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When January hits the snow country, what bass fishing addict doesn’t daydream about escaping to some awesome bass factory of the South? As a touring bass professional from Minnesota, I have had the opportunity to experience some primo bass fishing tournaments during the southern, winter months. In some cases, the fishing had been amazing, while other times, not quite so good. With this experience, I offer some insight.
A winter bass fishing trip to the south offers a great experience and here’s why: 1.) Little or no recreational boat traffic! That’s because the kids are in school and the air/water temperatures are colder. 2.) A welcome break from below freezing or even below zero temperatures! You still should bring warm clothes however. 3.) January through March is when the biggest bass are the easiest to catch. Be sure to visit a lake stocked with Florida strain bass because this variety grows much bigger than the northern strain. 4.) It is another opportunity to grow your talents as a fisherman and be better prepared for when the ice melts up north. 5.) It is interesting to experience the pure, bass fishing culture of some of these more popular destinations. As us Yankees know, although growing, bass fishing culture in the north is still very miniscule in comparison.
The first thing a northerner needs to understand about planning a winter, southern bass fishing trip is that you must bring your cold-weather apparel! Even if traveling to southern Florida, bring it. Over the years there have been many occasions while I have been fishing in Florida, where the overnight temperatures go sub-40 degrees. I even recall experiencing frost on my boat during pre-sunrise, as far south as Lake Okeechobee. Long underwear, stocking caps, and gloves will be greatly appreciated while driving across the lake early in the morning if this weather moves in. Don’t let me lead you wrong though, most times in Florida, I am fishing in just a T-shirt or even shorts as some point. If you arrange a destination north of the deep south (I guess they would call it the mid-south), frigid cold weather is very possible. Many years ago, I remember a March FLW tournament on Lake Murray, SC where it was snowing heavily at morning takeoff!
If you really want to avoid chilly weather and have the best chance of fishing in shorts, there really aren’t many options. Stay south of Gainesville, FL or look to fish one of the Texas lakes on the Mexican border (Falcon, Amistad).
The cool thing about Florida, besides the bigger Florida sub-species that grow bigger, is that there are many lakes and man-made canals harboring bass. Sure, you could visit the well-known destinations like the Kissimmee Chain or Lake Okeechobee, but many other adventures await in lesser known places. One thing about Okeechobee, it is very cyclical. Due to water levels, water clarity, vegetation, and year-class strength, that lake can be the best in the country or a miserable mudhole. So before planning any trip to that lake, make sure you understand how it is trending.
Over to Texas, I have spent many days in January/February fishing on Sam Rayburn. Due to stocking efforts, the Florida sub-species is present in many Texas lakes including Rayburn, so double-digit bass are possible. This lake and others at this latitude offer some days fishing in a T-shirt but still weather requiring full-on warm-weather apparel occurs as well. A bit warmer weather is seen on the border lakes with Mexico. I have never fished Amistad or Falcon, but info from other pros and friends I know, Falcon is the better of the two these days.
Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee rates highly as a destination thanks to the stocking of Florida strain bass. Last winter I spent some time practicing and competing in an early pre-spawn tournament there. Even with the high fishing pressure, I still caught decent numbers of bass including two monsters. This lake is far enough north, that I remember wearing long underwear most days. And the fishing pressure is real. Even during the weekdays, plenty of local and vacationing anglers were out there.
Lake Guntersville, Al is very similar to Chickamauga, but I would say the Chick presents better opportunities for monster bass. This lake will be hosting the BassMaster’s Classic this winter, so we will get a current snapshot as to the health of this fishery.
If you are thinking of smallmouth, their geographic range only covers to about the mid-south. Lake Cherokee, TN impressed the heck out me when I visited just before the spawn last year. Bassmaster’s held an Elite tournament in the winter months a few years ago. Solid catches of smallmouth were had. Even though I have never been to Dale Hollow, this is a renowned smallmouth fishery. Another well-known southern smallmouth lake is Lake Pickwick. But I think this lake is more about giant smallmouths than numbers. I have never caught a bunch of them there, however the three biggest smallies I have ever boated all came from this lake. Oh and how about Lake Havasu in the Southwest? Although I have never been there, I keep hearing from multiple sources regarding the quality smallmouth fishery that has developed there.
I guess that I should mention Mexico. Sorry but I don’t know much about the bass fishing there other than I keep hearing how great it is. Plus, I bet a person could be in a T-shirt just about every day! I wonder what the circumstances might be to bring your own boat to one of these lakes. Perhaps you may not be able to bring a boat to some Mexican Lakes.
Anyways, a mid-winter southern bass fishing trip is well worth it. Not only will you expand your fishing knowledge with hands-on experience (versus just watching videos and TV shows), but you may also catch the biggest bass of your life while getting a tan in January!