December 18, 2009
Not so fast my fishing friends – don’t blame Old Man Winter for putting the boat away for the year! Winter fishing can provide the best fishing experiences of the year. This is the time of year when bass group together, easily turning what might have been a day on the couch fattening up for winter into a memorable fishing trip.
Not too long ago anglers shared a common belief that bass shut down during the winter months. Some even believed that bass went into hibernation; similar to bears, therefore getting them to bite was nearly impossible. That theory has since been put to rest by both southern and west coast anglers who have discovered that winter can be a great time to catch fish.
It’s not going to be easy -- winter bass can be very unpredictable. Areas and techniques that produced during fair weather may now be unreliable, and feeding periods may not last as long. You’ll reap your rewards when you find areas of wintering bass, those areas tend to be an assembly place.
Understanding seasonal patterns is vital to bass fishing any time of the year, but it is especially critical during winter months. The months that make up winter will vary depending on where you live. For example: northern anglers are fishing winter patterns in October while southern anglers are just starting to target those bass that are beginning to move toward fall hangouts. Forty-eight-degree water surface temperature may appear the peak of a northern fall pattern, yet it points to winter on many southern and western waters.
LOW AND HIGHLAND RESERVOIRS
When fall fades to winter, bass in man-made impoundments pull away from the shallows (backs of creeks and bays) and follow the baitfish to main lake structure. Out west (Lake Powell for instance) once the water drops below 50-degrees, I’ll begin searching for steep drops that are holding baitfish. Those steep drop-offs can be anywhere from 25 feet to 55 feet in depth. It’s not uncommon to catch winter bass in 50 feet of water.
Baitfish is the key to locating bass this time of the year. Using and understanding your electronics is a must. I’ll look for smaller schools of baitfish and avoid the huge schools if possible. Smaller schools of baitfish will pay dividends simply because if bass are present and feeding, the shad will be scattered just off the bottom into little schools, alerting you that you’re in the right area.
I began applying this technique to bass fishing from my days of late season walleye fishing. My experience has been that both walleye and bass tend to migrate out to the deeper water at about the same time. I remember many days late in the season, fishing deep main-lake points for walleye and catching lots of bass. Look for deep drop-offs along main lake points.
Once I have located the baitfish, I’ll position my boat over the top of the fish and present my baits vertically. Bass this time of the year don’t typically rise up and get the shad, instead, they linger below and eat the dead and dying baitfish that flutter down from the school. It’s important that you cover every angle of the point. There’s going to be a hot spot “target zone” on the point, so pay close attention once you get a bite. The hot spot may be a pile of boulders or deep brush that congregate bass. These are areas you need to be looking for. Unlike typical spring fishing where you look for dirty water, target clear water during the winter months, it’s easier to get fish to bite.
During the winter, bass are more lethargic and avoid moving water as much as they can, unlike summer bass, when moving water is crucial. For this reason, look for areas away from current such as protected bays and boat harbors. Any place that breaks the current and has slow or slack water is best. These areas have to have some depth associated with them due to low tides. Having at least 3-4 feet of water over their heads is important.
Following the creek channel and finding points with deeper drop-offs that have weedbeds or any type of isolated cover will be the most productive areas. Bass tend to move more on tidal waters then they do on any other type of water. Baits like jigs and soft plastics such as grubs that are fished on the bottom will be your best option.
BAITS OF CHOICE
The most productive baits for me this time of the year include a Yamamoto 4” or 5” grub, a 3.5” Yamamoto Tube Jig, a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce Pepper Jig, a Northland Jigging spoon (with rattle), Hopkins Spoon and a 4” Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm fished on a drop shot rig.
The aggressive bass will be caught using the spoon, 1/2 to 3/4 ounce in chrome, white or some type of shad pattern. I’ll typically let the spoon fall to the bottom (watching my line at all times) and then jerk the lure a couple of feet and letting it fall to trigger a strike. I like to use a medium heavy 6 1/2 – foot Stutzman Hells Canyon Custom Rod combined with an Ardent Baitcasting reel spooled with 10 to 16 pound Sugoi Fluorocarbon line.
When bass become selective, I resort to the finesse plastic baits, such as the tube or grub jig. I’ll use both a darter and round style jig. The darter jig will be used when fishing the grub and the round jig will be used when fishing the tube. With this application I like a medium spinning rod spooled with 6 or 8 pound fluorocarbon line. My primary colors in clear water will consist of any hues that resemble shad, such as a tube in pearl white (09) or clear w/hologram (28), grubs in blue Pearl w/lg black and hologram (239), and smoke w/black and hologram (238).
Once I identify that the bass are suspended a few feet off the bottom I switch to a drop shot rig. Using a 4” Shad Shape Shad I can entice any bass into biting. The drop shot allows me to let the bait sit in front of the bass for a long period of time.
Once the bite slows down in a particular area I begin changing colors in order to get bass actively biting again. My biggest bass tend to be caught using the jigging spoon or Pepper Jig. When using the Jig, I prefer real pork for my jig trailer. The pork allows for a slower fall which is vital during the cold water period. A Yamamoto twin tail grub can be substituted for the pork if you find that you may need added tail action when using the Pepper Jig.
One of the keys to catching winter bass is that you must fish slow. Remember, bass metabolism during the winter is at its all time low. Not a lot of energy is required of the bass during the winter so a slow approach is a must! Winter bass have a small strike zone so get the bait right in front of their face. Cover every inch of the area you are fishing. Moving too fast may cause you to miss a school of bass without knowing it.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
Patience may be the most important key to your success when winter bass fishing. Remember, if you can find the fish, you can catch them. Using the right lure and the right presentation, winter fishing can keep you from cleaning the garage and going crazy from cabin fever!
So the next time you think it’s too cold for fish to bite, pay a visit to your local open water fishing lake, reservoir or tidal water and give it a shot. It sure beats sitting around!