Welcome to Bassmaster's reality series! Here, we put top BASS pros on small lakes they've never seen before for seven hours, and then log everything they do to locate and catch bass.
This month Russ Lane steps to the plate. The 35-year-old Prattville, Ala., Elite Series pro, a former minor league baseball pitcher, has had two Top 10 finishes and seven Top 20 finishes, and has qualified for the Classic twice. Here's what happened on Jan. 31, 2007, when we put Lane on Lake B, a small reservoir in a remote area of the Southeast. If you've ever hesitated to go bass fishing because of extremely cold weather, what follows may make you reconsider!
> 7:37 a.m. Lane and I arrive at Lake B. He's towing a Bass Cat Puma equipped with a 250-hp Yamaha outboard, Minn Kota trolling motor and Lowrance electronics. It's sunny and a frigid 10 degrees, the coldest morning of the year — and the coldest morning yet for a "Day on the Lake" outing. A high of 30 degrees and snow are forecast for later in the day.
> 7:50 a.m. "God, it's cold!" Lane complains as he dons a heavy jacket, gloves and insulated boots prior to launching. He looks at the sheet of ice at the end of the boat ramp and wonders, "Do you think we can launch this boat all right?" I tell him his only other option is to fish from the bank.
> 8:00 a.m. Lane backs the Bass Cat down the ramp, the trailer breaks through the ice and the boat floats off. I nudge the boat against the bank and wait for him to park his truck. "That ice busted both taillights and both transom tie-downs off my trailer!" he grumbles as he climbs aboard.
> 8:11 a.m. The pro takes his time getting his tackle ready, pausing frequently to rub his hands to warm his frozen fingers. He spreads out an assortment of Castaway rods on the boat's front deck and says, "I've fished winter tournaments where it'd be 18 or 20 degrees in the morning, then warm up into the 50s by afternoon. But that's not gonna happen today, so I expect the bite to be really slow." He checks the water temperature: 39.6 degrees. "This is the coldest water I've ever fished," he says. "There's a lot of wood cover around the banks and some standing timber; if the bass are holding at the ends of those laydown trees, they may bite a jig or a wide-wobbling crankbait, and the water looks clear enough to fish a suspending jerkbait. But they could be suspending or holding tight to the bottom somewhere out in the middle instead, which bass often do in extremely cold conditions. I'm gonna have to fish slow today, and try to stay warm. Thankfully this is an idle-speed-only lake, so we don't have to run anywhere!"
> 8:20 a.m. With his boat in 28 feet of water, Lane makes his first cast to a standing tree with a prototype 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Vicious jig with a matching Zoom Super Chunk trailer. He retrieves it with a constant swimming motion. There's a film of ice extending a couple of feet off the bank.
> 8:24 a.m. He tries a shad colored Brian's Skinny Bee square-billed crankbait around the timber: "Crankbaits are my deal! A lot of guys don't think bass will hit 'em in cold water, but they will."
> 8:28 a.m. Lane switches to a firetiger Rapala DT Flat crankbait and bumps it across a shallow point. "My hands are so cold, they ache!" he moans.
> 8:34 a.m. Still crankin' the point. Lane has to dip his rod in the water after every cast to clear ice from the guides. "At least the wind isn't blowing," he says.
> 8:41 a.m. He hangs the Rapala in a deep stump and breaks it off.
> 8:42 a.m. Lane tries a 1/4-ounce green pumpkin Vicious finesse jig, dragging it along the bottom: "Bass like a hard bottom in winter — it warms up quicker than a soft bottom."
> 8:45 a.m. He gets a tap on the jig, but the bass drops it.
> 9:00 a.m. "Between the guides freezing up and the line being stiff, it's hard to put a jig right where you want it," he says as he pitches the lure around laydown logs in the partially frozen lake's upper end.
> 9:04 a.m. Back to the Brian's square bill, bumping it off sunken logs: "I've caught a lot more bass in winter on faster reaction baits than with a slow presentation, but like I said, I've never fished water this cold before."
> 9:15 a.m. Lane pulls a spinning rod out of storage: "I'd like to rig up a drop shot if my hands ever thaw out."
> 9:17 a.m. He attempts to spray some silicone line treatment in his rod guides to keep them from icing up, but the contents of the bottle are frozen solid.
> 9:23 a.m. He moves his boat out deeper with the trolling motor, and there's a loud grinding noise as it passes over an ice floe: "That's a sound we don't hear much down in Alabama!"
> 9:25 a.m. Lane rigs up a watermelon/red flake Yamamoto Senko on a casting rod and a green pumpkin Zoom Finesse Worm on a 3/16-ounce Slider head on the spinning rod.
> 9:28 a.m. He casts the Senko around stickups in 9 feet of water and lets it fall on a semi-tight line: "Maybe some fish are suspended around this wood."
> 9:30 a.m. Lane moves out of the stickups into 15-foot water to try a citrus shad Bomber Fat Free Shad crankbait with a red hook at the tail: "There's a narrow 'gut' or ditch running between those trees and out into the middle. I've got 10-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line on this reel, so the lure ought to hit bottom."
> 9:35 a.m. Lane's cranking rod loads up under the weight of a huge bass. It stays deep for a spell, then heads for the surface and rolls lazily on top, prompting the pro to exclaim, "It's a giant!" Carefully he works the fish closer and lips it. It's a giant, all right — a bloated, bug-eyed, potbellied behemoth of a bass! The fish has practically swallowed the Fat Free Shad; Lane carefully extracts the plug and weighs his prize on digital scales: 11 pounds, 14 ounces! It's the biggest bass Lane has ever caught, and a new record for this series, beating Tim Horton's 9-2 caught in June 2000! Lane is visibly shaken as he places the monster bass in his livewell to resuscitate it prior to release. "My boat was in 12 feet, and the lure was hitting bottom in 15," he says. "I felt it bump off a piece of wood, then the bass inhaled it. I've never had a crankbait bite like that in my life — it felt like I'd hooked a garbage can! Do you believe this!?"
> 9:46 a.m. It's taken Lane several minutes to regain his composure enough to resume cranking the ditch.
9:55 a.m. He hangs another good fish in the ditch. He runs to the back of the boat to land it > his second bass of the day weighs 6 pounds, 8 ounces! "I'd drifted over to where the bank drops off really quickly into the ditch when this one struck. It hit much harder than that big fish — not that this one isn't big, too, but compared to the first one, it looks like a minnow!"
> 10:00 a.m. Both pro and writer are in a state of shock. "With the extreme conditions we've got today, it's possible that most of the big bass in this lake are stacked up in this ditch," Lane says as he continues cranking.
"I've got five hours left to find out!"
> 10:14 a.m. "I'm gonna move off this spot and let it rest awhile," Lane says. He puts his trolling motor on high and moves to the dam; here the water is 32 feet deep. On his graph, the pro spots a submerged standing tree topping out a few feet below the surface, and casts the Senko to it.
> 10:30 a.m. The treetop having failed to yield a bass, Lane tries the finesse worm around an overflow pipe. The air temp has warmed into the mid-20s, which feels like 60 compared to when we launched. His rod guides are still icing up.
> 10:36 a.m. He cranks the Fat Free Shad parallel to the dam. No takers.
> 10:45 a.m. While Lane cranks a channel bank, a gizzard shad appears on the surface and a big bass boils up and eats it: "It's cold enough for a shad kill; when that happens, bass feed like crazy!"
> 11:05 a.m. He ties on a vintage Smithwick Rattlin' Rogue jerkbait in the hornyhead pattern that he's weighted with lead tape: "This bait was built before they put weights in 'em at the factory." He casts it across a flat point, alternately pulling it under with his rod and letting it suspend.
> 11:09 a.m. "It's not getting down deep enough," Lane mutters. "Water this cold is really dense, and I need more weight on it to sink it."
> 11:13 a.m. The pro searches through a spinnerbait box and finds a white 1-ounce Mann's Legend with three willow blades: "This is the best offshore structure spinnerbait made — Paul Elias designed it." He ties a prototype 3/4-ounce Vicious football jig onto another rod. What's his game plan for the time he has remaining? "Normally the best winter bite occurs in the afternoon, after the sun's warmed the water a bit. I'm gonna try a few other baits, and see if any fish have moved up to the outside of that shoreline wood. And, you can bet I'm gonna recheck my honey hole."
> 11:21 a.m. Lane ties on a big chartreuse shad Jackall Mikey swimbait, an exotic three-section Japanese jointed plug, and casts it to a wooded channel bank. He's trimmed the lip so it throws a wake as it runs just beneath the surface: "There's no doubt the bass in this lake could crush a lure this big."
> 11:36 a.m. He returns to fish the spot where he caught his two lunkers, but there's a big patch of ice floating exactly where he wants to position his boat: "This is a first — having to wait for the ice to drift out before I can fish my hole!"
> 11:39 a.m. Lane tries the Fat Free Shad on a point with big stumps on it.
> 11:41 a.m. "Check this out!" Lane laughs as ice crystals fly off his reel with every turn of the handle. "I've got my own snow machine!"
> 11:45 a.m. A bass plasters Lane's crankbait right under the boat, but gets off: "That one felt big, too!"
> 11:48 a.m. The ice floe that had blocked access to his honey hole has finally drifted toward shore. Lane positions his boat so he can fish the ditch, and casts the 1-ounce spinnerbait past the structure. He lets it sink to the bottom, jerks back on the rod to get the blades turning, and slow rolls it across the bottom: "Those three flashing blades look just like dying shad!"
> 11:49 a.m. A 5-pound bass follows the spinnerbait, then turns away an arm's length from the boat.
> 11:51 a.m. Lane switches from slow rolling to pumping the spinnerbait.
> 11:57 a.m. He drags the football jig through the ditch: "There's no telling what's down there!"
> Noon. No takers on either the spinnerbait or jig: "A small lake usually has one or two sweet spots that will hold big bass in winter; they oughta be on some deep structure fairly close to a shallow spawning area. You need to be really patient about fishing these spots, and check 'em several times throughout the day."
> 12:07 p.m. Lane switches the stock hooks on a red 3/4-ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap to red hooks. "It's still way below freezing," he says. "My hands are so numb, it'll take me an hour to change hooks!"
> 12:11 p.m. Lane chunks the Trap into the ditch and retrieves it slowly with intermittent jerks, trying to provoke a reaction strike.
> 12:17 p.m. The pro spots a huge fish on his graph suspending in 13feet of water directly under the boat. He lowers the Trap down to it and yo-yos the lure, but there's no response.
> 12:24 p.m. He ties on a chartreuse shad Lucky Craft Stacee 90 suspending jerkbait on one rod, and a drop shot rig with a green pumpkin Roboworm finesse worm on another. The worm is rigged on a 2/0 Gamakatsu G-Lok hook with a 3/16-ounce sinker: "I'd like to see a 14-pounder load onto this!" He takes a few minutes to untangle the growing arsenal of rods he's accumulated on his front deck.
> 12:29 p.m. It's beginning to cloud up as Lane tries the Stacee on a slick bank near the dam: "I read in Bassmaster that suspending jerkbaits work well in winter!"
> 12:35 p.m. A bald eagle soars overhead as Lane continues jerking the Stacee.
> 12:38 p.m. Lane tries the drop shot rig in the deep water near the dam. He lowers it to the bottom and shakes the rod tip: "I'll do anything to catch a bass, but I really hate doing this!"
> 12:39 p.m. A fish grabs the worm, but Lane can't stick it. He shows me the lure: "See those teeth marks?"
> 12:48 p.m. He tries the Stacee again, but still no takers.
> 12:50 p.m. Lane opens his livewell and marvels at the size of his giant bass. I snap a few more photos of him holding the fish, then he carefully releases it into the frigid water. We watch it swim slowly out of sight.
> 12:53 p.m. Lane ties on a 3/8-ounce Vicious flipping jig with a sparkly bright copper skirt. He pitches it around laydown logs. "There's still a big band of ice along shore," he says. "What I need is an auger!"
1:06 p.m. The wind starts to blow out of the north. Lane dons a ski hood.
> 1:12 p.m. He abandons the jig in favor of the Fat Free Shad and cranks open water adjacent to standing timber.
> 1:20 p.m. He breaks off the crankbait in a deep treetop and ties on a similar lure in the Tennessee Shad pattern. As he's rigging up, his other Fat Free pops to the surface: "Good, I didn't want to lose that bait!"
> 1:35 p.m. It's clouding up more and the wind has shifted 180 degrees as Lane continues cranking.
> 1:46 p.m. Lane drags the football jig through the deep ditch without success. "That wind is brutal!" he shivers.> 1:52 p.m. He tries the square-billed crankbait around some shallow stumps near the ditch.
> 2:00 p.m. With one hour remaining, Lane continues cranking the square bill: "The best part of this area is still covered with ice!"
> 2:10 p.m. Back to pitching the flipping jig around laydowns: "They just aren't on this wood."
> 2:21 p.m. Lane reties the big Fat Free Shad that he caught his lunkers on: "This is my money bait!"
> 2:43 p.m. Lane is cranking the ditch. His guides are still icing up.
> 2:55 p.m. "Last cast," the pro says as he slings the crankbait across the ditch. It grinds the bottom, but hauls water.> 3:00 p.m. "Can I please quit now?" Lane begs as the cold wind howls. He's boated two bass from Lake B totaling a remarkable 18 pounds, 6 ounces.
The Day in Perspective
"Most people would never think of going bass fishing on a day this cold," Lane told Bassmaster. "But I'm living proof that extreme winter conditions can produce the fish of a lifetime. If readers take anything away from this article, they should remember that in winter, structure often trumps cover. This lake has tons of wood cover, and you'd think there'd be a bass on every log. But they weren't relating to the wood at all. Instead, my two big fish came off a relatively barren piece of deep structure. If I were to fish here tomorrow, I'd graph every square inch of this place, looking for a couple of more pieces of deep structure. And I'd make darn sure I had some hand warmers with me!"
Where And When Russ Lane Caught His Bass
11 pounds, 14 ounces; 15-foot ditch; citrus shad Bomber Fat Free Shad crankbait with red tail hook; 9:35 a.m.
6 pounds, 8 ounces; same lure and location as No. 1; 9:55 a.m.
TOTAL: 18 POUNDS, 6 OUNCES