Although winter is officially a few days away, recent temperatures say differently. Cold days and colder nights may have some anglers huddling up with the fireplace. However, there are opportunities to catch bass through the winter months.
Wintertime bass fishing can be hot at times. The fish are more predictable and usually remain in the same general area. Water levels and situations, along with weather conditions are all factors in affecting the feeding of bass. Each body of water may fish differently, but certain lures and techniques will still produce some strikes.
It may be tempting to anglers to lay down their casting rods and pick up a deer rifle or shotgun while looking ahead for spring. But, there are some options bass anglers can employ to catch bass consistently during the winter months.
Some anglers may think bass will head to deep water during the winter. However, depending on the lake, the bass may be shallower than anglers realize. Although structure or cover are still key in locating bass in cold weather. And water temperature is a major factor in locating winter bass.
“Start your search on the north or northwest shoreline,” said B.A.S.S. Elite pro Chris Lane of Guntersville. “The northern areas are protected from the cold winds and these sections receive more sun.”
Lane mentioned the northern shoreline doesn’t get the direct wind from the north or northwest. During the winter, the sun travels across the southern sky, which spreads warming rays to the north side of the lake. Only a rise of water temperature of a degree or two is required to trigger fish to feed.
We mentioned cover, and Lane agrees. During the winter, bass love to snuggle up inside a brush top or next to a stump. Posts of piers and docks are also prime target areas for bass. Rocks and rip-rap that catch the sun will help warm the water and be home for bass.
“Steep channel swings next to the bank are good areas to find winter bass,” said former Carhart College angler Matt Lee, now a B.A.S.S. Elite pro from Guntersville. “The bass will want to be able to move vertically over a short distance as the water temperature changes.”
Lee will use the topographic map feature on his GPS and look for contour lines that are close together, indicating a sharp drop off on the lake bottom. The steeper drops that hit next to the shoreline are areas he will target first.
Another location Lee will search for winter bass is where small creeks or ditches that feed into a larger tributary. The intersections are easy to locate with a GPS map or a top lake map. Usually there are some stumps/rocks along the smaller creek fingers.
Another top spot to locate bass during the winter is around bridges. Some lakes have more options with bridges crossing the main channel to creeks and coves. But, most bridges are associated with some type of tributary. The transition from deeper water to shallow can be found at most bridge locations.
Anglers will want to begin their search for bass where the water in constructed under the bridge. Headwalls, rip-rap or pilings at the water’s edge provide cover for bass and other fish species. These areas also offer areas where bass can ambush shad or other baitfish.
There are many lures that are capable of drawing strikes from winter bass. But, some are more popular with anglers and the fish. Larger size baits in a shad color should suffice on any type of water for winter bass. If the water is stained brighter colors like chartreuse or orange are a good choice.
“If the water is clear and cold, I prefer a shad colored bait,” Lane said. “In most cases, a crankbait would be my first choice.”
Lane mentioned a horse-head type lure with a spinner is also a producer for winter bass. Depending on the water temperature and depth, he will begin his search with a medium diving crankbait. He can cover a large area of the water column by changing the speed of the retrieve and rod tip position.
Wide-body crankbaits are also the choice for Lee during the colder months. Bass will feed primarily on shad in cold water conditions. However, around rocky areas crawfish colored baits will trigger strike as well. Large baits with long bills can be retrieved slow enough to allow the bill to dig in the lake bottom.
“Winter bass are not always aggressive with heavy strikes,” said Lee. “Sometimes a strike will feel mushy or maybe even like the bait is hung up.”
Both Lane and Lee agree a quality crankbait rod with a soft tip will help feel those subtle strikes of winter bass. Heavy hook-sets are not required for cold water bass. When the rod begins to load up a medium swing is all that is needed to hook the fish. Too heavy of a rod jerk can rip the hooks and lure out of the bass’ jaw.
Some anglers may not associate the shaky head rig with catching bass. However, this rig is a fish catcher year-round. A heavier head in the 1/4- to 3/8-ounce range is a good size for most lakes. Tip the hook with a shad colored shaped bait or a crawfish style soft-plastic.
The shaky head rig can be fished slow along the bottom or retrieved with an erratic action. A rig with a small swimbait works great for schooling bass.
Another top lure for cold weather bass is a jerkbait. These are lone slender style baits resembling a minnow. A short, plastic bill helps to impart some wiggle action into the lure. Most anglers will opt for a suspending style jerkbait that hill hover at the depth when the retrieve is stopped.
“Whatever type of bait you’re using, fish it slow,” said Lane. “Bass aren’t going to chase down a fast-moving lure in cold water.”
Lane said he has to remind himself to slow down his retrieve when the water is cold. He mentioned many anglers want to reel a bait to fast and they don’t get any strikes.
Bass can be shallow during the winter months. On some lakes bass can be caught in water less than six feet deep. Of course, it depends on the weather. We mentioned earlier only a small increase in the water temperature can trigger bass to become more active.
“Watch the weather over a few days,” Lee said. ‘If there has been a couple of days with warming temperatures and plenty of sun, the bass will move shallow.”
Lee feels that there are always some bass shallow regardless the season. In most cases, it will depend on the lake and the region. Lake Guntersville is a good example of catching bass shallow on warmer winter days. However, a strong cold front with blustery winds can quickly change the shallow water bite.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org.