Too many anglers consider bass fishing in winter as an insurmountable challenge. Fishermen think of bass as a warm water fish. They conjure up in their mind images of Florida and Louisiana Bayou. Anglers give up in favor of other fish species once the water drops below 20°C.
Indeed, some bass hail from Florida, the sub-specie we have in Europe is called the Northern strain. Largemouth originate from the Great Lake basin where people fish through the ice in the winter, drive to their spot in their 2-ton pick-up truck. So no, you can definitely catch bass in winter regardless of water temperatures.
As previously stated, bass fishing in winter is perfectly possible. It’s even very productive. There’s one thing to avoid at all costs, however: bass will not bite in cold and muddy water. In fact, the cleaner the water the better. So, if you have a choice, head to the clearer water you can find. Typically, water tends to be clearer in the winter. Plankton dies off and unless muddy run-offs come staining your water, water clarity will improve as it cools off.
If summertime fishing calls for shade, grass, and lay down trees, the typical winter hot spot is very different. Grass has died down and as it rots on the bottom it creates a hostile environment for fish. Baitfish have left the area, and the muddy bottom is not very attractive. Instead, look for an open shoreline that lets the sun shines on the water with easy access to deeper waters.
Try fishing on the northern side of a lake or pond. It will be protected from the cold north wind and exposed to the south where the sun shines. Look for hard bottom, rocks, man-made structures, and any other hard structures. However, the most important ingredient this time of year is baitfish. When the water is void of any cover but has baitfish, that’s the right place to go!
There is no specific lure for bass fishing in winter, as always lure choice is dictated by condition. As we’ve seen in the previous paragraph we probably won’t be fishing in heavy cover. So, snag less lures are not as much of a concern. Winter is certainly the season of hard baits.
In clear cold water, my first choice is a jerk bait. Make long casts, and retrieve them with jerk, jerk pause cadence. The colder the water the longer the pauses. Color choice is very important. Use a translucent pattern in super clear water and a more solid yet baitfish-looking pattern in stained water. Try your best to match the hatch, it’s always better if your lure looks like local baitfish.
Winter is also a good time to fish a crankbait. Choose a tight fast wiggling action lure. This is no time for those wide action crankbait that move a lot of water. They work well in the summer but not in the winter. Flat-sided crankbaits are usually designed for cold water fishing. As for sound, I prefer multiple glass beads over the one knocker better suited for warm water.
My third lure choice for bass fishing in winter is the jig. Try fishing with the lightest jig you can get away with. The whole point is to have a bulky slow sinking jig. I like football jigs for fishing around hard rocky bottom. You can drag and hop the jig and make long pauses. Finally, favor a fairly big soft plastic trailer but without much kicking action. Last but not least match the color of the jig and trailer to the color of the bottom.
For fishing deep water around balls of baitfish, my favorite presentation is a blade bait. There’s something magical about blades and cold water. Make a long cast and count it down in the water column to about the level of baitfish. You can try a slow steady retrieve punctuated by small pauses. It’s a good idea to also rip and pause. Swipe your rod laterally and bring your lure forward about one and a half meter. Let it drop on a semi-slack line. Don’t give your lure too much freedom because the line might catch on the hook, and you need to be able to feel the bite.
Fishermen have been aware of the morning bite and evening bite for generations. And for good reason. However, it’s less noticeable in the winter. Obviously, each day is different, but overall I’ve found that the best time is often between 11 am and mid-afternoon say about 3 pm. I’ve caught my best fish in the middle of the day.
Speaking of big fish, winter is a good time to catch big bass. Big females are already starting to make the eggs they will spawn in the spring. They need to eat a lot. Don’t be afraid to use larger baits even in clear water.
Winter is not the season for reaction lures, instead, fish slow and methodically with long pauses. This is what will draw big bass to your lure. It is often said by bass anglers that cold water is slowing down bass, making them sluggish and incapable of fast strikes.
I do not subscribe to this myth, bass are perfectly capable of chasing baitfish, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to feed. The reason for fishing slow with big jigs for example is to show a more vulnerable prey. This will be more conducive to being eaten by big fish.
Don’t be mystified by legends about bass being impossible to catch through the cold month of the year. Go ahead and select the best spot, fish it methodically with a crankbait or a jig and start the year with your biggest fish ever!