12/17/11
Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.    Blue-winged Olives
2.    Midges
3.    Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)

Fishing Cold Water - Part Eight



The most important thing I learned from my aquarium experiments was that bass would eat in
extremely cold water. As mentioned yesterday, I should have already known that from the
results of several professional bass tournaments I fished. Irregardless of how cold the water
got, I learned that even the largemouth bass, a warm water species of fish that prefers much
warmer water than the cold water trout,  could be caught during extremely cold water. Not only
could they be caught, but when knowledgeable anglers found them concentrated in small
isolated areas of lakes and rivers, they managed to catch a lot of them.

A local tournament that rings a bell was held in Mobile Alabama right off the I-10 causeway in
1980. I know the date simply because the first place trophy is in my trophy collection. It was
held on a rare day when the air temperature in Mobile remained below freezing. The water
along Mobile Bay is very shallow, especially when a strong north wind blows much of the water
out into the Gulf. The only deep water is in the rivers that begin in that area and certain areas
beneath the few miles of Interstate highway that crosses the bay. That's due to the road
construction company excavating areas to build pilings that support the bridge. I don't
remember the exact water temperature that day, but I do remember I won the tournament with
a limit of bass and than I didn't have much competition.  Most guys didn't catch one measuring
fish. I caught them all anchored in one location under the I-10 bridge in strong wind.  

Determined to learn to catch bass from very cold water, I would watch the long range weather
forecast and I would plan a fishing trip when one of those orange tree killing cold fronts moved
through Florida. I usually chose the St. Johns River area where I though more national BASS
tournaments would be held. I remember one such trip very well. I had learned to "Flip", a bass
fishing method very similar to "High-stickin" for trout.  As I have previously written in the series,
it can be a deadly technique when bass are isolated in small areas beneath or in heavy cover
in very cold water. This particular "learning" trip, I chose to fish Rodman Reservoir, off the St.
Johns River. You have to lock through the dam to get there from the St. Johns but you can do
that in a tournament if your wiling to devote the time it takes to do it.

I had fished Rodman many times and knew it held some huge bass. The lake is full of every
type of Florida vegetation you can imagine as well as standing and fallen timber. Every spot in
the lake looks like it would hold a ten pound bass; however, the water is extremely clear and
Rodman isn't easy to fish.

This particular day in the late seventies, the surface water temperature was 41 degrees. The
wind was blowing very hard and it was almost impossible for me to hold my 18 foot Ranger
bass boat in one position using the 24 volt trolling motor. I fished for at least four hours or
longer before I caught the first bass. I was dropping and crawling spinnerbaits slowly around
heavy cover with no result but later changed to the "jig and pig". That's a jig with a short, pork
rind trailer. I was fishing it on the flipping stick straight down beneath the boat. The boat had
drifted up into a large area of water hyacinths, a floating plant from Japan that doesn't live in
any one area but drifts depending on the wind direction. These pretty plants became a huge
problem for Florida. They rendered some areas impossible to navigate. They are not
attached to the bottom. They provide overhead cover for baitfish, minnows, bass and other
fish. These plants have leather-like leaves and petioles (little floats) that hang below the part
of the plant that's above the water. When the wind blows hard and long in one direction, they
congregate in certain areas, sometimes covering acres of water.

The water was about eight feet deep under the hyacinths. My boat had become caught up in
the plants in spite of my trying to prevent it. I was "fiippin" small areas just large enough for me
to get the jig and pig through, letting the jig fall slowly down (you can control the speed of the
fall) to the bottom. I would then pick it up to various depths and jig it slightly up and down.  
This all takes place within ten to twelve feet from the side of the boat.

To shorten the story, within a period of two or three hours, I caught 17 bass from three to ten
and a half pounds. I kelp the largest one and that's how I know its weight. I still kelp a log of
the trip in my picture album and that's how I know the details of the trip of long ago. They
averaged around five to six pounds. I estimated the largest ten fish, the limit at the time for
tournaments, would weight at least fifty pounds. That would win any tournament. A three day
tournament of that weight would be 150 pounds, something completely unheard of.

I moved the boat around to different areas of the lake but all within a few hundred yards. I
would let the wind blow the boat up into the hyacinths until it jammed and didn't move any
further. If the depth was different, I would crank the big engine and try another location
keeping the depth of the water under the plants about the same.

I didn't know it then, but I later found out that when the boat goes up into the hyacinths, it
knocks off little freshwater shrimp and that attracts baitfish, such as Golden Shinners and little
Bull Head minnows. Later, I learned some guys would actually run the big motor, knocking off
food for the baitfish, until the boat jammed into the middle of the plants. Then they would sit
and wait for the baitfish to congregate and then, the bass would show up. This doesn't work in
cold water though. The bass tend to stay put and not move around. Beneath the plants, the
water is very clear (Rodman Reservoir actually comes from Silver Springs in Ocala Florida)
and the bass can easily see what's going on.  

I learned was that even in extremely cold water, if you can find a concentration of bass, you
can present a small lure to them slowly, right in front of their noses and you will catch them.
That day of fishing produced one of the largest catches of bass i have ever managed to
catch, and I did it in water less than eight feet deep on a day the temperature was below
freezing until at least noon and then only reached 35 degrees that afternoon.  After that day, I
used similar techniques to catch many other large stringers in other lakes but never that many
that averaged that much.

I could give many other examples of how I learned to catch bass in cold water but I will move
on to other species and get to trout before long. I hope you continue to follow the series. If
you do,
I promise you will learn something about catching trout in very cold water
and also
learn to ignore those that think they know what you can and can't do fishing
for trout in the Great Smoky National Park during cold water.

Note:
At the time I started fly fishing almost exclusively for trout, in the late 1990's, I was
"light years" ahead of most anglers that take the up the sport . I already had thirty
years of fishing experience, including a lot of fly rod experience. This included over
twenty years of full time fishing experience that was my main livelihood or source
my income.
Copyright 2011 James Marsh
I'm not trying to write an autobiography. It's my way of explaining  how water temperature affects gamefish and
in the end, how it relates to trout. I think it's a greatly misunderstood subject by many, if not most anglers, and
my intent is to try to give those interested a better understanding of the subject.