The weather has been frigid and blustery most of the winter and you’ve been cooped up in the house far too long.
Then along comes a break from the winter doldrums with a couple of balmy days that give you the chance to relieve your cabin fever. With all that sunshine on a calm day, you figure the water should be warming quickly and the fish should be biting, so you hook up the boat and race to the Lake of the Ozarks.
I’ve been in this scenario many times on my home waters of Lake of the Ozarks during the middle of winter and most of the time I’ve blanked because I can never seem to figure out whether the fish have moved up shallow or have stayed deep. Usually by the second or third day of a winter warm-up I start catching a few fish, but then winter returns with a fury and I’m driven back into the house to start writing again.
Various factors determine how bass react to a winter warm-up at the lake. Water clarity and time of day are keys to figuring out how to find bass when winter briefly turns balmy.
Water clarity dictates how much the water temperature will climb on a sunny winter day. “A lot of times that dirty water will warm up a lot faster,” says Roger Fitzpatrick, a veteran tournament angler from Eldon, Mo. “A lot of times the first fish to move up there are the good ones (especially after a couple of warm days) and most people don’t even realize that.”
The longer the water is exposed to sunshine, the warmer it gets and the more active bait and bass become during a winter warm spell.
During foul weather winter tournaments, Fitzpatrick still catches bass on a MegaBass suspending stickbait, but he has struggled to catch bass on the same lure when bluebird skies and calm conditions prevail in a winter warming trend. “On those high pressure days they will get off of that stickbait unless there is some breeze,” he warns.
So in recent winters Fitzpatrick has changed his strategy and developed a timetable for selecting lures based on light intensity throughout the day. During the lowlight hours of morning, the local angler starts with the stickbait that he slowly works around banks with mixed rock (gravel and large chunk rocks). When the sun is at its highest point around noon, Fitzpatrick switches to a jig-and-craw combo that he pitches along rock banks, shallow brush and the shallow sides of boat docks. The water around all three of these types of cover usually warm up quicker in the afternoon sunshine.
His favorite bottom-bouncing combo for winter warm-ups is a 3/8-ounce Omega Baby J Finesse jig tipped with a Zoom Critter Craw (a mixture of brown and green pumpkin hues for the jig and craw). Since the water temperature is usually still in the low to mid 40-degree range, Fitzpatrick wants his jig to fall slowly and maintain bottom contact as it crawls along the bottom. When he feels the jig touch a rock or limb, Fitzpatrick avoids hopping or jerking it over the obstacle. Instead he barely pulls it over the snag and lets it fall to the bottom. “When it falls back is usually when the bite comes” he says.
A warm-up in the middle of winter soothes the souls of many anglers by allowing them to get out of the house, and it can be especially gratifying if they figure out the right spot, lure and time to catch Lake of the Ozarks bass.
For information on lodging at the Lake of the Ozarks or to receive a free 162-page vacation guide, call the Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE or visit the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau web site at funlake.com.
Copies of John Neporadny’s book, “THE Lake of the Ozarks Fishing Guide” are
available by calling 573/365-4296 or visiting the web site www.jnoutdoors.com.