Posted by Phil Lilley on January 14th, 2017
As winter days on Table Rock are known to do, this outing started far easier than it progressed. After catching up on some freelance editing work, I left Bella Vista about 7:15 a.m. under cloudy skies with temps in the mid-50s.
But driving north into the arriving strong cold front, the temp had plunged to 45 by the time I reached Seligman and on down to 39 when I stepped out of the truck at the H highway ramp at Baxter.
Having just received some freshly and oh-so expertly painted jerk baits from Tim Hughes (Hughesy here on our own OA forum), I was anxious to get them wet. Little did I expect to get the first bite on one within sight of the ramp and for it to be a solid 16-inch keeper largemouth. Because I had just started down this promising windblown south bank, I figured more bites would come fairly quickly. Wrong.
The second bite didn’t come until 45 minutes later, after I’d moved around the corner to another known location that was heavily populated with standing cedars. Because of the thick cover, I had switched to a Keitech 3.8-inch Fat Impact soft swimbait which — importantly — was carried by the fairly new War Eagle Grubber weedless grub/swimbait head in the 3/16-ounce size. The head is specially designed with double spikes to securely hold swimbait bodies and also features a cable weedguard that allows it to be thrown into literally just about any kind of cover. This second fish, which fell an inch or so under the 15-inch keeper mark, inhaled the swimmer as it was in the gnarly middle of a standing cedar tree.
Leaving the Baxter area, I headed around to where a bluff transitions into a sloping point, and sure enough, just as I’d suspected, the second or third cast with the Hughes-painted stick bait produced a second keeper largemouth. The very next cast, a keeper spotted bass did likewise. Both battled gamely, with the water temperature still showing 47.9 degrees, obviously helped by the two previous days of high air temps in the 70s.
When the action died there and the sloping point produced nothing, I let my curiosity draw me a few miles downlake toward Kimberling City. That’s generally not a great plan for this old river rat, and Thursday was no exception. Fishless — and biteless — two hours later, I returned to Baxter and started pounding windblown chunk/slab rock banks to no avail. Finally, where some timber started to appear, another keeper largemouth came aboard, this time on the Ned rig (cut Zinker in green pumpkin goby rigged on a 1/8-ounce head supplied by our own Dave Reeves, better known to OA members as dtrs5kprs).
With the air temp now at 36 and the north wind still whistling, I decided one last stop might be enough. The choice of a 45-degree chunk rock bank lined with timber proved to be a good one, for within 30 minutes I was able to boat another keeper, two more short spots and lose a very healthy fish of some description that I never saw. Could’ve been a big bass or a hefty walleye, but whatever it was, it was a dandy.
In retrospect, what is certain right now is the midlake water temps are still in the mid-40s, which is very fishable. At least on Thursday, any shallow fish to be caught were around wood cover. And, as evidenced by a well-worn bill on a phantom green Rock Crawler, there just doesn’t seem to be much of a crank bait bite to be found. I’m not hearing much better news from others better than me at finding this bite. Rest assured, it is to come.
Meantime, get out there and enjoy what God has created for us. In some ways, it’s never prettier than in winter.
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