January 26, 2021
See the Alabama Rig near Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Lester’s left hand in the photo? It’s the only one he owns. Like literally, he owns one A-Rig, and you’re looking at it.
And while he’s got plenty of proven cold-water crankbaits laying there too, every lure in the universe plays second fiddle to a jig on the coldest days of winter. The easy-going Tennessee pro who is closing in on $1 Million in career earnings after just seven years as a full-time pro, and he knows what works all season long.
“I realize a lot of guys have come to depend on an Alabama Rig in the dead of winter, but we’re not allowed to use it in Bassmaster Opens or Elites. So there’s no reason for me to get dependent on it when I’m fishing around home at this time of year,” Lester said.
“And honestly, I believe with all my heart, when you’re throwing a jig at this time of year, you’re giving yourself a shot to catch the biggest fish in the lake.”
Bringing the Heat with the Z Train
Lester’s recent appearance on “Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show” epitomizes this point. The air temp was 18 degrees the day they filmed on Dale Hollow Lake, water temps were 42, and dragging a football jig brought the heat on quality fish more than any other lure the two tied on.
“We could catch fish on a Ned Rig that day, and probably could have caught some on a crankbait too. But the football jig was hands-down the key to Zona and I catching all our bigger fish,” he said.
Biggest Bass of Lester’s Life
However, Lester’s proof of a jig’s frigid-water prowess is certainly not limited to his day filming with Zona. Each New Year’s Eve, he and a good buddy make a trip to Nickajack Lake – and it was on that tradition rich trip last year that Lester believes he caught the biggest bass of his life – on a jig of course.
“I had just gotten a brand-new boat. We didn’t even have my graphs mounted yet, let alone have a scale in the boat. I caught a 7-pounder first on a jig, and then caught one that I know was over 10-pounds, which would easily make it the biggest bass of my life,” he said.
Callin’ bull on hibernating crawfish
While schools of shad, and specifically, the weak and dying specimens within the school, often become the focal point of the bass’ cold-weather dinner menu, crawdads remain a major player too. Lester simply doesn’t buy the dormant crawdad theory. “I’ve had guys tell me crawdads are so dormant in winter that they aren’t a factor for bass. That’s absolute bull! I’ve caught way too many bass in 45-degree water with crawdad pinchers sticking out of their gullets to ever rule out a jig,” he said emphatically.
Lester’s two favorite winter jigs
The skirted jewels he leans on most are pretty simple. First, he never varies far from the colors brown or green pumpkin, and secondly, one of his winter jigs will always be a 1/2-ounce SpotSticker flipping jig featuring a brown living rubber skirt and a meaty 5/0 Mustad hook. This is the jig that gets pitched to thicker shoreline habitat, and he emphasizes the merits of living rubber skirts in cold water.
The other jig is a football jig. If he’s dragging it on the bottom in less than 15 feet of water, he uses a 1/2-ounce model. Sometimes, however, bait balls and other desirable sonar images seem to be out in the 15- to 30-foot zone. In that case, when going deeper, he prefers a 3/4-ounce model to his 15-pound Vicious fluorocarbon. He nearly always dresses his football jig with a craw-style trailer as shown in the photo.
’Bama rigs, jerkbaits, and flat-sided cranks all have their mid-winter merits, but for Brandon Lester, jigs are the true trophy chaser when water temps are in the 40s. “All I can tell you is some of the most memorable and biggest bass I’ve ever caught in my life have come in the middle of winter, and all of them bit a jig.”