite live shiners best, but buzzing frogs and swimbaits fished through the Kissimmee grass catches a lot of quality fish, too. Both the north and south end of the huge lake have good motels and camping facilities.

Toledo Bend/Sam Rayburn, Texas

Texas is a long drive, but these two lakes (an hour apart) can make it worth it. They are Texas’ most famous lakes and the lipless crankbait bite there in early spring is legendary.
The fish are generally shallow and 10 pounders are not out of the question. VanDam recommends fishing jerkbaits, jigs and Carolina rigs as well. The fish relate to the grass, but if the water level rises, you can catch them around the flooded bushes with flipping and spinnerbait techniques.
Consider the Jasper, Texas, area for Rayburn and either Hemphill, Texas, or Many, La., for Toledo Bend. The lake straddles those state borders.

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