Quick warm-ups: Friend or foe?

Most winters are characterized by cold spells and warm spells. This year is no exception. Warm spells, especially the extreme ones, can be your friend if you approach them correctly. They can be disappointing if you don’t.

Here in my neighborhood — Gonzales, Louisiana — we had a couple of weeks of really cold weather. We had highs in the upper 30s and lower 40s. That pushed our water temperatures down to the 45 degree mark. It was even a little colder than that in some places. That’s about as cold as it gets around here. In typical winter fashion, however, things changed. It got real warm, real quick.

Temperatures shot up into the middle and high 70s with little wind and a lot of bright sunshine. Through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, water temperatures rose sharply. By that Tuesday afternoon I was reading 55 degrees on my electronics.

You’d think that would set the fish on fire. But it didn’t, and frankly I didn’t expect that would happen. I knew the bite would get tough.

Here’s why:

Only the very top layer of the water warmed. Nothing below that changed. This was not seasonal warming like we get in the early spring. It was nothing more than a brief change in the upper water temperature in the middle of winter. All we had was a lake in which there was a layered system with the top foot of water warm and everything below still cold. That was a big change from what it was like before the warm weather arrived when all the water was the same temperature.

The bass moved up, sure enough, but they weren’t feeding. All they were doing was enjoying the warmth. I know that sounds strange, but I actually saw some of them. It looked like they were sunbathing.

As the day wore on, clouds moved in and the wind picked up. This mixed the water and my bite was much better. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it for years all over the country. It was exactly what I expected.

Here’s what I’m saying — when you’re faced with, or blessed with, a strong warming trend, don’t expect the bass to move into the shallows and go crazy. It’s not likely to happen. What they will do is move shallow, not into the shallows, and they will spend their day enjoying life.  

You can catch a few, however. You just have to approach them the right way and with the right bait. That starts with knowing where to look for them. In my experience, most of the time they’ll be around some type of cover like a stump or a dock. I think that’s because the cover holds heat, but I can’t say that for sure. I just know that’s where you’ll find them most of the time.

I like to throw floating worms or trick worms. This type of bait stays up in the water column and doesn’t move very fast. This gives the bass something they can eat without too much effort. As soon as the weather changes back towards normal, I break out my crankbaits and take advantage of the normal winter bite.