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Finding Bass on Table Rock Through the Winter

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Table Rock Lake is one of the best winter bass fisheries in the U.S., the combination of Largemouth, Smallmouth, Spotted bass and the abundance of Threadfin Shad create opportunities to catch bass twelve months a year. Finding bass throughout the winter can be a bit challenging as the season progresses but if you can locate schools of shad, you will find and catch bass.

The key to locating shad is water temperature, as the water temperature falls through winter and rises again in the spring shad follow a predictable pattern. Knowing where the bait moves as the temperature changes is the one key to helping you locate bass all year long.

Low 60’s:

Usually from October through the middle of November the surface water temperature on the lake is in the low to mid 60’s. This can be a difficult time to find shad and fish because they will be scattered. Generally, shad will be - cont. on page 12 gin to move into the upper portion of the water column usually less than 30’ deep attracted to the warmer water and plankton near the surface. This can be frustrating, while the shad may only be 10’ – 30’ deep, they can and will suspend over as much as 200’ of overall depth making it harder to locate and fish around the bait. Locating loons and gulls can make the search easier, finding a group of birds on the surface and diving is a clear indication that shad will be present, and bass will be close by.

Catching fish around these suspended schools of bait is a challenge; lure selection is relatively easy but staying on a school of shad being chased by bass can be difficult. Small swimbaits, Jewel Live Spins and Blade baits are all great options, opt for heavier baits that you can cast a long way versus baits with a slow fall, it is important to get your lure in front of a fish and draw reaction strikes. Using forward Facing Sonar makes this process easier but being able to track the bait and fish is key. The technique is simple, find the shad, cast to them, and swim your bait around and under them to draw strikes.

The 50’s

Water temperatures in the 50’s is Prime Time for winter bass fishing on Table Rock. Shad will begin to group up in large schools covering hundreds of square feet and remain relatively stationary in an area for days. The cooler water slows their metabolism and they feed and follow plankton much less becoming an easy meal for bass. Look for shad to be schooled up on long tapering gravel points on the main lake and in larger creek and river channels. Again, birds will make it easier to find the bait, loons and gulls will group up over the shad diving down to feed or waiting on fish to push the shad towards the surface. Shad will be deeper than when the water is in the 60’s, usually in large groups 40’ – 60’ deep with bass surrounding them.

Vertical presentations are the ticket when water temperatures are in the 50’s; spoons, drop shot rigs, jigging raps are all excellent presentations. Unlike when shad are higher in the water column, the bait and fish tend to stay in one location and one depth throughout the day making it possible to locate fish and stay on a group for long periods of time. Find the shad and fish on your sonar and simply drop your lures to them is usually all it takes.

The 40’s

When water temperatures dip into the 40’s things start to get tougher; shad start to become dormant, and the metabolism of bass slows considerably as well. Shad move very little, and bass do not need to feed as much so there is less feeding activity. The upper 40’s will still find shad and bass on the ends of deep points and in the creek arms, but presentation need to become more subtle with drop shot and Damiki rigs becoming more important. You can still have some spectacular days of fishing with water temperatures in the upper 40’s.

Mid to lower 40’s is more difficult, threadfin shad will start to die off due to the cold and bass do not have to work for food, instead they will position themselves close to the schools of bait and pick off the shad as they die. This makes fishing a challenge, most bass will not feed on lures out deep when they have an endless supply of dying shad. The best options are to either move shallow and target bass not feeding on the schools of shad or run up into a river or large creek and find warmer shallow water where fish will be more active. Moving shallow and fishing small bottom bouncing lures is an option; Ned rigs, Pee Wee Jigs and small shaky heads are all viable. The key is to fish slow; you are not going to get a lot of reaction bites this time of year. Another option is to take advantage of the shad die off by throwing a suspending jerkbait. Fish a jerkbait around standing timber and other cover less than 30’ deep allowing the bait to pause next to the cover for as much as 60 seconds between jerks. When the water dips into the 40’s fish cont. on page 14 can still be caught but you’ll need patience to make it happen. Some of the best fishing of the year takes place in the winter on Table Rock Lake. When you find schools of threadfin shad you almost always find feeding fish throughout the winter. Using the water temperature as a guide, finding the bait becomes much easier. Find the bait, pay attention to the birds and bundling up can result in one of your best fishing trips of the year.

Eric Prey is the Owner / Operator of Focused Fishing Guide Service on Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals lakes.

To book a trip or contact: or call 417-860-4743


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