The thermometer read 22 degrees when I left the house at 6 a.m. The weather report the night before predicted 41 degrees.
Regardless, I headed toward Lake of the Ozarks to spend the day with bass and crappie fishing guide Jack Uxa. We planned to put together a video about cold weather bass fishing techniques.
“The wind is out of the east,” Jack pointed out right off the bat.
“Wind out of the east, fish bite the least,” I chimed in.
“I don’t put much stock in that old saying,” Jack rebutted. “Winds are supposed to reach 40 mph, too. It may get a little rough out there, but Lake of the Ozarks has a million coves. We will find some out of the wind.”
Uxa has been guiding on Lake of the Ozarks for a couple of decades and he knows its waters like the back of his hand, another old saying. I had fished with him a couple of times previously. His performances proved impressive.
Despite the fact that I believed in the out of the east wind theory, I had confidence that Jack would find fish before the day ended.
Jack has earned a good reputation as a guide, spending about 290 days a year on the water.
“Geez,” I gouged. “You should know a bit about the lake, having spent that much time out here.”
“I feel I know the lake very well,” Jack rebounded. “But, there is always more to learn. Every day is a new beginning. Conditions can change quickly. When conditions change, the fishing patterns change, too.”
A pro staffer for Bass Pro Shops, Jack launched his Nitro boat at a well-hidden boat ramp. It was armed with all the latest devices, which, according to him, gave him an edge for locating fish for his customers and in turn gave them ample opportunities to catch fish.
Uxa began searching familiar spots for largemouth bass. Within minutes he swung a chunky 13-incher into the boat.
“The jerkbait bite has been pretty good recently,” he said.
I immediately asked what bait he was throwing.
“It’s a Megabass jerkbait,” he responded. “They are a great bait and easy to cast.”
I noticed that Jack had several rods rigged with different colors of Megabass baits. He certainly had confidence in them.
We eased along the shoreline.
“I did very well yesterday,” Jack added. “I picked up several nice fish.”
We had not picked up another fish in the last 100 yards.
“The wind has shifted dramatically from yesterday,” Uxa said. “Wind that hit these steep banks and points yesterday, is now coming from the side or away from them. It definitely changes how bass relate to them.”
Jack changed colors of his jerkbaits as different structure types appeared. He continued to pick up a few smaller bass, but nothing to write home about.
We eased up near a boat dock and Jack picked up a crappie rod. He “shot the dock,” a tricky maneuver of grasping the jig, bending the rod heavily and slingshotting the jig up under the dock. He caught crappie steadily.
I dropped a hint that I’d like to take some home. He filled a limit rather quickly.
Next, it was back to go bass fishing.
“It’s clouding up,” Jack said. “That will help the bass fishing.”
He headed the boat slowly across a point that normally produced fish for him.
“The wind is not perfect, but we should find fish here,” he stated confidently.
“One of the biggest mistakes winter time bass fishermen make is fishing too deep,” he related. “Tournament fishermen started a trend years ago by fishing deep to get the big fish. That’s ok, but you are only going to get one, or two, if you are lucky. I like to catch numbers and I can do that by fishing steep banks with deep water nearby.”
Jack also pointed out that he does not fish his jerkbaits as slowly as tournament guys, either.
“I tend to fish them a little too fast at times, but if I don’t get a bite, I slow down a little more.”
The way to fish a jerkbait, according to Uxa, is to cast, reel the bait down and let it suspend for a long few seconds before twitching it slightly. Repeat repeat, repeat.
Jack paused in mid-sentence, when his rod arched.
“Good one,” he whispered. “They are picking up now that the cloud cover has moved in.”
As the hefty 4-pound bass rolled into view, we both noticed that the fish was barely hooked. Jack lipped it quickly and swung the red-gilled bass into the boat.
“I won’t be surprised if we find more of these now,” Jack said.
A few minutes later, his rod arched heavily again. We had traveled only 20 yards down the bank. Through the viewfinder of the video camera, this fish appeared larger.
“These certainly aren’t the largest bass in Lake of the Ozarks,” Uxa said. “But, if I were in a tournament today, I would be very happy.”
I picked up my bait-caster, which Jack had rigged with a silver and black Berkley Skinny Cutter. Within ten minutes, I felt a jolt.
“Fish on,” I laughed.
I slid the respectable 3-pound plus bass back into the cold waters of the lake. I resumed filming, while Jack added a few more bass to the files.
“One key to our success today lies in the fact that I use 8- to 10-pound test line for jerkbaits, while many guys use 12-pound and above. You lose too much sensitivity with those heavy lines,” Jack said.
“Today was a perfect example of how cold weather bass fishing often is. Temperatures and weather patterns can change quickly. A key to success is to stick with it until you find a pattern for the day.”
Jack Uxa may be contacted at (573) 434-2570 or check him out on www.lakeoftheozarksfishingguide.com.