Readers of this site know that during the colder months the Lake World bait shop frequently repeats the mantra that to find striper on Lake Murray fishermen should follow the birds. Tournament bass fisherman Andy Wicker of Pomaria says right now that is also good advice for catching bass on Lake Monticello, and at this time of year his primary pattern is to run around chasing birds. Andy says that loons corral the bait and then seagulls swoop down to feed, providing a visual clue to locate bait schools, and he finds the bass on the bottom hanging out underneath those schools. He primarily looks for them about halfway back in the big pockets over 30-45 feet of water, and once located he drops down small blade baits and spoons. (Through midnight tonight our tackle store is running a special on Mann’s Little Georges for $1.99 each. If you’ve never tried them this is a great time to buy a few).
While Andy says that winter used to be a pretty tough time to target fish on Monticello if the bird pattern wasn’t panning out, he says that it has been better since the Alabama rig became a bass fishing phenomenon. If birds aren’t giving away bait schools in the pockets then he likes to cast an Alabama rig over mid-range humps 15-25 feet deep. Some pretty big fish are caught this way in January and February on Lake Monticello.
Fishing around warmwater discharges is a popular winter pattern on some lakes, and so I asked Andy if he does much good around the Monticello hot hole at this time of year. While the water is around 58-60 degrees near the hot water plant right now, as opposed to lower 50s on the upper end, for Andy the importance of the hot hole in the winter is somewhat limited. Even though temperatures are always a few degrees warmer there (and Andy has never seen temperatures below 56), the fishing is not always better and he has certainly struck out in that area on days when he found fish biting in other areas. While fish almost certainly still get in the riprap rocks right around the hot water discharge, since 9/11 you can’t get anywhere close to that area. Andy believes, based on history, that to really see the effects of the hot hole you would have to get closer than security regulations allow.
While winter is traditionally a pretty good time to catch both bass and catfish on Monticello, including trophies of both species, Captain Chris Simpson (864-992-2352) reports that the blue catfish bite has been slow to fair this season. Monticello doesn’t get muddy like some other lakes where where the catfish fishing is pretty screwed up right now (Murray, Santee), but the fishing is still off and it’s hard to say why.
Although to a greater extent than usual this is not completely unexpected, and Chris says that certainly every winter the fishing can get tough when shad are lethargic and catfish have the chance to gorge on them. If you catch them while they are feeding Chris says everything is “hunky dory,” but at other times they can just lay on the bottom. A telltale sign that fish are in this mode and not aggressive is that the fish you do pull up will have mud on them.
Chris says that locating fish on main lake humps and points is no problem, and as noted if you luck up on some aggressive fish the action can be good. However, the problem is that on electronics all of these areas “kind of look the same” – a lot of deep bait and fish mixed in with them. It’s hard to determine what’s a good stop where fish might actually be feeding. And this winter there seem to have been less very active periods.
Instead of going after these finicky catfish, in advice similar to Andy’s bass prescription, Chris find that right now the “safest thing” in the winter is to go into the coves. Anchor at whatever depth you mark the bait and then aim to intercept the fish that are moving in and out feeding. The most recent depth where Chris found the bait was 50-55 feet deep, but that changes daily and a 40-60 foot deep general range is usually effective in January.
Both white perch and gizzard shad are good bait choices. While herring will also catch fish, smaller catfish have an easier time tearing off pieces of herring and so you will spend a lot of time re-baiting.
After my conversation with Andy I was interested to know whether Chris finds any advantage to fishing around the hot hole in the winter for catfish, and he does not. While pointing out that fishing around warmwater discharges in the winter for big blue cats is textbook stuff, Chris says that he has simply not found it to be an effective pattern on Monticello in the colder months. In contrast there are times around the spawn when it outfishes other areas as catfish will get into pre-spawn mode or out of spawning mode sooner in that area.
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