February 17, 2021
By Ken Duke
Bass fishing not challenging enough for you? Think you've mastered the sport and unlocked all its secrets? Looking for new challenges?
Well, how about tackling February bass? February can be an enormous challenge for even the best anglers in the South. The weather can be capricious, and bass behavior typically follows suit.
A bright, sunny February day can seem like spring and draw bass to shallows. But a passing cold front will serve as a brutal reminder that balmy days are still weeks away. It's enough to confound any bass angler, but we can always learn from some of the best.
Scott Martin has lived in south Florida for as long as he can remember. He grew up fishing Lake Okeechobee and knows its waters as well as anyone, but he sharpened his skills catching bass all over the country, winning an FLW Angler of the Year title and Forrest Wood Cup along the way. When asked about February's challenges in the extreme South, he's quick to name the most daunting.
"Cold fronts are the biggest X-factor in February," Martin says. "That's the peak of the spawn for big bass in south Florida, but when a cold front comes through, it can change everything."
Bass that had been ready for the nests will abandon them in favor of areas most anglers miss and cover that average anglers fish poorly. Martin knows where they go and how to catch them.
"Keeping up with the forecasts and weather is critical at this time. You need to do your homework," he says. "When a February cold front comes through and stalls the spawn, I look for areas that are protected from winds coming from the north and south. Those winds can dirty the water and really shut things down. Once I've found some clearer water, I'm going to target matted vegetation—mostly hydrilla and hyacinths."
The big largemouths that have been pushed off the beds by a cold front will hunker down under the vegetation.
Martin goes after them with punch baits. His go-to outfit is a Googan Baits Bandito Bug (Okeechobee Craw) behind a 1 1/2- or 2-ounce tungsten sinker rigged on a 5/0 Eagle Claw Lazer Trokar TK135 Monster Flippin' Hook tied to 65-pound-test P-Line Braid.
His rod is a 7-foot, 11-inch, extra-heavy Favorite Fishing Big Sexy Casting Rod, and his reel is a Shimano Metanium (8.1:1 gear ratio).
"These fish can be lethargic," Martin says. "Most of your bites will be reflex strikes (reaction strikes) as the bait falls past them. The fish can be anywhere under there. They could be right on the bottom or they might be right under the canopy where the sun heats the water up. Pay close attention to the fall of your bait."
If there was ever a bass angler who had a reason to love February, it'd have to be Alabama's Randy Howell. February was the month of his 2014 Bassmaster Classic victory on Lake Guntersville, and his favorite February pattern led him to the win.
"Weather changes in February can be good or bad, and the fishing can get tough," Howell says, "But there's probably no better time to catch your personal best largemouth. After a cold front, things can shut down. That's when I go to riprap banks."
It was a riprap bank that paid off to the tune of $300,000 and a Classic trophy for Howell. He maintains that the rocks retain some heat from the sun and keep bass in the area more active than those holding on other structure and cover.
"It's a great time to bounce a mid-depth crankbait down the riprap to trigger a reaction strike," he says.
It should come as no surprise that Howell's favorite lure for this pattern is the Livingston Lures Howeller Dream Master Classic Tournament model in Guntersville Craw.
On a lengthy cast with light line, the bait might dive to 10 feet, but Howell makes quartering casts to the riprap and turns the reel crank just fast enough that the bait ricochets and deflects off the rocks, never diving to its maximum depth.
He fishes it on 10-pound-test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon line, a Daiwa Tatula Elite casting reel (7.1:1) and a 7-foot, medium-light Randy Howell signature series Tatula Elite casting rod.
If the crankbait is too active for the cold-slowed bass, Howell fishes a Livingston JerkMaster 121 Team Jerkbait in Beauty Shad around bluff banks.
Rather than float or suspend, this jerkbait sinks very slowly, which is often what it takes to catch post-cold-front bass.
"Right after a front passes, I'm hoping to get five to eight bites a day, not 20," says Howell. "The bass are around the riprap and bluff banks. You just have to stick with it until you find them. When you do, it could be the fish of a lifetime."
SEEK CLEAR WATER
When asked about February bass action, Oklahoma's Edwin Evers goes straight to the pain point.
"It's the coldest our water will be all year," he says. "The bass are less active, they're feeding less, and that means there are fewer opportunities to get a bite."
The fact the water's cold makes fishing tough. If it's also muddy, catching bass can be nearly impossible. While most anglers are searching out warm water—which is typically in the northwestern part of any reservoir and often just a degree or two warmer than the rest of the lake—Evers looks for clear water.
In February, clear beats warmer-but-dirty every time. In fact, that's the exact scenario Evers faced on Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees in late winter of 2016 to win the Bassmaster Classic.
Once Evers finds the clearest water he can, he looks for the kind of structure he expects to attract bass at this time. Usually that's creek channel bends and swings in 5 to 9 feet of water, or bluff walls where they transition to small rock and pea gravel.
His lure of choice for this pattern is a Berkley Frittside flat-sided crankbait in brown craw. Typically, he uses a size 5, though he'll go to a deeper-diving size 7 or 9 in extremely clear water where the bass are more likely to be deeper. He casts it on a 7-foot, medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Crankin' Stick with a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier baitcasting reel spooled with 10-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS 100% Fluorocarbon line.
What sets Evers' approach apart is his retrieve. He's not just chunking and winding; his retrieve is specially tailored to prompt strikes from lethargic bass.
"Instead of simply cranking the bait down into the strike zone," he says, "I pull it down by sweeping my rod to the side, a lot like you might drag a Carolina rig.
"I want the bait to move more slowly that it would on a conventional cast and retrieve, and I want to stay in close contact with the lure," Evers continues. "It's a pull, pause, reel-up-the-slack and repeat cadence. And that's often what it takes to catch February bass."
THE WAY-BACK MACHINE
Getting a satellite view of your favorite fishing water may not seem terribly exciting in these days of 360-degree imaging, Side Scan and Panoptix, but where Google Earth Pro really shines is in its ability to turn back the clock.
Fire up the software, find your favorite body of water and look to the navigation bar above the image. Click on the clock with the counter-clockwise arrow. A horizontal bar will appear. Move the slider to the left to go back in time—usually as far back as the mid-1990s—to see what the water looked like in previous years.
Find an image when the water was low and zoom in to find structure, cover and more that's ordinarily invisible at normal water levels (as shown in the photos above). Then mark them with Google Earth Pro's "Placemarks." If you have sonar equipment, you may even be able to download these potential hotspots directly to your unit.