As winter rolls in and water temperatures decline, the metabolism and activity of bass drop as well, but that doesn’t mean fishing is over for the year. Bass can be caught during the winter months; it just takes a little tweaking in your strategy.
We won’t lie to you, fishing during this period is challenging, and you’re going to have some slow days on the water. The upside is that when you do land some bass, it’s a true testament to your ability as an angler.
In this article, we are going to cover how to reduce the number of slow days. We will cover preparation, how to locate bass, what lures to use, and how to present them.
Safety and Preparation
When the water temperatures are hanging around in the 40’s and air temperatures even colder, it is important that you are prepared.
Here are some main tips you should always follow:
- Always dress in layers when winter fishing. Go with one to three thermal layers made from merino wool or a soft fleece with the heaviness increasing in each outer layer. A heavy rain jacket or other water resistant shell layer is beneficial and should also be able to block the wind.
- Headwear and handwear are also important. We like neoprene gloves with a removable index and thumb fingertip cover.
- Be sure someone knows the general area of where you will be and a rough estimation of how long you will be gone. Also be sure that you know the area well and have maps or GPS units on the boat when you put in.
- Keep a dry bag on the boat with dry clothes and an emergency blanket.
- Keep a thermos of warm liquid and food. It will be invaluable if something happens to your boat and you are stuck on the water for several hours.
- Be sure you have a well-charged phone, and if you are going to be in an area with no cell reception, you should have a means of communication via satellite phone or something similar.
- As for any boating trip, always have a life jacket that fits and have one for each member of the party. Falling in can be a shock, and if the water temperatures are cold enough, it will make it difficult to stay afloat.
Winter Bass Fishing Tactics
Will the fishing might not be as hot, literally and figuratively, warmer months?
No, it’s not and we’re not going to spin it that way. It’s tougher and its colder, but what winter fishing does provide is self-satisfaction on the days when you are successful.
Where are the Bass
Remember all those honey holes from warmer months?
Well, the fish are not going to be in those exact spots in the numbers you remember, but they will be close by.
Bass biology changes once the water temperature drops and they behave differently. Not only will bass hold in different areas of the lake, but their position can change from day to day based on weather conditions.
Your Tackle Box
Bass anglers have an innate need to hoard as many lures as possible.
We share the same affliction, so bring whatever you want, but there are more effective lures (we’ll cover these a bit further down in this article) for winter fishing so be sure you are well equipped.
The actual months don’t matter when we say winter. What you have to pay attention to is water temperature. The bass don’t know its February 18th; they know the water is too cold to be chasing your lures.
At the start of the winter season, water temperatures can range from 50-60°F. This is prime fishing as the bass are feeding heavily on baitfish before winter comes on strong.
Once the temperature drops into the low 50’s and high 40’s the metabolism of these fish really slows, and they begin holding in deeper water.
Any temperature in the low 40’s and below and the bass hold tight in the warmest water they can find and feed sparingly.
How to Catch Winter Bass
Slow your roll
As we have briefly mentioned, the activity level of bass is dependent on the surrounding water temperature.
Bass in water temperatures around 40°F are not going to be willing to chase after a fast moving lure. It’s going to be tough to get them to hit a slow moving lure more than ten feet away from them.
What this means is you are going to have to slow your retrieval techniques possible even to a crawl or letting the lure sit still.
Winter Lures Type & Size & Speed
There’s a constant argument for large vs. small sized lures for catching bass during winter.
In our experience, it really depends on quite a few conditions, and we don’t believe that one option is definitively better than the other.
If the water has dropped to 45°F or below, smaller lures are going to be the way to go.
In the earlier winter months when the water temp is still around the 50°F mark or higher, larger lure patterns work as well if not better than small lures.
Winter Bass Lures
The jig is one of the most versatile bass lures, and we could write several articles dedicated to fishing the jig.
If fishing vertically, go with a lighter jig, maybe with a hair skirt, that will descend slower. You want to keep the lure in the correct depth along the water column for as long as possible so adjust the head weight accordingly.
For fishing vertically/horizontally we like to hop it across the lake bottom.
The grub is a simple, but effective lure for low-temperature waters and is also great when fished vertically.
We also like to use grubs as trailers on our jig rigs to get the best of both lures.
Blade baits are also great for fishing vertically when the water drops into the low 50’s and high 40’s.
Blades provide a lot of movement and are great at imitating a struggling baitfish, an easy meal for bass. Blades will descend quickly and are effective when fished similar to hopping a jig.
A metal spoon fished like a jig is an incredible cold water lure for bass. Especially when the temperatures are dropping into the low 40’s.
They are best fished vertically along steep embankments or bluffs. These are also great when you need to go deep as this lure gets down in the water column quickly.
Plastics used with a drop shot rigging can be deadly for bass holding to the bottom around structures.
Plastics can be fished vertically or can be used as a swim bait. If you can put one of these at the right depth and swim it across fish in moderately cold water temperatures (high 40’s/low 50’s), it is going to be hard for them to resist.
Another popular technique is to lay the plastic on structures and give a gentle rod twitch or shake. This is a deadly technique when the water temperature is in the low 40’s and below.
These are best used when the water temperature are around the 50-55°F mark, and shad are running.
Of course, if you can locate shad and fish them at the speeds of the naturals they will be just as effective.
If you know where the fish are located and what depth they are at, rigging up a minnow or nightcrawler and dropping it in their immediate areas can be as successful as using any lure.
The best advice for the speed and size of these lures is to mimic the baitfish. When the temps hit the 40’s you really need to slow these baits down to a crawl, fish vertically, and even dead stick them.
Finding the Bass
The best part about winter bass fishing is that they tend to bunch up into relatively large groups. If you can hook up on one fish, you can be pretty confident that there are more in the area and at the same depth.
Keep in mind that as we go through this section, finding warm water is associated with all locations.
Find the Baitfish
When the water is around 50°F you really need to key in on finding schools of baitfish.
Bass are aware that the cold is coming and will feed heavily when they get the chance. You will often find schools of baitfish running in more open water.
While shad on the top are easy to spot, you might need some sonar equipment to find baitfish schools and bass that can be at depths between 10-40ft.
If you don’t have the equipment or its cold enough where the fish are not actively chasing baitfish, you can still work areas where winter bass will often hold and work your lures at different depths.
Shallow to Deep Gradients
Bass hang out in areas where they can easily migrate between shallow and deeper waters.
One of the prime bass hangouts are off points that has a decline in the lakebed. A gradient of 45 degrees or less is the perfect lay and allow the bass to move where the water is warmest quickly.
Besides these gradients, you might find success fishing vertically off a steep bluff or down channel embankments.
If the weather has been consistently cold, deep waters in these areas will usually be holding bass.
You also want to look for structures that are in the last two mentioned areas.
This could be large rocks with clefts or sunken logs and brush. Bass are not just sitting deep in the open water and finding these structures at the proper depths is the key to finding winter bass.
You might also look at the mouths of tributaries, as water that spills into the lake is generally warmer than other areas of the lake.
Weather Conditions and Bass Activity
If the area has experienced a few days of higher than average temperatures and a front is moving in bass will usually feed at a higher level than usual.
The same can go the other way with unusually cold days with a front coming in.
Like deer, changes in the atmospheric pressure sends them into a short feeding period, and you can end up in some unusually high bass activity.
Winter fishing can be tough, a lot tougher than other seasons, but it’s not impossible to be successful.
We hope that this article has outlined the necessary steps to take when gearing up for winter bass season.
Proper preparation, reading the weather and water temperatures, choosing the right lures, searching the right areas, and fishing the lures properly can end with landing big bass.