Valentine'™s Day Bass

Why wait for spring? The month of love might just bring your best chance of taking the lunker largemouth of a lifetime. (February 2008).

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Why wait for spring? The month of love might just bring your best chance of taking the lunker largemouth of a lifetime!

For many outdoor lovers, February stacks up as a relatively useless month. Sure, there's Super Sunday and, if you're a lover of more than the outdoors, there's always Valentine's Day. But deer and turkey seasons are over, and for most of us, it's too early to go fishing. The outdoor world is in suspended animation.

At least that's what a lot of sportsmen tend to think.

A few years back, one intrepid angler who seems not to have been affected by that mindset ended up making headlines in his part of the world. On Valentine's Day, with most guys out shopping for chocolate and flowers for their girlfriends or wives, our angling friend headed for the lake -- and landed the fifth-biggest largemouth bass ever caught in his state!

Although that happened back in the last century, (this is 2008 you know) this fellow's catch was neither fluke nor foul-hook. Check the big-bass records for your state and I'll bet you discover that a surprisingly high percentage of those big bass got hooked in February. Look at the top 10 lists and you're likely to find as many as four of the big boys -- or girls -- made the record book in February. As recently as two years ago, on Feb. 21, 2006, some lucky stiff reeled in a 15.50-pound largemouth in my home state.

Over a three-day period in late February last year in another Southern state, a couple from the Midwest caught and released 101 bass. The worst day their guide had that February saw his customer boat 24 bass, one of which ran a mere 8 pounds.

Clearly, the empirical evidence is plentiful: Throughout the South and Southwest, February is a great month for catching big bass.

Some months ago, before their metabolism slowed down, bass pigged out and gained weight, instinctively storing up energy for winter. On top of that extra weight gain, the females are now full of roe.

Just because the bass are likely to be bigger doesn't mean the fishing is particularly easy. You definitely can expect fewer bites.

As one longtime fisherman puts it, "Anybody can catch a bass in the springtime." That's just any bass he's talking about.

But go fishing in February, as long as you're able to adjust your technique and be patient, and chances are good the bass you catch will be big bass. And, given that most people still think February's a lousy fishing month, you won't find yourself crowded by too many other fishermen.

Another reason you'll likely having plenty of fishing room is that February is not the most comfortable month on the calendar to be outdoors. It can be cold, windy, wet or all of the above, but it also can be relatively balmy, even if spring is still several weeks away in your area in February. In fact, bad weather associated with the development of a low-pressure system can make for improved fishing.

On Valentine's Day, with most guys out shopping for chocolate and flowers for their girlfriends or wives, our angling friend headed for the lake -- and landed the fifth-biggest

largemouth bass ever caughtin his state!

No matter the weather, savvy fishermen know that Cupid is not the only creature that starts getting revved up in the second month of a new year. With the approach of spring, almost all species are ready to begin once again their timeless processes of procreation. Fish move into a pre-spawn mode.

For bass, it's not so much about the birds and the bees as it is about what the thermometer says. Later in February, air temperatures begin to moderate. That in turn affects the water temperature, starting in the shallows. With their spawning season on the horizon, cold-blooded bass begin to "wake up" from their winter lethargy. They move out of the deeper, colder water toward the shallows looking for food and a safe nesting place.

It takes energy to lay and fertilize eggs, and that comes from eating. Until the water starts warming, a bass' metabolism will be on survival-only standby. The fish still has to eat, but not as much or as frequently. And in cold water, he -- or she -- doesn't want to work too hard for a snack. A bass might feed only an hour or two a day. To catch one this time of the year, you need to put your bait where the fish are and make it easy for them.

Which raises the point of knowing where they are. Early in February, the bass are likely to be in deeper water. When the water temperature moves above 50 degrees, the bass are going to move closer to shore. They'll be hanging around major and secondary points, structure, channel edges and creek mouths.

Having retired early, the fisherman who told me that anybody can be a successful angler in the spring goes fishing almost every day of the year using a sit-on-top kayak. He likes urban water because it's convenient, but he's fished all over. Time, talking to other fishermen and plenty of trial and error has conferred on him what amounts to a BA (Bass Action) degree.

"In February, or any time during the winter," he says, "you need to be patient. I fish shallower and I fish slower."

That's because the baitfish are moving as slow as the bass, which are not at all inclined to chase after bait this time of the year.

His biggest cold-weather bass measured 9.14 on the digital scale he keeps in his kayak. Not bad in our area, but a couple of days after he pulled that hefty bass out of a cold-water creek, someone else made the local newspaper with a 12-pounder.

Whether it's February or April or October, this serious fisherman doesn't much vary what he throws.

"I fish a 5 3/4-inch cut-tail worm year 'round," he says. "With a sinker weight on it, it goes down like a wounded minnow. That's what I caught that 9.14 on."

Having retired early, the fisherman who told me that anybody can be a successful angler in the spring goes fishing almost every day of the year using a sit-on-top kayak.

Worm-fishermen like their soft offerings rigged with a bullet sinker for weedless work. The idea is to retrieve them very slowly, using a drag-and-twitch m

otion.

Given the lethargy of the fish you're trying to catch, it's hard to over-emphasize a slow retrieve. One pro bass angler pointed out that the retrieve on each cast ought to approach two minutes in duration. If a bass sees bait moving too fast, on some instinctive level it will realize that it's not real. A minnow or other morsel is not going to be any livelier in February than he is.

Many other winter fishermen favor large jigs rigged with up to 4 inches of pork, the so-called "jig-and-pig." In colors, veteran guides like black and blue, light green, orange or solid white. The kayak fisherman also likes to work Shaky Heads.

If a jig or spoon doesn't work, start with large, deep-diving lipless crankbaits in chartreuse or something that looks like a sunfish. As many of you know, big spinners also work. Whatever you offer, reel it in as slowly as possible.

Another reason February fishing is such a challenge is that bass don't strike hard when they're still in their winter power-saving mode. Fish hit so softly it can hardly be called a hit. The challenge is to make yourself be particularly aware of even the slightest pressure on your line. When you feel faint activity on the other end of the line, use the energy you have to set the hook hard.

In February, Cupid's arrow may strike fast -- but the bass don't.

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