Winter Tips: Winter Fishing Time Periods

Story by Russ Bassdozer

Dusk and Daybreak

You often read or are told to sleep late or to go home early on winter days, to fish "banker's hours" - which is fine, but you'll miss potential flurries of feeding activity at dusk and daybreak.

Daybreak may be a brutally cold start of the day in winter, but the first light of dawn is nevertheless a peak period of heightened bass feeding activity even on the coldest day.

The late light before sundown is also is a favorite time when bass look for food on a wintry day.

The crack of dawn or last vestiges of dusk may be unbearably cold in winter - and that dangerous cold may be a wise reason to avoid being on the water then. Fortunately, the early afternoon, say from one o’clock to three pm is also a period when I like to be on the water in winter. By one o’clock, there has been as many as six hours of warming sun penetrating the water and the sun is high enough in the sky to have whittled any shade pockets down to almost nothing. This is a warming period and often a great time to connect with a few bass.

Drip Rocks and Shining Sand in Early Afternoon

In the early afternoon hours, a couple of my favorite places to find winter bass include “drip rocks’ and “shining sand”.

Drip rocks are found along bluffs or rocky walls or steep shorelines that have water seeping out of the rocks somehow. Often there is a demarcation line like a crack or fissure between two different levels of rocks, and that demarcation most likely means that swampy water stood there eons ago. Often the demarcation is an ultra thin layer of crushed vegetation like reeds, swamp trees and aquatic weeds that once flourished in the marsh. To this day, water still moves along the ancient swamp channel beds squeezed between two rock layers and seeps out of the rocks there.

The drip water and the glistening wet rock surface percolate with the heat of the early afternoon sun. You’ll feel the intense heat being generated in these areas. While you’re fishing in them, you'll likely work up a sweat. These are literally hot spots, and you may increase your odds for action wherever you may find a solar-heated drip rock wall like this. You have the whole food chain firing off here all winter.

Another situation that generates lots of hot water and holds winter bass is shining sand. As you move around the lake in early afternoon, keep a squinty eye peeled for intensely glaring surfaces along the shoreline. Specifically, look for wet or shining sand.

There will be a lot of glare shining off the wet sand. These areas also are often aquifers where water seeps or rises out of the terrain and drains into the lake. From a distance, these may look like featureless sand flats. Upon closer inspection, you may find channel cuts, rocky ledges or drop-offs adjacent to the sand. It’s the heat emanating from the shining sand that superheats the seeping water that makes the area attractive to every frigid link in the winter food chain on a sunny day.

Very Best Time to Catch Winter Bass

There’s one special time in winter when you stand the very best chance of all to catch a bass. That magic time is whenever you or your fishing buddy are hooked up. As one fish is played to the boat, odds are great that another fish in the area will become active as a result. Casting closely behind a hooked fish is often the best way to get a second hook-up. Regardless of whether you actually do or do not see other fish following the hooked one, it’s wise to cast behind a hooked fish. Act quickly because this brief window of opportunity doesn’t last long.

Now, I know you're thinking about your fishing buddy, and that he's really not going to appreciate you throwing over his one hooked fish of the day. You guys just need to get over that - and throw over each other's fish. It's a great way to double your catches in winter.

A fish may be hooked any time, anywhere, all of a sudden, and the second angler has to react immediately with the throw-in rod. Ideally, you need to have a lure already tied on a rod, ready to react. You know sometimes the window to get this second bite or not get it, the opportunity changes in a few seconds. So you must have good reflexes to react of course, but you must also be well-organized. If you have good reflexes, but your rod is a mess, if you don't know, the way you left your rods on the deck, or if you have to untangle the lure and things like that, you may miss the opportunity, believe me.

So keep a throw-in rod at the ready, so you or your partner are able to find it and get it in the water without fumbling or losing any seconds. You both don't need your own throw-in rods. If you are fishing together, designate one shared rod for this tactic, and if you're fishing in the stern, your partner in the bow, leave it at the ready across the boat seats where either of you may grab it.

(Note: If you are fishing as individuals, the other guy's probably not going to let you throw on his fish, but the sidebar below tells you other tactics for increasing your catch with the throw-back rod, so keep the throw-in rod separate from your other rods and ready to pick up in an instant (see more details below).

Every second counts, and having that second rod in the water really can turn one fish into two. So make sure you and your partner know where that second rod is, that it is ready to cast, not tangled with another rod, Pay attention to every single detail that can help you double your catches with this throw-in tactic.

One of my favorite lures to rig on the throw-back rod is a Senko, either weightless or lightly weighted so it suspends and sinks slowly into the hot area with it's own built-in action. You don't need to work or activate this lure in any way, just let it sink and it will do the rest. Rig one of the weedless ways like shown below so it will tangle less when cast in on a hooked fish.

There's no need to finesse following fish. Even if you can't see them, they're probably lurking there. They are already eager to grab a meal from the hooked fish. So a 5-inch 9-series Senko has the right size and heft to throw in, and they also have the perfect action - just do nothing - for following fish. There's already motivated to strike, so no need to finesse these hot winter fish - and it's the absolute best time and a great way to catch them in that instant.

  1. Color #9-10-913 (top) weightless on 4/0 Owner TwistLock hook
  2. Color #9-10-020 (2nd) weighted with Gary's Jig head (1/16th, 4/0 )
  3. Color #9-10-008 (3rd) weightless on 2/0 Gamakatsu Weedless Wireguard hook
  4. Color #9-10-927 (bottom) weighted with Pepper Weedless Wacky Jig head (3/16 oz)

All the above are weedless, therefore relatively snagless when cast in on a hooked fish. They will tangle at times - but less than other lures.

Wacky Jigs for Winter Bass

I usually don't start out fishing wacky jigs. I end up fishing them. What I mean is that I often start fishing with another rod and lure to find fish first and to be able to cast out an area rapidly. However, I leave a spinning rod (preferably the Yamamoto medium/light model) on the deck at my feet, with the wacky jig ready to cast. This is either if I am in the front or back of the boat, I will have the wacky jig rod ready to pick up and cast. If I miss a hit, have a follow or have chasers, bring up a school or see fish on the graph, I wind in the first rod ASAP and cast back with the wacky jig rod. At that point, I then actively fish the wacky jig rod, having found one or more fish on the electronics or on the other rod first.

Therefore, one of the big keys to me is to find fish first by other means, then start fishing the wacky jig. It is an incredible follow-up bait to anything else. If you learn to follow-up (practice makes perfect), you will add many more and bigger bass to your day's catch. I say bigger because you can cherry-pick the bigger chasers on the follow-up. It's as important to sense where the fish went when it left your view, and understanding what's on the bottom helps you determine that. Often, straight down under the boat is where they go, using the boat as a substitute for other cover. Often, chasers will not hit until the wacky jig hits bottom. So do not end a follow-up until the lure hits bottom. I'd reckon the bass feels the bait is easier to trap and pin it against the bottom rather than try to hit it in mid-water where it has 360 degrees to avoid the bass strike. Whatever the reason, a very high percentage of follow-up strikes happen when the bait hits bottom, even if it's 30 or more feet deep. So be patient, and once the line finally goes slack (meaning it hit bottom), set the hook!

Most anglers are not good at follow-up - and you'll never get good at it unless you deliberately spend time to train yourself how to do it. If you fish team tournaments, train each other. Practice, practice, practice following up every active fish with the wacky jig, and you'll score more. If one side of the livewell is empty, leave it running and one lid open. This way, any fish can be swung right into the livewell, and if you do not need to cull at that point, pick up the follow-up rod and instantly cast back. The window you have to get a follow-up bite may only last a few seconds. So you must be ready. The wacky jig and worm must already be ready. You must know the way you left the rod on the deck, that you don't have to untangle it first.

A key point that can't be stressed enough is to have the follow-up rod ready to fire back right away. If you have to fix the bait, fix the line or do anything else before casting, you're missing the moment when the fish is hot. When you lay the follow-up rod on the front or back deck, it has to be prepared to pick up and cast faultlessly without fumbling or adjusting anything. That's a big key.

Even when I have found a body of fish and settle into fishing the spot with a wacky jig, I rig a second wacky jig rod to follow-up the first wacky jig. Reason is, you will be pulling up hot chasers and even the entire school may come up with every fish you bring to boatside. You may not want to catch them all (well, maybe that would be nice) but you're certainly going to see some you would want that are bigger than others. So follow-up, follow-up, follow-up everything, even another wacky jig, either fishing by yourself or with a partner - that is the key to maximizing use of the wacky jig.