While most people think of Thanksgiving as a time for turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, football, and a little hunting, the Randy Howell family thinks of Turkey Day as one of the year's most underrated times for topwater bass!
Thanksgiving Day is a national celebration that conjures up many powerful Norman Rockwell images: family gatherings, turkey and dressing, pumpkin and pecan pie, football games, and maybe an excursion into the woods to chase whitetails, ducks and upland birds depending on where a person lives.
For Bassmaster Elite Series pro Randy Howell the holiday signals the time for him to give away his King's Home boat again, something he does each November as Turkey Day approaches.
But the annual November feast also points him back toward the water for what he says is one of the year's most underrated times for throwing a topwater bait at largemouth bass.
"The fishing starts to pick back up later in the fall after the doldrums of September and October," said Howell, a Major League Fishing pro and the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion. "It really starts getting better again in November and even on into December.
"When hunting comes in and gets popular and takes a lot of people off the lake, that's when the fishing really starts to get pick back up again, especially for big fish."
According to Howell, the driving force behind this late-year fishing surge is the shortening of days, the coming of winter, and the recognition of bass that they need to really stockpile the high-protein groceries.
"When you get north of the southeastern U.S., the fish are really feeding up pretty good before they'll slow down for wintertime cold," said the four-time B.A.S.S. winner. "Even down south towards southern Florida, they'll be active since they are actually getting ready to spawn in December and January the closer you get to Lake Okeechobee. They'll feed up good there too, even schooling and busting topwaters."
Speaking of topwaters, the period before and after Thanksgiving is a time that you'll always find Howell with a Livingston Walking Boss II lure tied on, usually in his new favorite color of Ginrin.
"It's got a Jitterbug kind of plastic molded lip," said Howell. "With that lip and it's broken-back style, it will spit and chug water as it goes from side to side. You can fish it really, really slow and that can attract a big fish, which is becoming a little more lethargic now, but still wants a big easy meal."
Interested in such late fall topwater action? First, Howell says to make sure that the water hasn't gotten too cold where you fish.
"You're looking for water that has cooled down, but hasn't gotten into the lower 50s yet," said Guntersville, Ala. resident. "Once you get into that range of 50 to 55 degrees, this bite will start slowing down."
The B.A.S.S. and MLF pro notes that in addition to water temps, the time of the day can be important too.
"Around this Thanksgiving time frame — which sometimes offers some of the best fish I catch all year — it seems to me that the mid and late-afternoon (timeframe) is best," said Howell. "They'll move into shallow water, sometimes a foot or less, around the edge of a fallen tree, a submerged tree limb, a rock, just one good hiding spot. I think they're lying there, soaking up the warmth that comes after the good stretch of light penetration that you get later on in the day."
A case in point according to Howell was his son Laker, who was kayak fishing for bass a few days ago on the family's home water of Lake Guntersville.
"He was throwing a Walking Boss II around the corner of a really shallow boat dock," said Howell. "It pulled the bait under and at first, Laker thought it was a little bass. But when it started coming towards him and fighting a little harder, he realized it was a bigger fish.
"When he got it in and weighed it, the bass went 7.3-pounds," added the elder Howell with a fatherly chuckle. "He told me that evening 'Dad, if I had lost it, I would have thought it was a 10-pounder.'"
Which brings up the next point in Howell's Turkey Day Topwater 101 class here — don't expect vicious surface strikes, so let the fish have the bait before raring back.
"The fish at this time of year will follow it out a lot of times," said Howell. "They are not terribly aggressive on this late fall topwater bite. In fact, a lot of times, they'll suck it down so subtly that you'll be like my son and won't think it's a big fish even though it turns out to be a 7-pounder!"
If not taking the bait away from a feeding bass is key, so too is the retrieve of the lure back to the boat.
"You're wanting to reel it back real slow," said Howell. "The perfect speed in my mind is to have the bait just cresting up on the surface, kind of like a boat that is beginning to plane out. You want to keep it right on the edge of that planing action as you chug it from side to side making the shad sound.
"If you go past an object and don't get a bite, stop it, pause, start it up again, then pause again."
If there's a good-sized bass around, that's usually enough to trip his ambush trigger-point, causing him to wolf down the bait like an extra piece of pumpkin pie.
What rod, reel, and line set-up does the Classic champ use here?
"My favorite set-up is my 7'4" medium-heavy Daiwa Randy Howell Tatula Elite Signature Series topwater rod," said Howell. "I'll use a Daiwa Tatula SV TW baitcasting reel with 50-pound Daiwa J-Braid spooled on. Most of the time, I'll throw topwaters on an 8.1:1 ratio reel, but for this technique, I'll go with a 7.3:1 ratio reel so I can keep the slow, steady cadence that I like."
So, does all of this really work, the idea of topwaters for bass around Turkey Day? Well, do you think you'll get a little bit sleepy after the big family dinner is over with?
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"Well, we don't have many B.A.S.S. events that late in the fall and most all of our MLF events are no later than October," said Howell. "But five years ago, when the Alabama Rig craze erupted on Guntersville, I took out my pastor buddy and one of my sons (to the lake) over the Thanksgiving break.
"It was a pretty day with cloudy conditions and not much wind and it was still kind of mild," he added. "Livingston hadn't come out with the Walking Boss II yet, so I was throwing the regular Walking Boss over the edge of some shallow grass that had some baitfish scattered around.
"I threw that topwater out, began bringing it back, and it got slurped under. It was a skinny fish with a big old head, one that only weighed 6.5-pounds even though it looked like it should weigh 7 or 8-pounds.
"So yeah, I kind of think this topwater stuff still works, even around Thanksgiving Day."
And that's reason enough to head for the lake, especially if you're the angler who is lucky enough to win Howell's King's Home bass boat this year.