When old man winter shows his face, many anglers head to the warmth of their couches, grab a Bass Pro catalog, and flip on the newest episode of Major League Fishing. But those of us who are committed enough to brave the elements often find that it’s worth the numb fingers and runny nose when a fat smallmouth or largemouth is tugging at the other end of your line!
So if you live in an area where you have access to rivers or creeks that stay open for part of the winter and hold a few bass, listen up. We’re going to go over a few essential baits and techniques that you NEED TO KNOW to effectively target those finicky winter fish.
Winter Bass Behavior
Before we get into lure choice, let’s take a trip back to your 8th grade Biology Class and revisit the lesson on warm-blooded vs. cold-blooded animals. Bass are cold-blooded, which means as the temperature around them declines, so does their internal body temperature. As their body temperature lowers, bass become more lethargic and tend to abandon their aggressive nature to conserve energy and get them through the winter.
Now, that’s not to say that a winter bass can’t be aggressive, but as a whole, the population of bass in your particular body of water will become increasingly less interested in popular spring/summer/fall lures like crankbaits, chatterbaits, or topwater plugs.
To increase your chances of a fruitful day of winter bass fishing, make sure to start out by targeting the deepest part of your particular body of water. If you strike out in deep water, look for structure like lay downs and logs. Big rock walls can also be hiding places for trophy bass in the winter months. Rocks hold heat from the daytime sun, so fish will often stay close by.
So, what should you tie on when it’s 20 degrees outside but you see some open water? Here are 3 go-to lures for those brutal winter days:
Winter Bass Lure #1: Jig
Small finesse jigs are absolute killers for cold water bass of all kinds. Smallmouth, largemouth, spotted bass, you name it. If they have a mouth and half a brain, they’ll eat a jig.
In the winter, try downsizing your jigs to appeal to those lethargic fish. I prefer a compact 3/16oz jig, or the least amount of weight you can get away with in your body of water. As for the trailer, try a small craw trailer like a Netbait Paca Chunk or a Zoom Super Chunk. You want to give the bait a little bit of profile, but not too much action. In the winter, avoid aggressive trailers like the ever-popular Rage Craw. Color isn’t too important here, as long as you match the water clarity. For water with more than 4 or 5 inches of visibility, Green Pumpkin is hard to beat. For dirtier water, use darker colors like Black & Blue.
Above all else, fish these jigs SLOW. When you think you’re fishing it as slow as possible, go slower. I’m talking about moving that jig millimeters at a time, and then dead-sticking it for 30 seconds. It can be a brutal way of fishing, especially when the winter wind is howling in your face, but I promise it will increase your chances of seeing that jig down a fish’s throat in the near future.
Winter Bass Lure #2: Jerkbait
Nothing gets a bass going like a dying baitfish dancing in its face, and that is exactly what a jerkbait mimics. If a fat winter bass is minding its own business with no intention of feeding, but a 4-inch shad flutters and stops right in front of its mouth, more often than not it’s going to eat. Think of it this way: if you were leaving the Chinese buffet, full as can be, but someone stuck your favorite ice cream cone in front of your face and touched it to your lips, are you going to lick it? Yes. Those of you that said ‘No’ are lying. Fish are no different.
In the winter, make sure your jerkbait is a suspending model. Slow rising or sinking jerkbaits won’t give you enough time in the strike zone to trigger a reaction. And I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times by now, but make sure to ‘match the hatch’ with your color pattern. If you are fishing a lake or river with a healthy perch population, throw a perch pattern. If you’re around schooling shad, throw a flashy silver, gray, or clear jerkbait.
Similar to a jig, you’re going to want to exercise extreme patience when working your jerkbait through the water. In the spring, you can get away with a twitch of every second or two, but not in the winter. There will be days that you will need to wait 20-30 seconds between movements to get those lazy bass to eat.
Winter Bass Lure #3: Blade Bait
Ah yes, the OG cold water slayer: the blade bait. If you’ve never used a blade bait, it’s essentially a flat piece of metal with hooks. And while they may not be appealing to the human eye, they’re candy for cold water bass. If you really want to throw a moving bait when the water temperature drops, than you need to keep in mind that a tight wobble to your lure is key. The range of motion on a squarebill or deep diver is too wide, and chasing down a giant lipless crank just seems like too much work for your average pond-dwelling winter bass. But blade baits were designed to have such a tight wobble that they basically just vibrate in the water, which is like ringing the dinner bell in the winter months.
The good news is that blade baits are relatively inexpensive, and they’re virtually indestructible. They also come in a huge variety of colors and sizes so you can adapt to your specific body of water. I usually stick with a metallic shad paint job, but countless colors that mimic craws, perch, and other common bass forage.
The name of the game with the blade bait is finding the depth the fish are holding at. Since you’re just throwing a hunk of metal that sinks quickly, it is easy to fish this lure in different sections of the water column. You can ‘count down’ to suspended fish or just rip it off the bottom if the bass are hunkered down in deep holes.
The Bottom Line
Winter is a challenging time for anglers, especially for those of us in areas where it doesn’t get cold enough for safe ice, but it sure as hell gets cold enough to lose feeling in your face. But if you take the time to understand the winter habits of these fish and target them with the appropriate techniques, it can be one of the most rewarding times of the year.
(And if all else fails, there’s always the Ned Rig!)
Article and Photos by: Andrew Hayes
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