The calendar still reads February, but you sure wouldn’t know it from the weather.
In fact, it feels more like late March or even early April as this story is being written. And as I’ve pointed out in this space recently, that should mean a jumpstart to the local springtime bass fishing action.
Especially as the March 10 full moon approaches, which could bring the year’s best wave of shallow water fishing.
What should you do if the spring like weather does in fact hold over the next week or two?
Simple – get out there and get busy fishing because the March Madness of the bass angling world may actually arrive just a little bit ahead of schedule this year.
If that’s the case, then carefully consider the advice of my friend Steve Hollensed, a former high school environmental science teacher and conventional tournament angler turned full-time Orvis-endorsed fly fishing guide on Lake Texoma (www.flywaterangling.com , (903) 546-6237).
While he routinely guides fly anglers to big stripers and bass on Texoma (one client landed a 9-pound plus largemouth on Texoma a couple of years ago), Hollensed has plenty of conventional tackle wisdom to fall back on from thanks to his guiding and tournament fishing days in the 1990s and early part of the 2000s.
Back then, he’d burn up plenty of gasoline powering his Ranger bass boat into likely spots during late February and the month of March.
Before making any of those journeys, however, he would watch the Weather Channel intently and try to find a tranquil, sunny period of several days that was destined to warm up the bass water that he was targeting.
Kind of like the warm, stable period being found this week.
Upon arriving at his chosen fishing hole, Hollensed, ever the teacher, would always put on his thinking cap.
“I’d suggest putting your brain in fast forward a bit and thinking about where the fish will be spawning (later on in March and April),” said Hollensed. “From there, I’d back up a bit and figure out where the migration corridors are that lead those fish into those shallow water spots.”
Hollensed – once a West Texas oil geologist – likes to compare the yearly travels of bass to movement within a pipeline.
On one end of that pipeline is deeper water where bass will spend much of their year, including the winter months.
On the other end, fish will move up towards shallow water flats to lay their eggs and complete the breeding cycle for another year.
And in between, there will be a pipeline, or migratory route, that bass will use to move back and forth through the water during their annual journeys.
And in that pipeline – or on that migratory highway, if you will – is where bass are likely to be right now as the pre-spawn takes full command on the local scene.
“In February, they are just waiting somewhere along that pipeline to move up from deep water to shallow water when the warmer spring weather arrives to help spur on the spawn,” said Hollensed, who notes that he and many other anglers believe that bass are generally homebodies that stay in a particular portion of a lake year-round.
When trying to find active fish on a February trip, Hollensed looks to the upper end of a reservoir or lake where water depths are generally shallower thanks to a delta-like settling of sediment as a lake receives inflow.
“As a general rule, the spawn progresses from the upper end to the lower end in most lakes,” said the two-time finalist for the Orvis Guide of the Year award.
He also keys in on quicker to warm up north banks; stained water that holds heat longer; areas of concrete, rock or rip-rap that will soak up the sun’s solar radiation; and south facing banks that are the recipient of plenty of oxygenated water generated by southerly winds.
Why the above? Because where there is February warmth in the water, there will likely be a February bass nearby…and it could be one of the year’s biggest.
Another thing that the Tom Bean, Texas guide looks for are areas on a lake that simply look alive.
“There are certain coves that you pull into that you just feel are alive,” said Hollensed, widely regarded these days as one of the best Federation of Fly Fishing master casting instructors in the nation.
“That’s a gut feeling that you have as an instinctive fisherman,” he added. “Other coves, you pull into, you just don’t get that overall impression (of life) and I don’t waste much time there.”
“I believe that such an overall impression of life is a good barometer to follow. The more birds, the more baitfish and the more activity you see, the better your chances are.”
What kind of baits – or flies – should a February angler throw at bass? That depends on the mood of the fish to a great degree.
“Let the fish tell you what they want,” said Hollensed. “I don’t think the location for bass will change a lot during the transitional period in February, at least not very fast.
“But the mood of the fish can change pretty quick, so you can be fishing two or three different techniques over the same fish, at the same spot, in two or three days time.”
If weather and water temps lean toward spring – like they are this week – then Hollensed favors a faster moving bait.
In this case, think something like a spinnerbait, a lipless crankbait, a jerkbait, a medium diving crankbait or possibly a Chatterbait. Harkening back to his guiding days and tournament fishing career, Hollensed also reminds that a Carolina-rig or a Texas-rigged lizard can work too.
If a strong cold front roars in over the next couple of weeks and brings back conditions that are more winter like, then water temperatures could fall as a result and that could drive bass away from the bank – temporarily at least.
If that happens, Hollensed recommends backing up a little bit on that migratory pipeline and then slowing down your presentation with something like a jig-and-pig, a jerkbait that is paused a lot or even a slow-rolled spinnerbait.
The bottom line most Februarys – and certainly in this particular version of the month, one of the warmest on record in these parts – is that it’s the beginning of big bass season.
So get out there and get busy fishing for Red River Valley bass the remainder of the month because you just might catch a double-digit behemoth, one that could rock the record books.
And that’s good enough reason – for me at least – to load up the fishing tackle and head for the lake.
Because it’s big bass season in Oklahoma, even if it is arriving just a little bit early this year.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas