While most bass anglers are staring at the naked trees through their windows in a desperate attempt to will March to hurry up, there are a few who are staring at a skinny strand of monofilament willing it to jump to one side.
And while most anglers are dreaming of all the bass they will catch when the weather warms up, there are a few who are living out that dream.
January is to bass anglers what August is to hunters — so close yet so far. Though, there's not much a hunter can do to remedy his situation, bass anglers can take matters into their own hands. That is, if you will quit cleaning your reel, staring out the window and dreaming big bass dreams.
Maurice Jackson lives on Toledo Bend, and bass fishing is his living. He is able to survive from his guide trips (318-645-6863) on the lake and through his lure company, Cyclone Baits. He is one of those few anglers who turn their January big bass dreams into reality.
"Those folks sitting in their house this month all cozied up to the fireplace don't know what they're missing," said Jackson. "If they would just get a couple of jigs and get on the water, they could catch the biggest bass of their lives."
Jackson isn't alone in his thinking. Russ McVey is a guide on Caddo Lake, Lake Bistineau and the Red River (318-987-3833), and he too owns a custom lure company, Southpaw Jigs. McVey lives out his big bass dreams every January on Caddo and Bistineau.
So what is it about January that gets these two guides excited about snuffing the fire and gassing up the boat? Well, both anglers believe it has something to do with the water temperature rising from the 40s into the 50-degree range. But while water temperature is important, both anglers cautioned that it doesn't act like a switch.
"The shallow movement is really based on temperature trends more than a specific temperature on your temp gauge," said McVey. "And you've also got to remember that temperatures can vary in different parts of a lake. But, generally, I believe that the biggest bass move in at the first sign of the water getting warmer."
"The really big bass in Louisiana tend to move shallower a lot sooner than most people think," agreed Jackson. "Now they won't move shallow and stay until spring, but they will move up."
Jackson believes big bass will make this shallow move on a daily basis.
"As the sun warms up the water in the afternoon," he said, "the biggest bass in the lake will move to the flats to soak up the rays and to eat."
McVey also believes that these big bass will move shallow in January because there is more cover in shallow water than there is in the deep wintering holes.
"A big bass gets his pick of the best cover," said McVey. "And while I don't think they would have any trouble finding suitable cover in February or March, I think they like to go on ahead and stake their claim."
Typical locations for these giant January bass are flooded bushes, cypress tree thickets, docks and brushpiles. Jackson claims that any piece of shallow cover could hold a bass but that the really big bass will be in those types of cover that are closest to deep water.
"A big bass likes to be secure," said Jackson. "He likes to know that even when he moves to shallow water it won't take much effort to quickly move back deep. That's why smart anglers concentrate on the shallow cover that has a deep slough nearby, or maybe a creek channel swings in close to the cover. Whatever it is, it just has to be deep."
As mentioned earlier, Jackson believes that all an angler really needs to catch these lunkers are a few jigs. McVey agreed and went on to say that during January he often will throw nothing but a jig from the time he leaves the boat ramp until the time he returns.
"These fish are up there to feed," said McVey. "They may have spawning in the back of their mind, but they know they've got to eat up before the rigors of the spawn. So I throw a jig because these fish are feeding on crawfish and bream, and a jig does an excellent job of imitating both."
McVey said that since he is trying to mimic crawfish and bream, he normally sticks with black, blue, green, brown, amber and red to match the color of the forage.
"I make my color decision based on the color of the water," he said. "The clearer the water, the more I'll go to the green and red colors. But in dark-colored water, I'll stick with the blacks, blues, browns and ambers."
The ability to imitate favorite big bass food isn't the only reason that a jig is the premiere lure to throw in January.
"These fish are shallow to feed," agreed Jackson, "but they won't be very aggressive. They're looking for a meal that isn't too hard to catch. And a jig is a lure you can put right in the middle of a big fish's house and leave it there until he decides to bite."
Jackson and McVey went on to caution that all jigs are not created equal.
"You've got to understand that you're going to be putting that jig into some nasty looking spots where some huge bass are going to be biting it," said Jackson. "Pick the wrong jig for the job and the only way you're going to get any fish is if you pick it up from the grocery store on your way home."
Of course Jackson was partial to the jig that he makes. He calls it the Thunder Rattle Jig, and he believes it has all the properties needed to land the majority of big bass that bite in the gnarly stuff.
"A good jig needs a couple of things to make it effective," he said. "First off, it has to have a razor sharp, heavy duty hook with a big bite.
"Second, it needs a weed guard that that is stiff enough to ward off any trouble but pliable enough that it doesn't interfere with the hook set. And a rattle can be a big help, especially in really heavy cover or muddy water."
McVey said that one of the most crucial considerations when choosing a jig is the head design.
"There are a lot of different head designs on the market," he said. "And they all have their place, but for most of our fishing in Louisiana you really only need one or two different types."
The two types to which McVey refers are a cone-shaped head and a pumpkin-shaped head, which is sometimes referred to as an "arkie" style head. This is the type of head found on Stanley jigs, Arkie Jigs, Lunker Lure Rattle Back Jigs and some versions of Strike King.
McVey's experience has proven to him that a cone-shaped head comes through thick cover a little better than a pumpkin head.
"The cone shape lets the jig fall easily down through thick cover," he said. "It just kind of slides over everything it comes into contact with."
McVey said that the pumpkin heads do have their place.
"They tend to work a little better when you're swimming a jig," he said referring to an often-used practice for late winter bass suspended around cypress trees and under boat docks.
Both anglers prefer to pitch rather than flip their jigs to their targets, although they admit flipping does have its advantages. To pitch a jig, simply peel off enough line so that your jig is hanging down to the reel on your rod. If you are right handed, grasp the jig with your left hand while pointing your rod tip toward the water.
Start lifting your rod tip while simultaneously releasing the jig. As you keep lifting the tip, the jig will swing toward your target in a flat trajectory that is close to the surface of the water. As the jig approaches your target, you should slightly pull back and up on the rod to stop the jig so that it falls into the water with as little a commotion as possible.
To repeat the process, reel in line until the jig is hanging by the reel and repeat.
Jackson and McVey recommend that right-handed anglers learn how to pitch left-handed.
"That way you don't have to keep grabbing the jig each time," said McVey. "You can just let it swing back and fire it out again."
Flipping a jig is similar except that it uses a fixed length of line for the entire presentation. To flip, grasp the line between the reel and the first rod eyelet with your left hand. Extend your arm to your left while still holding onto the line. Pull out enough line so that your jig is dangling near your reel while still holding out the extra length of line with your left hand.
Dip your rod tip toward the water while letting the jig swing backwards. As the jig reaches the end of this backward momentum, start lifting your rod tip while bringing in your left hand — still holding the line — back to the rod. The jig should slip silently and effortlessly into the water.
To make another presentation, simply grasp the line between the reel and the first eyelet again and pick up your rod tip while extending your left hand at the same time. The jig should come up and out of the water and swing in a pendulum motion back toward you. Of course, all of these directions are reversed if you are left-handed.
Jackson said that flipping works best when the water is murky and you are working a straight line of cover where a fixed length of line would be adequate to reach all targets. It also provides a more silent presentation of the jig entering the water.
Pitching works better when the water is stained to clear and when the targets are organized in a haphazard fashion. However, Jackson and McVey usually pitch all the time because practice has enabled them to slip their jig into the water just a silently as they would if they were flipping.
A good rule to follow is if you are flipping and you see bass spooking from your presence, back off and start pitching.
Of course a jig isn't much without some type of trailer. Common bass knowledge says to use pork trailers like an Uncle Josh No. 11 pork frog during the winter and switch to plastic in warm weather.
"The theory is that pork is more pliable in cold water and it doesn't dry out as quick when it's laying on your deck. You're supposed to use plastic in warm weather because the pork will dry out pretty quick on a hot day. Well, I don't really follow that rule. I use a ReAction Craw-Go trailer most of the time. I haven't noticed it reducing my strikes during winter, and I can get some great color matches," McVey said, referring to the fact that plastic comes in a lot more colors than pork.
Jackson recommended heavy rods and even heavier line when fishing a jig this January.
"Using a light rod would be like hunting bear with a switch," he said. "Seven- and 7 1/2-foot rods and 20- to 30-pound line is the norm when pitching and flipping. And braided line even has its place in flipping and pitching if you like fishing with it."
One complaint often heard by many bass anglers is that they just don't have any confidence in a jig. They may pick it up and fish it a little while then lay it back down.
"Big mistake," said McVey. "The only way you're going to gain any confidence in a jig is to fish it until you get a few bites. Some people I know have even gone so far as to go fishing with nothing but jigs so they are forced to fish them.
"One thing you will learn by doing this is that you won't get a lot of bites on a jig, but the majority of the bites you do get will be from big bass.
"It's kind of like learning to dance with a new partner. At first, you don't know how your new partner is going to react. But after a few songs dancing with the same girl, you gain that confidence. And before you know it you're both cuttin' a rug and dancin' a jig."