Pitching for Bass in February
F resh out of high school, Gary Klein moved from California to Texas to begin his bass fishing career, largely because the Lone Star State is blessed with so many great man-made reservoirs.
“There are no bad ones,” he said. “But some are better than others.” He’s fished many of them at their peaks, from Rayburn to Toledo Bend to Falcon to Amistad, and while they all have their differences, no matter where he goes one of his favorite ways to attack their bass in February is with a pitching or flipping stick in the thickest cover he can find.
“One of the best jig bites I ever had in Texas was in February,” he recalled. “I was filming with Jerry McKinnis at Lake Fork, and it was such an obvious pattern as soon as I got the first bite. The fish were suspended in the tops of really thick cedar trees that were in 15 to 20 feet of water. The jig wouldn’t sink a foot before you’d feel them hit it. The key was that they were all set up on points. Any thick cedar on a point in a bay had a fish, or multiple fish.”
He’s constantly watching weather changes at this time of year, both leading up to his fishing trips and during the course of the day. The water temperatures are most often in the upper 40s or low 50s, and on sunny afternoons “the big females set up and get in shallow water to soak in the rays. I know they’re coming out of a winter mode. They’re moving up from behind me, and I’m looking where they want to go.”
In addition to wanting to move toward the bank, they’re also looking to immerse themselves in heavy cover. They want to be, Klein said, “where they don’t have to worry about anyone taking up their real estate.” That often, but not always means the thickest cover around, and that’s when Klein’s at his best.
“As an angler, I’m very efficient at that time,” he said. “I’m using a long rod, which gives me leverage. I’m usually using heavier line, either braid or fluorocarbon. Most importantly, I’m using a bait with a single hook.” Although that could connote either a jig or a Texas Rig, in February Klein tends to lean most heavily on the jig. He’s not fishing for numbers, but rather for big bites, and that’s what the jig tends to produce.
Regardless of what part of the lake he’s fishing on, he’ll often start by keying in on bushes just off a creek channel. They’re usually on the steeper banks as opposed to the flat banks, so his boat may be sitting in 15 feet of water as opposed to in four feet.
Klein said that the most important part of his presentation is to figure out whether the bass are “sight feeders” or “lateral line feeders.” On a lake like Sam Rayburn, there may be two distinct populations, sight feeders in the lower lake where it’s clearer, and lateral line feeders above the bridges where the water is more off-colored.
With both groups, he’s looking for calmer water, protected from heavy winds, but once he finds them his approach may differ. “With sight feeders you don’t have to be as persistent,” he explained. “They’ll travel to get the jig. But if you find that same bush in off-colored water, you might have to make multiple pitches or flips to get them to bite.”
He prefers to hand-tie his own Boss jigs, which are made with heavy hooks, but the color, the noisemakers and the trailers vary depending on location. For lateral line feeders, he prefers a Berkley Chigger Craw as his trailer, because “the movement is phenomenal.” He loads up both the jig and the craw with rattles, and might pitch “five, six, seven or even eight times to one target….shake, jiggle, jiggle.”
On the lower end of the lake, where he’ll often find two to three feet of visibility, his presentation will be slightly altered. First, he’ll pitch much more than he’ll flip, to keep the boat at an ample distance from the more skittish fish. Second, he’ll typically only make one or two good pitches to a target and have confidence that if they’re there, they’ll bite. He’ll also use a different trailer, often a Pit Boss, which still has bulk, but not the same aggressive movement as the Chigger Craw.
Klein warned that modern technology—for example, improved electronics, more powerful trolling motors and fuel efficient outboards—may make it easier to cover water, but they also make it easier to fail to adjust. It’s now easy to fish both the upper and lower end of a lake like Rayburn in the same day, and thereby pursue two different populations of fish.
“The chances are I’ll fish a different jig, a heavier jig, when I go shallower,” he said. “The rate of fall triggers fish to bite.”
Klein reminded anglers that these lessons and tidbits of advice are just a starting point, based on his experiences, and that each angler needs to develop his own ability to understand “more than a small fraction of the big puzzle.” But if you’re going to start somewhere, it pays to listen to the advice of one of the all time greats, someone who has made a living with the long rod for over three decades.
If you want to learn more of Gary Klein’s winning secrets, check out his full seminar video by subscribing to www.bassu.tv.
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