By Pete Robbins originally published over on fishgame.com
ON GRASS-LADEN TEXAS BASS FACTORIES, February is a time of change. Winter is over, and as water temperatures move up from the high 40s and low 50s, fish have spawning on their minds.
“In Texas, early February is really spring,” said former Toledo Bend guide Dave Mansue. As the winter-to-spring transition commences, he loves to flip a jig and a Missile Baits Baby D-Bomb to stumps sitting on the edges of drains and creek channels. That’s a tactic that produces numerous 20-pound-plus bags for him every spring. He said you won’t feel the bites, but that it’s “critical to watch your line” for signs of a big girl moving off with your lure.
Once the days start to warm up, he’ll often change his focus to the outside edge of grass beds, where lipless crankbaits remain heroes. “No matter how many they see or hear, it continues to work well,” he said. “I’ll also mix in a jerkbait and a Chatterbait with a Keitech swimbait on the back.”
So far those are some pretty standard Texas tools. They’ve worked for decades and they’ll probably continue to work as long as there are bass and grass in the Lone Star state. Their effectiveness may be muted slightly by the fact that so many educated anglers are pounding the water these days, but Mansue said that side-imaging technology has countered that fact.
“I’m typically looking for points or pockets in the grass,” he said. “Any place with flow or where bait gets trapped. Look at the grass just like you’d look at a hard bank. The fish will set up the same way. My Humminbird electronics are so crisp and clear, I can idle down a grass line, set up my waypoints and then fish my way back. I’m looking for groups of white dots on the edge of the grass.”
Mansue’s morning techniques may be textbook. However, when the sun starts to shine in the late morning and early afternoon, raising the temperature of the water by a few degrees, he’ll make a radical shift. He’ll head to the inside edge of the hydrilla, just outside the hay grass. That’s when he pulls out a hollow-bodied frog, a lure more associated with late spring and summer than the frigid days of February.
“A lot of people won’t think of that, because topwater typically doesn’t work at that time of year. But when those big females start cruising the inside grass edge of the grass, especially on bright, sunny days when it’s flat calm, it’s a way to catch some really big fish. They’ll absolutely crush it.”
As long as the water is clear to stained, not muddy, he’ll fish it, typically in depths of four feet or less. It’s effective anywhere there’s grass, but he knows firsthand that it works on Toledo Bend, Sam Rayburn, Lake Fork and Lake of the Pines.
Mansue throws a black frog much of the rest of the year, but in February he prefers a white or sexy shad color—his preferred SPRO frogs come in a shade called “Nasty Shad,” which is much the same thing as the latter color. He’ll use both the regular, pointy-nosed frog and the popping version.
In either case, the key is to “pop it real slow or walk it real slow.” He ties a loop knot to ensure maximum side-to-side action while barely moving the lure forward. It’s crucial to aggravate those big girls to exercise either their appetite or their sense of territoriality, and there’s something about that frog that brings out the mean side of them.
Mansue fishes his frogs on a stout Castaway Skeleton flipping stick paired with a Lew’s baitcasting reel. The reel’s 8.3:1 gear ratio allows him to gather line up when a big bass annihilates the lure and runs right toward the boat.
Fifty-pound test braided fishing line slices through the grass. He’s less adamant about using braid with his “Traps” and Chatterbaits, noting that sometime fluorocarbon gets more bites, but with the frog, there is no substitute.
He noted that many Texas big bass hunters such as Todd Castledine and Russell Cecil might pick up their frog rod early in the morning and never put it down, looking for just five big bites. However, Mansue prefers to put several—or a limit in the live well—before switching to February surface lures.
“When you start feeling good from the sun, that’s when you know the fish are ready to eat it,” he said.
Email Pete Robbins at ContactUs@fishgame.com