by Dan Kibler
Winter may not be the best season for bass fishermen, but to knowledgeable anglers, it certainly isn’t as bad as it often seems.
ake the case of Kevin Chandler of New London, a guide who operates mostly on the two lakes on the lower end of the Yadkin/Pee Dee system: Badin and Tillery. He loves it when February rolls around, especially when the temperature starts creeping up a few degrees toward the end of the month and spring seems to be just around the corner.
“Tillery and Badin are by far the best early (season) lakes, and Badin is better than Tillery,” said Chandler (704-463-7265). “Early to mid-February, the fishing has always been spotty – you catch one here and one there – but later in the month, if you get those four or five days of warm weather, you’re likely to pull up on one bank and catch 10.”
Badin and Tillery are the southernmost of the Yadkin/Pee Dee lakes that are heavily fished, so they warm up a little faster than other lakes in the Piedmont. Badin’s advantage may be that it’s normally an extremely clear lake, and clear water and good cold-weather fishing have always gone hand-in-hand. You rarely hear about a lake that’s known for being stained to dingy – like High Rock, for example – being a great late-winter lake.
At 5,600 acres, with water depths approaching 110 feet in some places, Badin clearly qualifies as a deep lake. The clear water also allows for better penetration of sunlight, so shallow banks tend to warm up more quickly. And the clear water allows for a few more fishing options.
“I know for the past two or three years, almost every (late winter) tournament fished down there has won on a jerkbait,” Chandler said. “You can wear ‘em out on it, and it seems like they hit it better at Badin that at other lakes.”
Chandler likes a Lucky Craft Pointer 78 or 110 in Aurora blue color. He fishes it off points and rocky banks where he expects bass to make their first moves out of deeper water. If he finds areas like those and marks schools of baitfish on his depthfinder, watch out.
“Where the bait is will tell you how deep to fish,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll be three to four feet deep; sometimes eight to 10 feet deep. If you get a good warming trend in late February, they won’t be more than three or four feet deep. That’s where a ‘78’ shines.”
Jerkbaits are hard-plastic, minnow-shaped plugs that are best utilized by fishermen who wind them down several feet deep, then retrieve them with jerks of the rod tip, hence, jerkbaits. They are usually worked slowly, and most models will suspend on a slack line – staying in front of a hungry bass’s face long enough to draw a strike in 50-degree water.
In Chandler’s opinion, jerkbaits are replacing jigs as the most-productive late-winter/early-spring baits, especially when you’re looking for numbers.
“I think most of the fish you catch on a jerkbait are feeding on shad,” he said. “I think bass prefer crawfish (which jigs imitate) over shad, but shad are a lot more abundant. I never go to the lake without a jig tied on, and I’ll throw it in the same places where I’ll throw a jerkbait.”
One other February-March tip Chandler offers is not to worry about going without a strike before the middle of the day, when warming waters will often jump-start the bite by drawing fish closer to the bank.
“One of the best tournaments I ever won on Badin, I didn’t have a fish at 11:30, then between 11:30 and 2:30, I caught 24 pounds on one stretch of bank,” he said.