Catching bass on the rebound

Mike McClelland can't wait for December to fish

Illustration by Chris ArmstrongIllustration by Chris Armstrong

Mike McClelland can't wait for December. This is when he loads his livewell with "rebound bass." These are fish that move into the creeks in fall to feed on spawning baitfish. Then as winter draws nigh and the water temperature dips below their comfort level, they start moving deep again. "They go into the creeks for a few weeks, then they bounce back out," McClelland says. Anglers who "bounce" with them can continue catching good stringers of these fish well into midwinter.

In fact, McClelland, a Bassmaster Elite Series angler from Bella Vista, Ark., says this is his "very favorite time of year" to fish his home region's deep, clear reservoirs (Beaver, Table Rock, Bull Shoals). "This isn't the best time for numbers of fish, but it's best for quality fish and heavy stringers," he explains. "I may not get a lot of bites, but the ones I do get are likely to be good ones."

Here's how McClelland targets rebound bass: where he looks, how he tracks the fish's movements and what baits and techniques he uses to catch them. Anglers who copy McClelland's patterns/presentations can repeat his success in this month of chilly winds and dropping temperatures.

"It's all about the food chain," McClelland begins. "In early fall, the baitfish move into the creeks and the bass follow them. But by December, as the water temperature drops below 50 degrees, the baitfish and the bass will start leaving the shallows and head back toward deeper water. Anglers who follow them downstream can stay in the action."

McClelland explains that two things are central in doing the above: finding the baitfish both visually and electronically; and keying on the creek channels that wind their way toward the main lake. "When the baitfish leave the shallows in the back of a creek, most will follow the meandering creek channel back toward deep water. So they will be somewhere between the back of the creek and its intersection with the river channel in the main lake."

"I use my chartplotter to go from channel bend to channel bend, checking different areas and depths to find the baitfish. Usually I can get on them pretty fast," McClelland continues. "Then, once I find the section of the creek where the bait are holding, it's time to start fishing."

To do so, this pro angler relies on three primary baits and presentations.

"If there's some wind — just a little ripple on the surface — I'll start out with a spinnerbait," he says. "I like this bait because it'll pick off those active feeders, and I can cover a lot of water with it quickly." McClelland casts a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait with dual willowleaf blades (No. 3 1/2 and No. 4). He opts for "shad colors," such as white or translucent. "Basically, I want to use a bait that matches the size and color of the shad," he explains.

McClelland casts his spinnerbait around any visible targets, such as trees and stumps. He also fancasts to any open water areas where shad are flipping.

McClelland's second go-to bait for rebound bass is a crankbait, specifically a Spro Little John (shad and crawfish ­colors; see Tackle Tricks sidebar). This bait dives to 10 feet.

"I'll turn to this crankbait if the wind is slack and there's no action on the spinnerbait," McClelland states.

McClelland cranks channel bends, shorelines with creek channels running parallel, and any visual targets. "I try to keep the bait contacting the bottom as much as possible, and I like to bump it into cover objects," he confides.

McClelland's third presentation for December — and his favorite — is fishing a suspended jerkbait (e.g., Spro McStick in blue bandit color) over good structure and close to baitfish schools. "This usually comes into play as the water temperature slides below 50 degrees," he says. "Actually, I work a jerkbait harder and more actively in the winter than I do in the early spring, with harder jerks (yielding a more erratic action) and shorter pauses between jerks. Even with the temperature in the upper 40s, the bass are still active enough for this presentation to work."

Gear Grab

Here are specifics on rods, reels and lines that Mike McClelland uses when fishing creek contour breaks in November.

Spinnerbaits:

Rod - Falcon 7-4 Mike McClelland signature, model No. CCB-6-174HC

Reel - Quantum Tour Edition PT (model No. TE100SPT), 6.3:1 gear ratio

Line - Seaguar InvizX fluoro­carbon, 15- to 20-pound test

Crankbaits:

Rod - Falcon 7-foot medium action, model No. CC-4-17M

Reel - Quantum Energy PT (model No. E100PPT), 5.1:1 gear ratio

Line - Seaguar InvizX fluoro­carbon, 8- to 10-pound test

Jerkbaits:

Rod - Falcon 6-7 soft tip; model No. CC-5-167S

Reel - Quantum Tour Edition PT (model No. TE100SPT); 6.3:1 gear ratio

Line - Ande monofilament, 8- to 10-pound test

Tackle Tricks

In December, when bass are trailing shad back toward deep water, sometimes they will switch to feeding on crawfish, and when they do, anglers who figure this out and adjust accordingly can experience a red-hot bite.

Mike McClelland explains, "When baitfish and bass are close to the bottom (as shown on his electronics), and I'm using a crankbait, I alternate my normal shad-color baits with a crawfish bait to see if I get better results."

Football Jigs On Creek Channel Points

If Mike McClelland's "rebound" pattern isn't producing, he shifts to a deeper, slower presentation to target less active fish.

He explains, "My backup pattern is to work football jigs along underwater points and sloping banks adjacent to the same creek channels where I've been looking for rebound bass. Now I'm fishing deeper — usually 18 to 25 feet. These points will usually be in the ­lower half of the creek."

McClelland dresses his jigs with various Zoom trailers (twin-tails, Super Chunks, Baby Brush Hogs). "Cast your jig out, let it sink to the bottom, then drag it back in," he says. "Keep it in contact with the structure. Crawfish don't hop up and down off bottom. Instead, they scoot along, and your football jig should do the same thing."

Before You Go:

Here is a list of chores Mike McClelland accomplishes before hitting the creeks for a day of fishing in December.

Pre-rig rods with baits for the three primary presentations.

Load the proper mapping chip into your GPS chartplotter.

Take a virtual tour with the mapping system to familiarize yourself with the lake.

Check online for fishing reports, water temperature, lake elevation and other relevant information.

Assemble proper clothing. (Gloves are critical; Glacier gloves with exposed forefinger and thumb allow for both warmth and a sensitive touch.)

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