One benefit of the warm, dry winter we have been experiencing is an elevated water temperature relative to the calendar date on some of our bass lakes.
The difference has not been dramatic, just a few degrees, but it has been just enough to keep things active. There is something about the 45-degree mark in freshwater.
If the temps go much below that, the food chain seems to go into hibernation. Once it gets to the mid-40s, the food chain, from the plankton on up, becomes more active.
Yes, you can catch fish at colder temps, i.e. ice fishing, but get the water in the mid-40s and the angling improves.
During this past month, I have had some interesting reports from bass anglers about the patterns they are finding on a couple of our local lakes. Local angler Jeff Boundy has been on Lake Oroville. The lake is quite low, 200 feet below full pool.
Jeff has been having success finding bass near points on the main body of the lake. At these lake levels, the majority of the shoreline consists of steep walls associated with the underlying river canyon. Jeff has been driving his boat in a zigzag path from the shore out to 80 feet of water and back to the bank.
What he is looking for on his electronics are schools of bait fish suspended over open water not too far from structure. This year with the low lake levels he is finding large concentrations of the pond smelt rather than scattered small groups.
Once he finds a school, often at 30 to 50 feet down, he moves his boat back to casting distance from the bank and concentrates on that depth.
He believes that the bass will commute from the structure out to feed on minnows and then return to the bank at the same depth. The bass have not been inclined to move vertically only horizontally. This is not to say that there are not bass at other depths, but he has found a preponderance of them keying in on the depth of the smelt schools.
At these depths, his most effective baits have been heavy jigs imitating crawdads rather than minnow patterns.
The second report comes from Mike Pumphery, another local bass angler who consistently fishes Rollins Lake. Rollins also has pond smelt as the main forage fish.
During the warm days in January, Mike has been on the water weekly and his best results have come fishing “Rip Baits.” The unique feature of these diving plugs is that they suspend at depth when they are paused.
These are fished by sweeping your rod back, pulling the plug through the water, making it wobble and dive. The movement and the sound coming from the lure gets the fishes attention.
The pause entices them to come over for a closer look. During the pause, Mike reels in the slack and watches where the line is entering the water. If the line moves at all, he sets the hook. Watching the line is the key to hooking fish.
The water at Rollins has been quite clear for this time of year. Mike has often been able to see his lure five feet below the surface and see fish come up from the depths to hit it.
Suspending rip baits have been attracting fish from quite a distance and is a good searching technique. Of the fish Mike has caught using this method, 50 percent have come casting parallel to steep banks and the other half have come casting to structure, mainly trees lying in the water.
There are a couple of caveats with rip baits, the prime temps for this technique are from 45 to 55 degrees. If the water drops below 45 degrees the bite shuts down.
Recently the water temps on Rollins have been from 46 to 48 degrees.
The second condition that affects the bite is the water surface. In clear water, if there is no wind and the surface is glassy, Mike has not done well. It is when there is a breeze putting a ripple on the water that the bass respond well to suspending rip baits.
Mike has tried many lures for this technique but the plug must be “suspending,” i.e. neutrally buoyant. Your standard plugs either float or sink when paused.
These will not entice the hits that a suspending bait will produce.
Another comment Mike had about recent fishing at Rollins, is on a good day he will put three to five bass in the boat. This is mid-winter, not springtime. His second best pattern is vertically jigging small 1-inch Kastmasters in deep water.
There has been a lot of insect activity on the water. He saw midges hatching as well as spiders blowing across the water. If we get a good amount of rain, this lake will get muddy.
Mike’s largest fish he caught in January was a 30-inch squaw fish that hit a rip bait.
In January, I expect water as cold as the low 40s. My most recent temp from Oroville was 49 degrees. In addition to the sunshine, it is the lack of snow that has kept these lakes over the 45-degree mark. What water there is flowing into these lakes, is not the result of melting snow and thus is a bit warmer.
This drought is not good for fishing overall but it can have some positive aspects on foothill bass lakes.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at www.trollingflies.com.