“If I had to pick one month in the year to fish Lake Jackson, it would be January,” said Josh Kelly, of Jackson.
Josh lives on Jackson and has been fishing it regularly since he was a small boy. Josh, a local tournament fisherman, started going to the lake by himself as soon as he got a driver’s license, and he knows the lake about as well as anyone in the area. He is a regular at the Berry’s Boat Dock and C&R tournaments, as well as being the owner of Net Boy Baits.
Josh moved to the lake seven years ago and spends as much of his free time as he can on Jackson and other area lakes.
“Lake Jackson is a wintertime lake,” said Josh. “The lake is drawn down, concentrating the fish, and the water tends to stay a little muddy during the winter. Muddy conditions and sunshine are a good combination to make bass pull up in shallow water.”
Jackson has long been known as a big bass lake. The largemouth population thrives in the lake, and bass heavier than 5 pounds are far from uncommon.
Josh said when the water temperature reaches the mid 40s, and the water gets muddy, the big bass move up to depths as shallow as 2 feet.
Josh likes to target rocky, clay banks with deep water nearby. There are plenty of places on the lake where the channel cuts close to shore and big chunk rocks are spread across the bottom. When the lake is drawn down, these rocks are exposed and absorb heat on bright, sunny days. The surrounding water heats up just a little, and that can make all of the difference in the world, according to Josh.
“One degree of temperature variation makes a huge difference,” said Josh.
Josh said on a typical January morning he starts by fishing rocky shorelines near the channel on the western shoreline of the lake. This allows him to take advantage of the heat generated by the rising sun, a key factor.
When I met Josh on Lake Jackson at the Lloyd Shoals ramp on a Friday in mid December, he already had a good fish in the boat. He had also had a great deal of luck the previous day catching both largemouth and spotted bass, with a few linesides thrown in for fun. And this was a bit early in the year for the pattern to really be effective. But a strong cold front had come through earlier in the week, and the water temp was already in the high 40s.
Since the water was muddy from the recent rains, we moved in close and made casts right up against the rocky bank. The boat was over the channel and sitting in about 20 feet of water, but we were casting into areas that were a foot or two deep. If the water is clear, you need to fish a little deeper because bass are less likely to move into extremely shallow water in clear conditions. The deeper water nearby is a key because the fish move up and down with the weather conditions.
Josh’s first choice of bait is a medium- to deep-running crankbait, preferably with a tight wobble.
“A No. 7 size Shad Rap is my first choice for a crankbait, but I also like a Norman Deep N, or a Rebel Deep Wee-R,” said Josh.
He chooses bright or dark color combinations in stained water and natural colors, like shad, for clear-water conditions. He fishes the baits in 2 to 10 feet of water. And the later in the day it is, the shallower he will look for the fish to be holding.
“As the water warms, the bass will continue to move up,” said Josh.
Josh fishes the crankbaits on baitcasters spooled with 10-lb. line. The light line helps with the cast, particularly in windy conditions. He also changes out the hooks on all of his crankbaits.
“I like a slightly bigger and sharper hook than the ones that come on most crankbaits,” said Josh. “I replace them with Gamakatsu EWG No. 4 hooks.”
Josh said the sharper hooks help him to connect with more fish, and the slightly larger size of the hooks can help when casting the light baits.
Josh sets his boat up over the channels and makes casts perpendicular to the bank. He then retrieves the baits slowly, keeping them in contact with the bottom as much as possible. He said a slow retrieve is a key element in getting strikes. The fish are lethargic in the cold water and are not likely to chase a bait very far. So get the bait down, and then keep the retrieve slow and steady for best results. Josh starts with the crankbait because it lets him cover water efficiently, but if he doesn’t get a strike pretty quickly, he’ll change to a jig.
“Pitching a jig to the rocky banks is a great way to catch big largemouths,” said Josh. “It is important to fish the jig slowly with a kind of hopping action.”
Josh casts the jig out near the rocks and lets it sink to the bottom. He then hops it off the bottom with a sharp lift of the rod tip, lets it sink to the bottom, reels up the slack and starts the process all over again. He’ll work the jig down the bank toward the channel.
Josh’s jig of choice is a 1/2-oz. Net Boy Baits Flipp’N Jig in a black/blue color combination. He tips the jig with a Zoom chunk in blue. If the bass are finicky and not taking the big jig, he’ll switch to a Net Boy Baits Finesse jig with a smaller profile. He uses a 7/16-oz. model in a green craw or brown-and-orange color combination (called October), and he fishes the bait around the rocks just like the bigger flipping jig. The finesse jig is often more productive when the water is relatively clear. Both the flipping jig and the finesse jig are fished on casting tackle spooled with 20-lb. test line. Both of these jigs will often pick up bigger bass than the crankbaits.
For really tough conditions, Josh sizes down to a shaky-head worm on a 3/16- to 1/4-oz. jig head with a Zoom Trick Worm threaded on. In stained water, he opts for a junebug or other dark color, while green pumpkin is his choice in clear water. The shaky head can be very effective in unstable weather conditions like right after a cold front as fish draw tight to cover. Josh fishes the bait on spinning tackle and 6-lb. test line.
He makes a cast to the shallows and then drags the bait back across the bottom until he hits a piece of structure. He then shakes the bait in place for a few minutes to entice a strike. If he doesn’t get bit, he moves on to the next piece of structure and repeats the process.
Josh pretty much stays on the main lake in the winter, fishing rocky banks between the Highway 212 bridge and Tussahaw Creek. And while the rocky bank pattern can last throughout the day, there are two other patterns he said will also produce in January. After trying rocks first thing in the morning, Josh will move out to main-lake humps when the sun gets high. These humps are generally about 8 feet deep on top with water as deep as 25 feet or more on the sides. While the rocky shorelines are typically haunts for largemouths, these humps are havens for spotted bass and linesides. When Josh approaches a hump, he moves around it slowly looking for balls of bait on his graph.
“Bait is a key component in winter fishing,” said Josh. “If you see big clouds of bait near a hump, there are likely bass in the area, too.”
If Josh doesn’t spot bait, he’ll likely move on to the next hump. The crankbaits will work on the humps as well as the shaky-head worm. For this pattern, Josh adds an old standby to the arsenal: The Little George. You can cast it a long way, making for thorough retrieves over the hump. The flutter of its spinner resembles a dying shad. Strikes will often come on the first drop, so be ready when the bait hits the water.
Once the Little George sinks to the bottom (if you haven’t gotten hit on the way down), rip it off the bottom, let it sink and reel up the slack and repeat. It is a very effective bait, and, if there are bass in the area, you are likely to hit pay dirt. Fish the shaky head in the same way you would around the rocks. Josh said he sometimes dead-sticks the shaky head by letting it sit on the bottom. He keeps the line relatively tight but doesn’t shake or move the bait. The worm floats up from the jig head and moves around with the current. That is often enough action for the bass to hit.
Josh’s third winter pattern targets the middle of creekmouths over deep water. The Little George is fished in these areas just like on the humps, and Josh adds a 1/2- or 3/4-oz. Hopkins jigging spoon to the mix, fished vertically. As with the crankbaits, Josh changes out the hook on the Hopkins, this time replacing the treble hook with a single J-hook dressed with a white feather.
“The single hook tends to hang up less and I believe does just as good a job at hooking the fish,” said Josh. “And the white feather enhances the dying shad look of the bait.”
The day we were out, we got hits on the shallow rocks as well as the humps, but the action was slow. Keep in mind we were still about a month early for this pattern to heat up. But when the fishing gets good in January, Josh said it will be effective right through February and into March.
January might be your best opportunity to catch a hawg at Jackson. Josh said a 3- to 4-lb. average is a reasonable expectation, and fish of 7 or 8 pounds are weighed in fairly often. Local wintertime pot tournaments regularly take more than 20 pounds to win, even under frigid conditions.
So, bundle up and head out to Lake Jackson for some excellent bass action this winter. It can be especially good after three or four sunny days in a row. If you follow the techniques that Josh outlined, you may just catch the bass of your life on Lake Jackson this winter.
For more on Josh and Net Boy Baits, go to <www.netboybaits.com>.