Talking Winter Bass Fishing with Legend Vern Jaycox
Forty-one years ago local legend Vern Jaycox took to the waters known as Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ). Over time Jaycox became a very successful tournament fisherman as well as a master with jerkbait. Recently we had a chance to chat about winter fishing patterns, conditions, baits and the season overall. He offered his expertise in what has worked with the winter patterns for him over the years and how he came to choose his methods.
Jaycox shared that back in the day there just weren’t a lot of options to choose from. For example, the availability of different kinds of fishing line was very limited. The diameter was much larger than it is now, so you couldn’t buy lower visibility line. Today the diameters are much smaller and you can choose from a variety of weights to adjust to the conditions.
In the early 1980s, baits were limited as well. Jaycox recalled that Rebel was the primary manufacturer and the more customized baits available today weren’t on the market yet.
“Everyone was pretty much throwing a Rogue bait rig which was blue and silver and had a longer bill,” said Jaycox. “My partner, Manuel Johnson, and I had a secret weapon. Before anyone else really knew about it, we found a Rebel Fastrac which was black and grey and had a shorter bill. We learned how to add the correct weight to make it suspend just right and caught a lot! We got away with that for 3-4 years and won a lot of money with it!”
When fishing with the Rogue was slow, Jaycox would switch to a Lucky Craft Pointer stick bait. This was a Japanese product that debuted just before Megabass came out. Both were popular for a few years. Jaycox preferred one that is black and gold with an orange belly. When the water became so stained the jerkbait wouldn’t work, he would switch to the Pointer which helped him bring in huge strings to the weigh-ins, surprising people.
In the winter months, Jaycox said he learned to pay close attention to the conditions because they can change where the fish are so quickly. A lot depends on the weather and nighttime temperatures.
Jaycox starts with water temperature when making his plan. The ideal temperatures for the fish to be moving and the bite to turn on are in the mid 40s. He will watch weather patterns as well, and has found that if you can get out just ahead of an incoming front the chances of success are better.
Water levels come into play here also. When the lake is drawn down and the cover is closer to the surface the fish don’t have to move around as much. Between that and the cooler water temperature, their metabolism slows and so does movement. When using jerkbait in cooler waters you have to let it pause longer and just watch for the slightest movement. Jaycox notes that you have to pay close attention though because it can happen in a spit second.
When it’s just flat and there is no wind or much movement, Jaycox will focus on the steeper banks at the beginning of creeks for the best results. If there is a bit of shade it is even better. When the water is crystal clear and flat he will also downsize his line from an eight pound test to six pound for less shadow from the line.
Today there are four primary baits Jaycox recommends in the winter months at LOZ: jerkbait, a Twin Spin, Grubs and an A-rig. Starting with the first choice, Jaycox said a jerkbait (which was originally known as a minnow by Rebel) Is really effective as long as you know how to work it. When asked how he became a master with that particular bait he replied, “I had a great teacher that I learned from and with for 35 years. We would figure out different techniques and share them with each other which made us both stronger.” When he fished with Manuel Johnson they would each throw something different to see what worked and then get a plan from there.
Jaycox will use a Twin Spin on steep banks in creeks with timber, and said if it’s an area inside a bend, it will hold fish really well. The Twin Spin works like a spoon lure but it’s not as erratic. He will also keep several grubs of various colors on hand including root beer, smoke and chartreuse to name a few. He will throw them primarily on an 8 oz jig head and look for slowly sloping banks with big rocks, sometimes going into the main lake. He likes using this in cooler waters because he can walk it to almost the same level where the fish are suspending, making it more attractive to bite.
Jaycox has always enjoyed the A-rig and was probably one of the first guys around LOZ to hit the jackpot using it. “I remember Wayne Fitzpatrick just gave it to me because he wasn’t having any luck with it,” Very recalled. “So I tried it and had just the opposite experience. I had some of the best fishing of my life with that set up. Then the A-rig became so popular that it was overused and it lost much of its effectiveness. But it can still work from time to time so it’s always good to keep around.”
Jaycox said that the jig and a worm are two things fish have never quite figured out, so he thinks those are always great back-ups to keep around. “You never know when everything else might be failing and you pull out just a plain old worm and everything changes,” he said.
We asked Jaycox to tell us about his favorite wintertime fishing experience. While his best summertime experience was here at LOZ, for the winter it was the Meramec Valley Bass Club Open on Bull Shoals Lake. It was always held the first Saturday in December and there were typically around 100 boats. Jaycox and Johnson won the tournament two different times.
“It was a big deal because there were pros and semi-pros in the mix so the competition was high,” he said. “Also many of the participants were on that lake all the time so they were considered the locals and we were kind of the outsiders. To win in that type of competition not only once but twice was really exciting for us.”
It’s always great to sit down and listen to what has worked and not worked, especially from someone with so much experience. We hope you can find success with these baits too as you navigate the winter waters of Lake of the Ozarks! For more tips, videos, articles, and daily fishing reports, make sure to check out bassingbob.com.