Big fish drive most bass anglers' fantasies, and throughout much of the country, February is the most likely month for catching that lunker of a lifetime. And the most likely place to do so? "Riprap banks," Denny Brauer answers without the least pause for consideration.
This top-ranked pro angler from Camdenton, Mo., explains, "February always provides some of the biggest bites of the year. In many states, this is when the water temperature begins rising from its midwinter low, and this triggers big sow bass to go on a feeding binge. Some of the first places they do this are along riprap banks that are close to deep water."
Common lore has it that the rocks absorb sunlight and warm the water around the riprap. This causes crawfish to come out, and bass move in to gobble the craws.
"I don't know if the rocks really heat up," Brauer says. "I think bass may shift onto riprap because of the contour of the structure and the availability of this highly desirable source of protein before they spawn.
"But whatever the reason, riprap is certainly a key structure when water temperature starts edging back up in early spring. Each February, lots of giant bass are caught off these rocky banks by anglers who know how to take advantage of the opportunity they offer."
So for starters, which riprap banks are best? Brauer continues, "Look for riprap close to deep water where the bass have held through the winter. This means bridge causeways on the main lake, marina breakwaters, dam facings, etc. Stay out of the small creeks until closer to the spawn. Right now, think bigger water."
Weather-wise, Brauer says fishing riprap is better during extended stable periods. "The more high-pressure, sunny days in a row, the better the fishing will be," he says. "When a front blows through, it'll take two or three days of stability for this pattern to get going again."
He adds that riprap fishing is better in the afternoons, after the water has absorbed a few hours of the sun's rays, and he prefers fishing in wind-sheltered areas with little surface commotion.
Brauer uses three basic lures for fishing riprap: a suspending jerkbait (Strike King Wild Shiner), a diving crankbait (Strike King Series 4), and a 1/2-ounce jig-and-chunk (Denny Brauer Pro-Model). He has all three tied on and ready at all times, and he alternates between them to see which the fish prefer on a given day.
"The jerkbait produces best when the water is 36 to 43 degrees," Brauer reveals. "In water this cold, the bass are lethargic; they like this bait's slow, suspending action. I'll usually work it in 4 to 7 feet of water parallel to the sloping contour of the rocks. I'll start casting close to the rocks, but if I'm not getting any bites, I'll move out and fish several feet off the bank. Sometimes anglers working riprap are actually holding their boats over the fish."
Brauer's favorite jerkbait colors are gizzard shad in clear water and chrome/black in stained water.
As the water warms into the mid-40s, Brauer depends more on the crankbait. Now his favorite colors are green crawfish for clear water and brown crawfish for dirty water. He says it's imperative to bump the rocks with the diving bait to trigger strikes.
And his backup bait for both the jerkbait and the crankbait is the jig. "If the other two baits aren't producing, I'll go to the jig and work it slowly through what I think are prime areas along the riprap.
"If conditions are right for the fish to be shallow, I'll keep my boat out and make pitches almost to the waterline in a quartering direction. It seems like I don't get hung up as often when I'm working the bait back through the rocks at an angle (as opposed to perpendicular to the bank).
"But if I think they're holding deep, I'll move in and cast parallel to the bank, working where the rocks border the natural bottom." Brauer's favorite jig colors for riprap are natural crawfish colors in clear water and black/blue in stained water.
When fishing riprap banks, Brauer says it's important to find both the depth and the zone where bass are feeding. "I'll start out fishing an entire bank and trying shallow, medium and deep water. If there's a key feature like a point or a slide-in, I'll pay special attention to it. But I'll still fish the whole bank to see if there's a sweet spot where the fish are concentrated. Frequently, all your bites will come from one little 25- or 50-yard stretch, and the rest of the bank won't yield anything."
Brauer coaches to be alert for "double-cover" spots. He explains, "This may be a piece of wood on the rocks, a change in rock size, a spot where a creek channel swings into the bank, or a hump that's just out from the bank.
Look at your map, and watch your depthfinder as you're fishing. These places can be key holding spots for bass."Brauer concludes, "Bass will be on some riprap banks and won't be on others. So this is a game of keep looking and do the right thing until the bites start coming. They usually will, and when they do, you might just have the best fishing day of your life!"
Gear To Grab
Following is a listing of rods, reels and line that Denny Brauer uses with each of his three favorite riprap baits.
For fishing jerkbaits:
6 1/2-foot Daiwa Steez medium action rod
Daiwa Steez 100HA casting reel (6.3:1 gear ratio)
Seaguar fluorocarbon line (8- or 10-pound test)
For fishing crankbaits:
Daiwa 701 medium action spinnerbait/crankbait rod (model #TD-S701MRB)
Team Daiwa X series casting reel
12-pound-test Mustad Thor monofilament
For fishing jigs:
7-foot Team Daiwa Model 731 heavy action rod
Team Daiwa X series casting reel
12- to 17-pound-test Mustad Thor line (weight depends on water clarity)
Denny Brauer says when working a jerkbait around riprap in February, anglers should tailor their retrieve speed to the cold water temperature. He explains, "I'll cast out, jerk the bait a couple of times to get it down to depth, then I'll stop it and count to five before twitching it again. If I do this a few times and don't get a bite, I'll start counting to 10. And if this doesn't work, I'll start counting to 15. It's hard to wait this long between twitches, but sometimes it's what you have to do to make the fish bite."
Also, Brauer cautions against fishing a jerkbait "like a robot." He instructs, "Change your cadence, sometimes twitching it once, sometimes twice, etc."
Before You Go
Before heading out to fish riprap in February, Denny Brauer completes the following chores. Wise anglers will copy his pre-fish routine.
Spray line with line conditioner to combat stiffness in the cold water.
Pack one small kit with jerkbaits, crankbaits and jigs to keep from having to dig through reams of tackle during the fishing day.
Stow several pairs of brown cotton gloves in the boat to wear when fishing. (When one pair gets wet, Brauer changes to another.)
Stow a full change of clothes in the boat in case someone inadvertently falls overboard.
Rocks and More Rocks
"If riprap isn't working for me in February, I'll still want to fish around rocks. I'll try pockets or ends of bluffs or rock slides along a bluff wall. If there aren't any bluffs, I'll look for where a channel swings into a steep rocky bank. This time of year, the fish will want to have deep water access. When the water's cold, they don't like to move far horizontally to feed."
To fish these spots, Denny Brauer depends on the same three baits he uses on riprap: suspending jerkbaits, diving crankbaits and jigs.