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Cold Water Tactics Part 1

Published on January 6, 2009

Now is the perfect time for an article about fishing cold water. Here in Texas, we are always using cold-water tactics on Lake Fork in January. We see 50-plus degree water temperatures on Lake Fork, but this article will focus on lakes with temperatures below 50 degrees. Most lakes in the United States are below 50 degrees and some are even frozen right now.

I did a custom search on the Insider BASSlog (which is available to all BASS Insiders). I chose "water temp 50 degrees or less" as the only search criteria. When I got the results, I was quite surprised to find that the skirted jig was the top bait for numbers. That's definitely not what I would expect. I put skirted jigs at the top of the list for a giant bass, but not for numbers. In fact, I'm quite positive that the skirted jig is not the best bait for numbers in our area.

Since I rarely fish outside of Texas, I'm not sure why the skirted jig is the top bait in the country for numbers in cold water. On Lake Fork, the red or orange lipless crankbait is without question the top winter bait. I think any of these three things could be the reason:

  1. Only die-hard anglers will be bass fishing in January, and since cold water fishing isn't known for numbers, anglers are in search of that giant bass. After all, January is known for big fish. Our state record bass was caught in January on Lake Fork.
  2. Another reason for the jig being the top numbers bait could be simply that the jig is the most productive bait for numbers across the country. Unlike here in Texas, it could be that fish in other lakes don't respond to the red and orange color because of the forage they are accustomed to eating.
  3. The other reason could be that the red Rat-L-Trap bandwagon hasn't caught on in the rest of the country.

Could it be that the best baits for numbers aren't getting fished in the Northern states? The BASSlog only tracks information on fish that were actually caught on certain lures. Since it doesn't account for how much time the anglers fish each bait, it can't answer those types of questions.

The Insider BASSlog is an exclusive online bass fishing diary and resource for planning fishing trips.

I tend to lean toward Lake Fork being one of a kind, so what works there doesn't necessarily work on other lakes. That's been my experience even with lakes within a few miles of Fork. So, the red lipless cranks probably aren't as effective across the country.

The best colors for skirted jigs in January are green pumpkin, black/blue and brown (in that order). The best cover for the jig is some type of rock, like boulders, gravel or rockpiles.

This may be why jigs aren't such great number baits on Lake Fork. It has most every type of cover you can think of, but is very limited on rocks. The best structure is near a creek channel or some type of dropoff. So you should always look for deep water that comes close to shallow water. The best depth is 6 to 10 feet, with 0 to 5 feet running a close second. The best time for the jig is 9 a.m. to Noon and the best water color is stained (1- to 2-foot visibility), with 3 to 5 feet of visibility coming in second.

Be sure to read part 2 of Cold Water Tactics.

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