What happens when angler Sontus Mitchell and big bass are both on the prowl in December on Caney Lake? Let’s just say it’s a merry Christmas for the fisherman —  but the fish probably feel more like the Grinch. 

Caney Lake near Chatham is one of the most notorious big bass lakes in the state. And while fishing may have fallen off some in recent years, the return of aquatic growth on the reservoir has helped boost the stock of largemouth bass — and fishermen are reeling in more and more lunkers. 

While normal Christmas presents are found under trees, that’s not the case with Caney’s December bass. 

“This month fish are moving up into large groups and are really focusing on schools of shad, getting ready for the colder months of winter,” Mitchell said. “While it’s still kind of warm, the best way to locate them is to look for shad flicking on the surface of the water. That’s a good indication that shad are there. And if the shad are there, the bass are there.”

In those conditions with active fish, Mitchell likes to throw a shad-color Chug Bug or Yellow Magic, or some other loud chrome or white bait that gives off a flash and moves the water. When fish are feeding on shad, he said the flash is the key. 

Most of the time these groups of shad will gather in the middle of pockets or just off the main lake points.

When the water cools off to 50 to 55 degrees, the fish will slow down — but you can still catch them.

“The fish just get lethargic, so you have to throw something that they don’t have to chase, like a big Zoom Old Monster worm or a jig,” he said. “Just drag it real slow across the bottom, trying to imitate a crawfish.”

The best colors are green pumpkin and orange — Mitchell said you really need orange on whichever bait you choose to fish. When bass get deeper, but still hang around the shad, he likes to throw what he calls a “tail kicker” — a small lead lure with a big tail spinner like the Little George. What sets the Little George apart from all the live shad is the extra flash the turning blade puts off. You’ll also need your electronics to locate those baitfish balls and schools of fish.

There’s one more technique that Mitchell uses year round that works on Caney now. He fishes a watermelon or dark color Senko wacky style around the seawalls, especially when there is a tough bite on.