Call me nuts, but my favorite time to bass fish is not in the spring when the flowers are blooming. Nor is it during the summer when I can wear sandals, shorts, and a t-shirt. And it is not in late fall when the leaves are displaying incredible beauty. Nope. My favorite time of year to bass fish is when the trees are void of leaves and required apparel includes boots, bibs, parka, and a stocking cap. Am I nuts to love winter bass fishing? You be the judge.
Winter Bass Fishing
Before the ice blankets our lakes, bass get amazingly predictable. This natural prep for winter bass fishing begins a month before the lake is ice covered. Even when the lake is half froze over, bass are still willing to bite. When the water cools into the 40’s, all game species begin migrating to their winter haunts. Contrary to the idea that these cold-blooded creatures rarely eat in the frigid water, I can assure you, these fish eat! Granted, finding them can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. But when you find them, it can be one of the best days in your life. In 38-degree water, I have caught over 60 smallmouth bass as well as over 40 largemouths in a single outing. These are good numbers any time of year.
Winter Bass Fishing: Where to Find Them
Finding these fish can be surprisingly simple if you are familiar with popular ice fishing locations. Bass follow bluegill throughout most of the year, but especially during the winter. If you know where the ice is annually carved in to Swiss cheese by ice anglers, you need look no further. Like a KeelGuard, the bass are reliable in winter.
If you do not know where the ice fishermen congregate on a lake, or perhaps you want to target a river system, the search is more challenging, but feasible. Spend time on the northern shore. This area is protected from brisk, cold northern winds and is often a degree or two warmer. It also receives more sunlight. The sharpest breaklines and inside turns creating a deep pocket are typical winter haunts and can be located through map study. Baitfish showing up on electronics is confirmation of being in the right area.
Perhaps the best aspect of fishing this time of year is that the fish will return to the same spots every year and remain there all winter. Unlike other seasons when the fish are constantly moving, they hang out all winter.
Winter Bass Fishing Baits
Arguably the best bait for cold water fish is a blade bait. Wide varieties are available on the market today, but a ½ ounce gold model is my first choice. It takes no time to reach bottom and produces an awesome vibration with the slightest rise.
Working this bait is easy. Simply cast it as far as possible and let it sink to the bottom. Place the rod in the 9 o’clock position and raise it until the vibration of the bait can be felt, normally the 11 o’clock position, and then drop it back down to 9 o’clock. Once the bait settles, repeat all the way to the boat. Often strikes are not detected, rather. The bait will suddenly have some resistance. Upon feeling this resistance, do not set the hook; just continue pulling the rod to keep pressure on the fish.
Winter Bass Fishing With Swimbaits
Swimbaits are growing in popularity in cold water. An endless supply now saturates the market, but not are all created equally. Some are made of a plastic that will not elicit good action in cold water. Cold temperatures stiffens plastic, thus deadens their action. Choose the softest bait possible. I match them up with a ¼ ounce leadhead jig and choose bluegill color schemes.
Retrieving this bait is also easy. Cast as far as possible, let it sink to desired depth, and maintain a slow, constant retrieve all the way back. Keep an eye on your line, a slight bow should be prevalent between your rod tip and the water. Also, be patient when a fish bites. It will feel like a bluegill pecking at the bait and then suddenly the weight of the fish will be felt. This is the time to set the hook.
Am I nuts? Perhaps, but I will not be watching fishing programs on the television this winter. Instead, I will be experiencing it live with simple tactics and predictable fish. Not to mention, my rapid heart rate caused by the fish catching will keep me plenty warm.