John Murray’s Three Prong Approach to Locating Winter Bass

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by Dan O’Sullivan

John Murray Dropshotting in Cold Weather

John Murray Dropshotting in Cold Weather – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

One of the keys to locating bass in practice or when running new water during a tournament is to move quickly.  Being able to fully utilize mobility helps an angler to quickly get on the kind of fish needed to be competitive.  Throughout the year, anglers use a variety of methods to do this.  Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and topwater baits can all be excellent for most of the year.

But, what happens when it is wintertime, and the bass are not in a chasing mode?  Phoenix, Ariz. pro John Murray has a way that allows him to cover water, but still present the types of lures bass are more likely to bite; bottom lures and finesse presentations.

With him being a deep water master, it should come as no surprise that his approach relies on a pair of jigs and a dropshot rig.  “I use one jig to cover water quickly, another to slow down, and a dropshot rig as a third step when the jigs don’t produce,” he said.  “It’s been a way for me to find them in deep water lakes all around the country.”

Triple Threat
To many people, a jig is a jig.  But, to Murray, the pair of jigs are used for very specific things.  He initially uses a heavy jig; with at least a 3/4-ounce minimum head weight.  “I prefer to be able to use that heavy jig because it allows me to move faster,” he said.  “I try to make as many casts as I can to likely areas and try to figure out where groups of bass are positioned.”

John Murray with a Bass Caught on His Papa Mur Football Jig

John Murray with a Bass Caught on His Papa Mur Football Jig and HooDaddy Jr. – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

His secondary offering is a lighter, 3/8-ounce jig, that he uses to slowly cover the bottom after he has not been able to elicit a response from the fish.  “I fish this in a much different fashion than I do the heavier jig,” he said.  “This one takes longer to fish, and is a much more methodical presentation.”

His third option is to use a dropshot rig with a fairly heavy weight which allows him to quickly present his lure to fish, but in a much more discreet manor.  “This is my fallback rig,” he said.  “I use this as a way to just start getting bites.”

His jigs are both his signature Papa Mur Football Jig by River2Sea, and he uses his 6-inch Gene Larew TattleTail worm on a dropshot with a 5/16-ounce River2Sea Tungsten Tear Drop sinker.  His heavier jig carries a trailer with action tails; either a twin-tailed grub or a Gene Larew HooDaddy Jr., and his lighter jig is tipped with a Gene Larew Salt Craw the has a more stealthy feel in the water.

Where and How
Murray prefers to kick off his search near the main lake.  “I expect to find the majority of fish near main body structure,” he said.  “I also know that they can be just about anywhere on the depth spectrum; so I try to move quickly.”

The John Murray TattleTail Dropshot Worm

The John Murray TattleTail Dropshot Worm – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

His approach has him start with the points, then turns to the deeper cuts on the shores of the main lake as well.

He said that he typically picks a point and begins throwing his heavier jig to the top of the pint, and works it down the slope by making short, quick hops until he gets under the boat.  He repeats that process, making several casts on each point until he either gets response from the fish, or decides to move on.  He will fish several points this way, looking at his electronics for signs of life along the way.

Should he proceed this way for an hour or so without a bite, Murray then turns to his lighter jig and changes his approach.  “This is a technique I call counting rocks,” he said.  “I want to slowly scrape this jig along feeling everything on the bottom that I can and pay attention to for a subtle strike along the way.”

Should he go another hour, Murray resorts to the dropshot rig to try and get bites from fish that just may not be responding to the bulkier approach of the jig.

Gear and Colors
Murray throws his jigs on the same rod and reel combo.  He prefers a 7’4″ medium-heavy Team Lew’s casting rod paired with a 6.4:1 Team Lew’s casting reel spooled with 16-pound-test Toray Super Hard Premium Plus High Grade Fluorocarbon line.  “This really is the perfect setup for both jigs,” he said.  “I can make long casts and have enough rod to pick up slack and set the hook.”

John Murray with a Fish Caught on his TattleTail Worm

John Murray with a Fish Caught on his TattleTail Worm – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

His dropshot rod consists of a 7′ medium-heavy Team Lews spinning rod with a TL4000H Team Lew’s Gold spinning reel spooled with seven-pound-test Toray Super Hard Premium Plus High Grade Fluorocarbon.  He ties his dropshot with a short, four to six-inch leader because he anticipates that bass will likely be relating to the bottom.  He will lengthen his leader if he gets strikes on the fall, or the water color is clearer.

For lure colors, he said that he likes to utilize contrasting colors in his jigs in winter.  “I like a black jig with a watermelon / rd flake or green pumpkin trailer,” he said.  “I know black is not a really popular color in football jigs, but it really works well for me.”

For his TattleTail worm, Murray lets the water color dictate, but he said that he will largely use crawdad type colors closer to the bottom, and shad patterns higher in the water column.

Wrapping Up
Murray said that the biggest advantage to his approach in the winter is that he is looking for larger concentrations of fish.  “I don’t want to target isolated bass this time of the year,” he said.  “It may take me a while to find a group of bass, but once I do, I can usually catch multiple fish from the same school.”

He said he often does that by locating a group of bass, then working his way around them so that he is eventually retrieving his lures uphill.  “You have to know where they are before you do things this way,” he said.  “But, once you do, you can often catch ore and bigger fish by bringing the lure up into the group.  These fish may have been sitting under your boat the whole time and you wouldn’t know it until you try a little something different.”