by John Neporadny Jr.
Those cold, nasty days in February can produce some of the heaviest stringers of the year while jerking a suspended stick bait on Lake of the Ozarks.
“All the days I can remember in February where we’ve caught a lot of fish were always the nastiest days where you would almost freeze to death,” says Marty McGuire, a Camdenton, Mo., angler who has finished in the money in B.A.S.S. invitationals held on his home lake and the owner of Marty’s Marine in Osage Beach, Mo. While some fish can be caught on McGuire’s Rattlin’ Rogue technique on sunny days, his pattern produces its best numbers of fish and biggest bass in cold, windy and snowy weather.
Water temperature also plays a key role in this pattern. The water temperature varies from 39 to 45 degrees in February. “The fish seem to be really biting on this technique when the water temperature hits about 42 degrees,” McGuire says.
Water clarity is also important, so McGuire concentrates on the clear water areas around the dam and in the Gravois arm during this time of year. When the water starts to warm in March, the technique then works anywhere from the dam to the 35- or 40-mile mark of the Osage arm.
A low lake level, which usually occurs in February, helps pull the fish out of any shallow cover and position them on the deeper structure, making bass easier to pinpoint. Even though the fish are near deep water, McGuire believes 90 percent of the time the bass will be suspended less than 10 feet deep over the structure.
The most productive structures for this pattern are bluff ends, pockets in bluff lines and points. McGuire has also taken bass suspended over brush piles in 10 to 12 feet of water or hiding in the shade under docks along the main channel. “You have to pretty well stick to the main channel,” he advises.
While his boat is sitting over 60 to 70 feet of water, McGuire throws his Rogue to bass that are within 5 to 8 feet of the surface. “Most of the time you can find them in schools where they are out there trying to get a bite of shad every once in a while,” says McGuire. He knows he has found a promising spot when he sees dying baitfish fluttering to the surface. The suspending Rogue imitates the action of a dying shad.
McGuire likes to throw what he calls a “Christmas tree Rogue” (black back, yellow and green sides and chartreuse belly) or a ghost or shad-color model. He prefers using the medium diver (4 1/2 inch) Rogue over the magnum model (5 1/2 inch). “You can catch bigger fish on the magnum, but you can catch a lot of 4- and 5-pound fish on that medium-size Rogue,” McGuire says. “Most of the time when you catch 4- or 5-pound fish you’re doing okay.”
He makes his Rogue suspend by mashing plumber’s lead around the front hook. “It definitely has to suspend or rise, not sink. If it sinks, it’s no good,” he says. “I have never caught a fish on this lake with a Rogue that sinks.” A Rogue that barely rises can also be productive, especially in warming water conditions. “As the water warms, the more rise you want out of the Rogue.”
McGuire works his Rogue on a fairly stiff 6 1/2-foot spinning rod and a spinning reel filled with 8-pound test line. He feels he can throw his lure farther into the wind with the spinning tackle. “The farther you can throw at the start, the better chance you have of finding the fish.” Long casts allow him to position his boat farther from the shoreline, which becomes necessary since the fish will be anywhere from the bank out to 100 yards off the shore.
An extremely slow retrieve works best since the water is cold and the fish aren’t in a chasing mood. “Some guys say the retrieve is slow enough to where you can stop and drink a soda,” McGuire says. “The slower you fish it, the better chance a bass has to eat it.” McGuire never jerks the lure; he just slowly pulls it down to the strike zone and then lets it sit for awhile before pulling again. “Ninety-nine percent of the time the fish will hit the bait when it is sitting still,” he says. Feeling resistance on your line when you pull the lure signals a strike.
Fishing on a cold, miserable day in February might be well worth the trouble if you can pull that Rogue through a school of heavyweight Lake of the Ozarks bass.
For information on lodging and other facilities 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.