An artificial lure whose name starts with the first letter of the alphabet holds the key to catching bass in late December and through January at Toledo Bend.
The Alabama Rig, aka the A-Rig, shines at this time of year, as we have learned since it hit the market so many years ago. It covers the shallower water pattern horizontally, which is so important at a time when a number of bass make their move from deep to shallow.
No, it ain’t storm-the-beaches time. Far from it. But when the water warms between cold fronts, it seems we always find bass in 8 feet of water or less. The potential is there, all right, and the odds increase to catch a double-digit bass.
How’s that, you might ask? Well, the big gals don’t need optimum water temperatures to do their thing. When Mother Nature says “Go”, it doesn’t matter to those hawgs if the water temperature is 58 degrees (or lower) or 68 degrees. That’s why each mid-winter, there are at least three to five 10-pound-plus bass checked in at each weigh station around the lake. That’s a big plus for January fishing, for sure.
Heck, a 10.26-pounder was weighed in early December at Toledo Town & Tackle. It was full of eggs.
What makes it interesting this year is that the water could be very low. Actually, we’ve been talking about it, and some merchants that rely on bass tournaments, etc., are concerned. One tackle shop owner near the lake recalls how a couple of major tournaments were canceled this past September because of the low water, and more and more high school tournaments, bass club tournaments and pro bass tournaments usually are scheduled in January and February.
There are those who are worried that if we don’t get a substantial amount of rain by early January, the lake level could stay low. To date, the cold fronts haven’t dumped a lot of rain on the region — the heavy rainfall hasn’t been dropping south of Arkansas — but sooner or later, we’ll get hammered. We all know that … either too much or none at all.
As for the bass, they’re going to do whatever they do whether they are in the bushes and pine trees or 30 yards away from either. They move to where the shad are. And there are some that get on beds.
My plan of attack is like that of many others in the know — use an A-Rig. It’s putting many bass in the boat right now, and it only gets better, let me tell you. Other horizontal baits will tap the bass population, too, like bladed jigs, Rat-L-Traps, suspending jerkbaits and square-bill crankbaits.
Some bass fishermen I know will throw an A-Rig all day. It’s cumbersome and tiresome to methodically chunk and wind; after all, there’s often 1½ pounds of rig. But it will produce, often two or three bass at a time. Bass believe the A-Rig is a shad ball, and that’s breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. I like to use little, shad-colored swimbaits — 3 inches long, normally whites, pearls, clear or smoke with silver flakes — around the outside, but I’ll use a 4- or 4¼-inch swimbait in the middle, sometimes a little different color than the others.
Bass will be caught deep in January, no doubt. You’ll have great days deep, and you’ll have great days shallow. One of the most-productive artificials to get those bass to bite is a drop-shotted soft plastic. Until the horizontal bite is strong, it’s drop-shop all the way, vertically jigging it up and down.
The key is understanding what the fish are doing via marine electronics and having the bait to get bit.
Six-inch plastic worms in purples, watermelon/purples, even pinks, work well if and when they’re feeding.
A good rule of thumb is to use 20-pound braid and a 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon leader for the drop-shot rig. Connect them with a barrel swivel. I use a ¼-ounce bell sinker in 18- to 25-foot depths, but go to a 3/8-ounce if it’s windy.
It can be an extremely tough day when the water temperatures are in the 40s and low 50s, no matter what you’re fishing. Fish accordingly.
All I know is I am so ready to get out on the water in January. I’m not alone. Good luck and be safe in 2020.