By: Shaye Baker
Looking to escape the clutches of the cold? Cabin fever already have you on the verge of losing it and still have 4 months before your local lake turns back to liquid? Stuck in Alabama with a relative first world problem when it comes to winter and just want to go catch a big one somewhere warm? The latter of the three describes my situation well. And though it’s certainly more bearable for the diehard bass guy than the other two scenarios, I’m still day dreaming about flip-flops and frog fishing.
Today we’re going to look at 5 wintertime destination fisheries where you could break away from the cold and have a chance to catch some real giants. Hopefully you’ll get to go to one of these places soon yourself. But even if you don’t, maybe just these warmer thoughts will help you weather the storm in you local area until you can break the bass rods back out.
Lake Okeechobee -
There could be no other at the top of my list. I started going down to Okeechobee to fish during the winter of 2008-2009 and it captured my heart. Half a million acres of water surrounded by a vast wilderness of shallow cover where a big one may come on any flip. In the dead of winter, Okeechobee still sees highs in the 70s most days, with 80- degree days common as well. A place where you can work on your tan in January while punching and throwing a Skinny Dipper sounds pretty sweet to me.
It’s where I caught my biggest five fish limit and biggest bass ever in a tournament — 29- pounds and 8- ounces and 9- pounds and 1- ounce — which all came in early December. Around that time of year, the bass are already preparing for the spawn, which amps up in January most years, but some bass can regularly be found on a bed throughout the winter months. A destination that I’d recommend every angler try to make it to at least once in there life, and one that will always take the top spot for me in the winter especially.
Lake Guntersville -
This one almost didn’t make the list, simply because it won’t really be much warmer there for many of us. But for my northern brothers and sisters, 50- degrees in January is still pretty balmy. And the fishing can be so good that it’ll warm you up plenty. Lake Guntersville is one of the biggest bass fishing tourist attractions in the country, and though you’ll still see several boats out there this time of year, the winter is likely when you’ll see the fewest. The fishing is still great, but many anglers are either heading further south during the winter or in a tree stand somewhere in search of their second love.
Football jigs, swimbaits, umbrella rigs, big scroungers and jerkbaits all work well on Lake Guntersville when fishing the cold wa
ter that’s a little bit deeper. But you can also push shallow on Guntersville with lipless crankbaits and vibrating jigs to catch big ones, especially on sunny days. On the occasional warm day in the winter, you’ll get a glimpse of the waylay that’s coming around February and March when these shallow techniques hit their peak. And on the more traditional winter days, you’ll find lots of vertical and 45- degree hard cover to target bass around in the form of bridges, riprap and bluffs.
The Kissimmee Chain -
I could easily pick five lakes just in south and central Florida for this list, but that takes a little of the fun out of it for folks that live a long ways off. But being from Alabama, that area is where I’ve spent most of my winter getaways. Lake Toho, Lake Kissimmee and all the other fisheries along the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes definitely have to make this list though. Another big tournament destination, I was exposed to this area for the first time back in my competitive fishing days. Not quite as warm as the weather you’ll see all the way down in Okeechobee, the fish are typically a little behind in the spawning process but still way ahead of the majority of the country.
If you go down in late December and January, you can expect to find fish making their way into the pre-spawn. Punching mats of hyacinth and hydrilla and flipping big jigs in reeds and Kissimmee
grass gives you a great opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime, but you better have the right gear for it. Big 8- foot rods, heavy 65- pound plus braid and a strong reel are necessary if you don’t want to get your feelings hurt. But you can push back a bit and catch quality fish with lighter gear as well on soft plastic stick baits, light Texas rigs, lipless crankbaits and vibrating jigs.
The California Delta -
I’ve only been to the California Delta once, but it’s one I’d like to go to again any time of the year and makes for a pretty good winter retreat the best I can tell. The tidal aspect of the California Delta intrigues me the most, and challenges me on a whole new level. I believe that’s why it makes this list for me. I haven’t had much exposure to tidal fisheries outside of my trip to the Cal Delta a few years ago. While I was there, I fished with a buddy who knew it well, and my mind was blown when I finally convinced him to return to a mat where we had caught a 6- pounder that morning, only to find it was 3 feet out of the water on dry land.
If you’re not interested in a challenge, go ahead and mark this one off your list. But if you’re like me and you do like to expand your skill set, the California Delta looks like a great place to spend some time this winter. Definitely do some research before heading that way on what the fishing is looking like, but once you get there you’ll find a broad and beautiful landscape where you can target big fish just about any way you want. The bites just may be few and far between and come in spurts due to the tides.
Lake Seminole -
One last nod to the southeast, the banks of Lake Seminole are shared by Florida, Georgia and Alabama and it’s one of the best lakes in all three states. Lake Seminole can be a bit challenging to new comers with its three distinct arms. The Chattahoochee River flows in from the West and can be super muddy at times as it hauls heavy rain waters down from Lake Eufaula above. Then there’s the Flint River coming in from the East, which often has more of a coffee color to it but can be really muddy as well. And then smack dab in-between you’ll find Spring Creek, which has some of the clearest water you’ll ever fish coming up through springs and being filtered by loads of vegetation.
Then there are little pockets and hidey holes scattered across the lake as well with clear water that warms up weeks and even months before the rest of the fishery. This sets up for bass to spawn over the course of several months on Lake Seminole. While the first spawners are getting started way back in the back waters, you can also catch fish that are well in front of the spawn still in Spring Creek on deep crankbaits. Or find fish that are a little more interested in starting to move up in the rivers and catch those on vibrating jigs, spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits and punching. And it’s one of the first places anywhere near me where I can get a bite on a frog each year, so that makes it super special while the rest of the world is still cold and dreary.
There are certainly several more fisheries around the country where you can escape from the brutal cold of winter, but if you ask me these would be pretty hard to beat. So if you have a chance to head out and try your hand at one, I highly recommend you go for it. A little sunshine and a big bite is often enough to hold me over for a few more weeks or months until the fishing heats up everywhere again.