On any list of successful Lake Murray tournament bass fishermen over the last 30-plus years Captain Doug Lown’s name is certain to be at or near the top. An exhaustive listing of the particular tournaments as well as tournament trails that he and fishing partners have won during that time would take pages, but even more impressive is the fact that with all the changes that Lake Murray has undergone he is just as successful today as he has ever been. Before, during and after the hyper-productive grass years; before and after the introduction of blueback herring; and with all the management changes the lake has been through – the constant is Doug winning tournaments. This year in the popular Spring 2015 Carolina Anglers Team Trail tournament series on Lake Murray Doug and his partner Rhett Manus finished in first place in the season-long points race out of 46 teams. And then once the Lake Murray CATT started up again for the Fall 2015 series – featuring some of the most diehard bass fishing teams on the lake – they won the points again. As well as the championship event on Saturday, November 21!
In light of Doug’s success, I think people will be as interested as I am in the three baits he relies on the most in December on Lake Murray.
According to Captain Doug Lown, the pattern for December bass fishing is dependent on the weather and water temperatures – which can vary widely. Water temperature may be the most defining variable affecting bass behavior during this period, and bass will do different things depending on how cold the water gets and how fast it gets there. For example, last year water temperatures got so cold that fish stuck more to the main lake and action in the creeks was slower in the winter, but in a typical year water temperatures will be in the low 60s in early December and in the upper 50s around Christmas. Most importantly for this article water temperatures determine what lures Doug will be presenting to the fish, explored below.
Here are Doug’s top-three lure choices on Lake Murray in December:
1. Jig. While a jig is not usually Doug’s go-to bait on Lake Murray these days, if conditions allow him to fish it then it is a top choice. Jigs can be fished on heavier line and can yield a good grade of fish, and so when the bass will take them Doug wants to be fishing jigs.
It is widely acknowledged that since the introduction of blueback herring into the lake fish have behaved different, and for most of the winter (and in fact the year) their positioning will be largely related to where they have access to bait. However, Doug has found that when water temperatures are in a window from about the mid- to lower-60s down into the upper 50s – usually correlating to November and early December – some good fish will transition shallow and feed more heavily on perch, bluegill, shellcracker, and crayfish instead of traditional bait such as herring and shad. In this period when water temperatures are between about 63 and 59 degrees Doug finds the best jig bite. However, once temperatures drop sufficiently bass will be primarily feeding on bait again until the spawn – although bass are opportunistic feeders and will certainly eat other things including crawfish – and Doug finds the jig bite often dies off on Lake Murray.
With that narrow of a window Doug notes that a sharp cold front can kill a good jig bite in a short period of time, and last year Doug said it got so cold so fast that the late fall/ early winter jig bite didn’t last very long. Other years it can go on for a while.
As far as jig color, Doug says that every lake is different, but on Lake Murray there are probably more fish caught on brown jigs than on any other color. Crawfish color jigs are also strong, and it’s hard to beat brown/ crawfish colored jigs with a green pumpkin trailer. However, in muddy water Doug could turn to a black and blue jig or add a black trailer to his normal jig. Doug usually uses some sort of living rubber jig, and he notes that over time fish seem to have gotten a little finickier so he will often use a lighter jig with finer rubber. In deeper water he will use a heaver jig with thicker rubber.
2. Shakey Head Worm. There are other baits that he might prefer to fish, when conditions allow it, but there is no question that on Lake Murray a shakey head worm is Captain Doug Lown’s most versatile, go-to lure. Doug says that if he could only have one lure to fish on Lake Murray it would have to be a shakey head worm, and Doug points out that he fishes it from water that is 45-85 degrees. He can fish it shallow, he can fish it deep, he can fish it around cover like docks, and he can fish it around less obvious structure such as underwater drops. While often thought of as a numbers bait, in tournaments he has weighed in five shakey head fish. When water temperatures drop in the late fall and fish transition to more vertical banks next to channels Doug will pick up a shakey head worm.
Doug says that there are a lot of good shakey head worms on the market, and he likes a standard round head, a screw lock for the worm, and a high quality hook such as Gamakatsu. He will also use a bait with a slightly oversized hook and a bit stouter wire for when he has to move fish away from cover. While Doug uses a hand-poured shakey head, he says that the Buckeye Lures Spot Remover Pro is a good option on the market. For a heavier duty option Buckeye also make the Spot Remover Magnum. While he will go as light as a 1/8 ounce jighead or as heavy as a ¼ ounce jighead, he most often fishes the 3/16 ounce size. He likes the bait to be as light as will allow him to still maintain bottom contact, but Doug also notes that with the way he fishes the worm he gets most of his bites on initial drop and he does not spend a lot of time dragging the worm except in some particular applications.
As far as the worm, Doug says that a Zoom Trick Worm in a green pumpkin color is hard to beat. He likes a little bit of flake or flash, especially if the water has some color, and he says that most of the year you can usually catch fish on Green Pumpkin Purple or Green Pumpkin Red.
3. Crankbait. Doug says that a general rule is that he will stick with lead headed baits until temperatures dip into the 50s, but particularly when water temperatures get into the 54-56 degree range he looks for a crankbait bite to get started. Tournament bass fishing on Lake Murray Doug says that regardless of the time of year you need to have two patterns – what you will do for the first two hours when fish are often feeding on bait, and then what you will do the rest of the day. They are usually not the same things.
When water temperatures get right, for Doug in December that means throwing a crankbait in the morning and then picking up a shakey head worm. Doug says that overnight the bait will come up shallower and so at the beginning of the morning it will still be up. (Doug notes that if there is wind he will sometimes fish the crankbait further into the day). Most of the time he will be fishing a crankbait in less than 10 feet of water, but he notes that the areas will be next to deep water.
As far as specific baits Doug says that a Rapala Shad Rap is tough to beat, and for him the “shad” color is an old stand-by. In the earlier fall he will often use a #5 Shad Rap when fish are feeding on little bait, but in December he is more likely to throw a #7 Shad Rap when the fish are probably eating blueback herring. A “crawdad” colored bait can also be thrown year round on Lake Murray in clear or stained water, but particularly if the water gets some color to it.
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My sincere thanks to Captain Doug Lown for sharing this information with us about the baits he uses on Lake Murray in December – as well as giving us an understanding of what the bass are doing. Doug says these aren’t the only baits you can throw and reminds anglers that everyone has their own style, and you have to do what you enjoy and what you do best. That is true, but from my perspective if you are looking for someone to pattern as far as Lake Murray bass fishing it would be hard to beat taking your cues from Captain Doug Lown!