Shallow minded ­— Why you should stay shallow for winter bass

Cold weather sends bass packing to deep water, right? This young tournament angler proves that theory wrong by whacking the Saline-Larto bass in water only a few feet deep.

It’s hard to think deeply when you have a shallow mind.

And I would wager that most Louisiana bass anglers have shallow minds.

Not the kinds of shallow minds those bent on perfect political correctness would deride as deserving to dwell in flyover country, but the kinds that care nothing at all about fishing deep.

That fact was driven home to me several years ago on Caney Lake in Jackson Parish.

I was fishing with the dad of one of my childhood friends, and I had us set up on a deep creek channel fishing a Texas-rigged worm in a brush pile on the edge of the channel.

We had a few bites and caught a couple good fish, but I couldn’t help but notice he kept looking up toward the bank.

“Let’s go fish those stickups in that shallow water,” he eventually said.

“But we’re catching fish out here,” I reminded him.

“I don’t care,” he responded. “I just like looking at what I’m fishing.”

Zack Gagnard, a Pineville tournament bass angler fishing the Bassmaster Central Opens, the RAM Weekend Bass Series, The Bass Federation and Bass Champs, likes looking at what he’s fishing, too.

There’s no doubt fish can consistently be caught deep just about anywhere in Louisiana all year long, but they can also be caught shallow just about anywhere in Louisiana all year long.

And there’s no better example of a lake that offers super-shallow bass fishing — even during the dead of winter — than the Saline-Larto complex positioned at the southeastern most part of Dewey Wills Wildlife Management Area about halfway between Jonesville and Pineville.

Gagnard has been fishing — and winning — Saline-Larto tournaments since he was in high school. In fact, he was featured in the Louisiana Sportsman Youth Gone Wild series back in 2007 as a 16-year-old high school junior who had his future all planed out as a professional bass angler.

One thing he told me back then that always stood out in my mind was that bass bit shallow at Saline-Larto all year long.

Although it took me eight years to check the accuracy of his statement, I finally met up with Gagnard to see if he could back up his claim.

It wasn’t the coldest day in the world, but it was late enough in the year that bass should have migrated back out to deep water for the winter.

“The only problem with bass migrating out to deep water here is that there isn’t any deep water for them to go to,” Gagnard said as we ran through Big Creek on the Saline side after launching at Woodson’s Landing. “Well, maybe there’s a little deep water — but deep is relative, ain’t it?”

Deep is relative. If a flat runs 2 feet deep, then a 3-foot channel crossing that flat would be considered deep water.

At Saline-Larto, the deepest water in the entire complex is only 20 feet deep, and that’s only for a 100-yard stretch at the mouth of Larto — attractive more to white perch anglers than bass anglers.

The creek we ran through held only 10 feet of water.

“Beside the mouth of Larto, the bayous are the deepest water here,” Gagnard said. “But none of that deep water matters for bass anglers except for one thing: You can catch them shallow all winter long, but you’ve got to be close to the relatively deeper water.”

We eventually wound up at a spot Gagnard said was called Phil’s Landing. It was a spot where just a couple days before he boated 22 bass, the heaviest five of which weighed 16 pounds.

Gagnard dropped his trolling motor and started pitching a Texas-rigged V&M Wild Craw Junior to the docks.

The water was a little higher and muddier than just days before, but he was confident we could put a few fish in the box.

We did, but they were all dinks — even the three we caught off the same dock where Gagnard had landed a 3-pound and 5-pound bass just days before.

Knowing there were plenty of other spots to check, Gagnard ran over to Larto, which is a completely different fishery than the Saline side.

Rather than being a maze of cypress-lined bayous, creeks and pockets, Larto is a wide-open oxbow lake with several docks lining its banks.

Just about every one of those structures are in shallow water with deep water nearby — exactly as Gagnard likes them to be.

A couple of missed bites over there left us scrambling just to put a few keepers in the boat. That’s when Gagnard remembered some cypress trees on primary points back in Saline.

On the second pitch, my bait felt funny as I tried to hop it off the bottom. I instinctively set the hook, and the fish came up and rolled under the surface just moments before the hook effortlessly slid out of its mouth and flew past my ear.

The same scenario repeated itself a couple of trees later. Only this time, we saw the flash of a giant fish as it, too, spit out my bait.

It was then that I realized I had been using a medium-action rod I typically use with braided line. However, I put fluorocarbon on it before we launched earlier that morning.

I switched the reel to a stiffer, medium-heavy action rod and vowed that I would not miss another fish — and I didn’t.

“Docks are good, but these cypress trees are some of the best places to fish during winter,” Gagnard told me as I unhooked another bass. “Seems like they’ll get on the sunny side of the trees, and if you can find some that are 2 feet on the shallow side and 3 or 4 feet on the deep side, you’ll have found some shallow bass that will probably want to bite.”

During the winter, Gagnard has a four-pack of lures he has consistently caught bass on over the years.

His primary choice during winter is a black/blue or black/brown/amber V&M jig with a matching trailer.

Next, he likes to slow-roll a 3/8-ounce Cyclone spinnerbait in the same areas around the docks and trees by reeling it just fast enough to barely make the blades turn.

Another one of his winter favorites is a Texas-rigged V&M tube in black neon or junebug red, which he has discovered is especially effective when bass move into flooded brush during late December and early January.

Last, and the newest of the bunch, is a V&M Wild Craw Junior rigged with a ¼-ounce weight and a 3/0 wide gap hook.

“There’s no doubt Saline-Larto is one of those kinds of places where you just pick a spot, drop your trolling motor and fish,” Gagnard told me as we loaded his boat back on its trailer. “And during the winter, it’s not surprising to find bass ganged up in one spot.

“You might fish a bunch of docks and then hit one where you catch 10 fish.”

Looking back, our day played out exactly as Gagnard had explained it.

We fished several spots before we eventually found the bass stacked up on the cypress points, where we got more bites in 30 minutes than we did fishing all over the lake the two hours before.

Every bite we got came on the Texas-rigged V&M Wild Craw Junior, and the most-productive color was junebug sapphire.

At no time during our trip did Gagnard even consider turning around and fishing the relatively deeper water. He definitely kept a shallow mind, and he proved Saline-Larto bass can be caught shallow all year long.

He also made me realize that in a world where political correctness has run amuck, I am proud to proclaim that I’m just a little bit shallow-minded myself.

About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at