By Steve Price
January 21, 2011
For most fishermen, the words “high barometer” and “bright skies” rate as some of the most dreaded terms in the bass language. They’re synonymous with tough fishing and few bites, so most pros try to avoid them if possible.
Not FLW and Bassmaster Elite angler Takahiro Omori. The former Classic winner looks for and hopes for such conditions when he’s on the water this time of year, and his reasoning is simple: bright skies mean warmer temperatures and more active fish.
“During the winter, I don’t want cloudy, overcast days because the water will not warm up,” he explains, “but when the sun is shining brightly the water can warm just enough, maybe only one or two degrees by mid-afternoon, and that can be enough to start a few bass cruising and possibly feeding.
“If I have a choice, I’ll pick the second or third consecutive day of sunshine to go fishing, but even the first day of bright skies and a high barometer is better than an overcast day.”
Omori admits catching bass in January and early February can be extremely difficult because the fish are not active in the colder water, and neither are the baitfish. Fishing for about five bites a day may be the norm, so he welcomes any warmth at all on the water. He’s not really sure the high barometer makes a lot of difference this time of year, since the fish are sluggish anyway.
Along with the bright skies and high pressure, the Yamamoto pro staffer chooses his fishing spots carefully to take full advantage of the sunshine. Thus, he concentrates in flat, protected pockets and coves that have an average depth of five feet or less and which are very close to deeper water or a main lake channel.
“It’s always better if the water temperature is above 50 degrees,” Omori adds, “but water temperature is not the major key that makes these protected flats productive. By late January, the days are gradually getting longer so the amount of sunlight is slowly increasing. Based on what I’ve seen over my years of fishing, I think this increase is a major reason a few bass are beginning to come closer to shallow water.
“The coves I’m looking for are not actual spawning coves in the backs of tributaries. I like to call them feeding coves, because they’re still very close to deep water. Coves protected from strong north winds are always better, too, because conditions in them are more stable and they will be the first to get warmer.”
To locate such coves, Omori spends a lot of time studying maps, often two or three of the same lake, and circles potential spots with a marker. Once he’s on the water, his GPS and Navionics help him find them quickly; he may visit several, idling through them just to look before he ever gets a rod ready.
“I like to go in the middle of the afternoon, which is the warmest part of the day,” he continues, “and as the water warms, baitfish may start to move around. When they do, bass start feeding. That’s why I like to describe them as feeding coves. Seeing baitfish is nice, but often I don’t see anything at all.
“The important thing to remember is that the baitfish will come up first if they’re present, and if you do see them, you know you’re around bass. The best scenario of all is seeing a cruising largemouth, and you may be surprised at how cold the water temperature still is when you do see them. That’s why I know water temperature is not the only factor that brings them shallow.”
Omori also looks for cover, which he deems nearly as important as the presence of baitfish. Bass will use the cover, be it stumps, logs, or vegetation as holding areas or ambush spots, and if the weather turns colder, some bass will stay in thicker cover rather than retreat to the deeper water. Vegetation, of course, is some of the best cover of all, even if it’s last year’s brown grass.
Three lures usually make up his arsenal this time of year: a lipless crankbait, a medium-diving crankbait that will hit the bottom, and a plastic creature bait. Despite the cold temperatures, Omori still fishes them fast, because he’s trying purely for a reaction strike.
“If any vegetation is present, I’ll bump it with the lipless crankbait,” he notes, “but if the bottom is bare, I’ll use the diving crankbait to grind bounce along and still try to make bass hit out of reflex. Many flats and coves have a deeper channel running through them but at this time of year I don’t fish that channel at all.
“The shallow flats warm faster than the channels, and the bass in the channel are harder to catch because it is colder. When they’re up on the flats, these bass are usually looking for food. That’s why you want a fast-moving lure that will bring a reaction strike.”
If he finds thicker, matted vegetation, Omori rigs a Flappin’ Hog or similar type of creature bait for flipping, but because he’s still trying for a reaction bite, he normally uses a ¾ or 1-ounce sinker. He flips to the thickest part of the cover where the heavy sinker pulls the lure down quickly, then he jigs it just once or twice to create additional falls. If there’s no response, he reels up for another presentation.
Many anglers choose jigs in these situations, crawling them very slowly along the bottom, but Omori stays with the fast-movers. They allow him to cover a lot of water in a short period of time, and he knows the more water he can cover, the better his chances of encountering one of those cruising largemouths.
“With the crankbaits, it seems as if red, orange, or chartreuse trigger reaction strikes better, but when I’m flipping, color doesn’t seem nearly as important,” he explains. “I just want a faster fall. The bass are not aggressive in colder water, so you can’t depend on a feeding-type strike at all, and there’s no real reason I can think of to give them a good look at your lure.
“The only thing I can try for then, is a reaction strike, and speed is the best way to get one. The fishing like this on some lakes, such as Sam Rayburn, for example, is legendary. There’s a lot of hydrilla growing below the surface, and even though the wind may be blowing and you’re bundled in heavy clothes, you can still catch bass with a fast retrieve.”
And it works best in bright sunshine on high barometer days.