Winter Fishing

In Winter bass anglers have to keep everything in the right perspective.

“It’s not April or May. It’s cold, and you have to understand that fish are lethargic and the bite will be slow. On a typical January day you probably won’t catch many fish, but their average size will be bigger than in the warmer months. It’s not unusual to wind up with about the same five-bass weight as you’d have in Spring. You just don’t cull through as many fish to get there.”

You should fish a fairly simple pattern in Winter,” . “Look for where running creeks empty into the backs of major embayments and for water that’s a few degrees warmer than the water in the lake proper. So they’re in predictable spots and they’re biting better. That can make for some good fishing. The best part of the day is usually from noon to 3 PM,” . Ease up the creek, casting crankbaits into deeper holes, typically along outside bends of the channel. “The bass are usually holding near the bottom of the deepest areas.” “In Winter, it’s important to fish the sunny side of any cover instead of the shady side. It’s all about warmth. The fish are more active in warmer water and you have to keep that in mind as the day progresses.”

Lure Selection and Presentation:

The number one go-to coldwater baits are a No.5 & No.7 Rapala Shad Rap, which you should fish on light spinning tackle. Use the No. 5 for fishing water less then 5 feet and the No.7 for water 7 feet deep. If a channel stretch or hole has some water color and visibility is degraded, switch to Rapala DT 4 or DT 6 crankbait, which has a wider, more noticeable wobble than the Shad Rap. If the barometer is high and the bass are inactive, try casting or pitching a jig & pig or a creature bait to any rock or wood cover. “I’ll work both these baits with a slow, steady drag. I do most of the pulling with my rod tip. I want my bait to look like a crawfish slow crawling along the bottom.”

Most anglers think you have to fish ultra slow or use finesse tactics during cold winter months.

While it’s true that a bass’ metabolism slows down, he still has to eat. And remember, the baitfish continue to dart and glide quickly for survival, so a bass has to move equally fast to eat during cold water months.

Therefore, I still stick to my power fishing principles because I can cover a lot of water, but I work them differently to match the conditions.

FIVE BAITS FOR COLD WEATHER

Here are the five baits I will have rigged for cold weather fishing and how I use them:

JERKBAIT

This is my favorite choice for lakes that have clear water. Bass are focused on shad during the winter, and I prefer a suspending jerkbait for fishing around vertical structure, like main lake bluffs and bridges, this time of year. When the water is colder, the shad suspend in the water column and if I see shad dying and gulls diving on them, that tells me the suspending jerkbait is the best choice. I will snap it a few times and let it sit a little longer than I do in the summertime, but always experiment with the action until I know how they want it.

RED EYE SHAD

The lipless crankbait can be dynamite on cold, lowland reservoirs or natural lakes, especially if there is vegetation. It’s very efficient for covering a lot of water. However, I do slow the retrieve down and keep the bait in contact with the bottom. If there’s grass, I like to allow it to touch the vegetation and pull it free. My favorite retrieve is to yo-yo it on a semi-slack line; I let it flutter down because the Red Eye has an enticing shimmy as it falls. That’s when 90 percent of strikes come. I use that slow, pull/stop retrieve all the way to the boat. It’s a great tool for fishing shallow to midrange depths in the winter.

FLAT-SIDED CRANKBAIT

There’s something about a flat-sided crankbait that neutral bass react to better in cold water than they do to rounded-body lures. My favorite is the Strike King KVD 1.5 Flat that has a long bill and no rattles. I love to fish this bait parallel on channel swings close to the bank in major creeks and even along bluffs, riprap and laydowns. I throw it on 10-pound line and it runs about 10 feet deep. It has a subtle action they can’t stand when the water is cold, so use a steady, slow-to-medium retrieve. If the bait hits a solid object, pause and allow it to suspend momentarily. In colder water, I will weight it with Storm SusPend Dots.

SWIMBAIT

I really like the Strike King Shadalicious in either the 4 1/2- or 5-inch sizes, opting for the larger one in lakes with big bass and big shad. These baits are very efficient for covering deeper zones of lakes where bass hold off main lake structure. Also, hollow-body baits have a paddle tail that kicks and moves a lot of water, which is very important in stained water. And, like flat baits, they wobble seductively from side to side. I rig mine with a swimbait jig head sized to match the depth and speed I want to fish. I typically use a 3/8-, 1/2- or even 3/4-ounce, depending upon the depth.

BLADE BAITS AND JIGGING SPOONS

Blade baits are good for fishing edges of deeper flats. I cast and work it similar to the way I fish the Red Eye Shad, except the blade bait is more efficient in deeper water. Use a lift-and-drop retrieve, feeling the good vibration from the lure each time you lift. And remember: both blade baits and the Red Eye work best this time of year on heavier line because it slows the fall and reduces problems with it burying in the grass. The jigging spoon is a bait I primarily fish vertically. Our electronics are so good that, while graphing creek channels, you’ll see pods of bait and mark fish around them. With the spoon, you can fish through the bait. It’s even good along timber and doesn’t snag as much as you think. If it does, jiggle it and it shakes free. When fishing jigging spoons, I often use the 3/4-ounce size on 14- to 17-pound line, using a lift-and drop action, experimenting with the lift. If the fish are real aggressive, I will snap it and make it flutter.