A frigid wind swept across the gray waters of the large impoundment as a pair of anglers cast their lures towards a sunken island. It was the middle of winter. The weather was nasty, their fingers numb. But chances for a big bass were good. This is the season, after all, when most giant largemouths are caught.
Inching black jigs with frog trailers across the sunken structure, they watched their lines and waited for the gentle tug of a lethargic winter bass.
While the number of fish you catch may not match summer outings, no other time of year offers a better chance for trophy bass than winter. And even if you don’t catch that fish of a lifetime, there should be plenty of quality 3-5 pounders coming aboard to ward off the chill of the winter air.
Was it worth the cold fingers, red noses and countless casts that were not rewarded with a strike? Every reader must answer that question for themselves.
But that’s the kind of action that keeps diehard anglers fishing right through the dead of winter. It won’t happen every day. But the potential for bass 8 pounds or heavier is best from right now through early April.
Here are fishing tactics that will be worth trying on your local bass impoundments as well as smaller ponds, rivers, and natural lakes over the next few weeks.
1. Crawl a Jig Trailer
A 1/4 to 3/4 ounce black jig is best, with a rubber skirt or hair dressing and a weed guard. Dress the jig with a pork or plastic frog, crayfish, lizard or eel in purple, brown, red, blue or black.
Cast this combination out to points, brushy cover, submerged humps and drop-offs and reel it slowly back after it touches the bottom and the line goes slack. Pickups will be soft in winter. As soon as you feel a slight tapping on the line, set the hook hard.
Tip: Watch your line carefully after you cast. A strike may come as the lure descends to the lake or river floor. Set the hook quickly at any sign of a take or twitch of the line by reeling hard and sweeping the rod upwards.
Extra Tip: If a fish doesn’t hit on the drop, reel in extra-slowly so the jig stays on or just above the bottom. Then recast again and again until you’re sure the structure doesn’t hold any fish willing to bite. Sometimes the fourth or fifth cast to the same spot will be the one that delivers a strike.
2. Bounce a Grub
This technique is similar, but if fish are skittish, a plain jig head with a plastic twister tail is better than a jig and large dressing.. Work this with more of a lift and drop presentation instead of just crawling it like you do with the jig and pork.
Often fish will strike as the grub flutters down after the lift. Be ready and set up quickly. Most experts use lead-heads of 1/8 to 3/8 ounce for this fishing. These can work in the same areas mentioned earlier and also closer towards shore as fish start moving in shallower when spring approaches. Good colors include chartreuse, motor oil, pumpkinseed, smoke and watermelon.
Extra Tip: Stock both twister tails and paddle-type plastic bodies. Twister tails work better when the weather is warming. Use paddle tails when it's cold and fish prefer a lure with a more subtle movement.
Extra Tip: Work main lake points, humps, bridge abutments and river channel drop-offs with grubs, probing 12-30 foot depths.
3. Twitch a Jerkbait
Stock both suspending short-lipped versions such as the Smithwick Rogue, Mann’s Loudmouth Jerkbait, or Rapala Husky Jerk and big-lipped deep-running versions such as the Rebel Spoonbill, Bomber Heavy Duty Long A, Cotton Cordell Deep Minnow, and Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow Deep Diver.
Tip: For deep fish, go with the large-lipped versions that you can crank down on a sharp dive. For transition fish slightly shallower, use the suspending versions. Work these with a reel and pause presentation.
Extra Tip: When fishing the deeper running big-lipped versions, casting and retrieving steadily can also produce well. Crank hard to get the lure deep, then slow the lure for the lethargic mood of bass during winter.
4. Fish a Spinnerbait on the Drop
Most people slow-roll or rip spinnerbaits back. Both tactics catch fish and should be in every bass angler’s bag of tricks. But sometimes fishing a spinnerbait “on the drop” can be a deadly tactic for winter bass. Focus on areas where you see baitfish or gamefish activity or have caught fish in the past. Alternately, target good looking cover such as logjams, rock piles, a steep drop-off, hump, underwater island, or boat dock that’s been soaking in the sun all day and warmed the surrounding water.
Use a 1/4 - 3/4 ounce model, depending on the depth. Chartreuse, black, and white are good body colors. Go with silver or gold for the blade. Colorado shapes are good because they provide the slowest descent and most flash and vibration as they wobble down teasingly towards the cover.
Tip: watch for the slightest hesitation or twitch of the line as the lure falls, then set the hooks fast by reeling fast and lifting the rod simultaneously.
Extra Tip: If the weather has been particularly cold and no strike comes on the drop, roll the lure back slowly near the bottom. If it’s been sunny and unusually warm, try cranking the lure back fast before recasting to a new target. Covering lots of water may help you score in this situation.
5. Jig a Spoon
This is a tactic that will score not only with largemouths but also other gamefish like crappies, white bass, hybrids, and stripers. You can use vibrators, tail-spinners, blade lures and plain jigs, but the best lure for vertical jigging is a hammered metal spoon such as a 1/2-1 ounce size Hopkins No=EQL Lures or Bass Pro Shops Strata spoon. Find fish on a depth finder or locate good structure where you've caught bass in the past. Then lower the spoon down to the bottom or where fish show on the sonar.
Start with a short lift and drop presentation. Raise the spoon 12-24 inches and then let it flutter back down like a wounded shad.
Tip: Watch for strikes as the lure descends. The line might shoot sideways or simply stop falling. Other times you might feel a slight tap or jerk. Set up fast.
Extra Tip: If strikes don’t come, try longer lifts of the rod, as much as 3-4 feet, letting the lure fall freely back down afterwards. Make sure excessive slack doesn’t form in the line, though, or you may miss strikes on the “drop.”
6. Bonus Tips for Winter Bass Outings -
1. Use a thermometer to check the water temperature. Some parts of a lake may be 42 degrees while other areas are only 38. That four degrees can make a huge difference in your catch rate.
2. Concentrate on northern and northeastern shorelines. They receive the most sunlight and warm more quickly from southerly winds.
3. Cast to boat docks with metal roofs and exposed rocks. They soak in the sun and convey warmth back into the water, attracting baitfish and bass.
4. Always wear your life vest. Cold water can cause hypothermia quickly.
5. Wear sunscreen. The UV rays can damage skin just as badly in winter as in summer.
6. Dress in layers so you can adjust clothing you wear as the day warms.
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