The winter brings on tough fishing conditions, not to mention uncomfortable fishing conditions. Most people, especially novice fishermen, think that bass fishing season is over once winter sets in.
It’s no secret that bass feed far less aggressively in the winter, but as long as the water has not iced over, and you have a lot of patience, you can still catch bass during the winter months.
The winter air cools water temperatures dramatically. In the northern parts of the country they can dip down in to the thirties and forties before turning to ice. But no matter where you’re located, the cooler than normal temperatures that come with winter slow down the metabolism of a bass substantially.
When bass get like this, the term most often used to describe them is lethargic. It’s said that a bass can survive an entire month from eating a single baitfish when they get lethargic.
Of course this has a lot to due with how much energy a bass is expending, which during the winter is typically very little. Energy conservation becomes a main focus for bass in the winter. When deciding whether or not to eat, a bass will consider how much energy it is willing use to pursue prey, and if it’s worth burning the energy or not. For this reason, slow moving baits make the best winter bass lures.
Best Cold Water Bass Lures
Patience and slow retrieves are essential for winter bass fishing. Slow might not even be the right word, we are talking about casting a lure out and retrieving it for five or more minutes sometimes. Bass will sometimes watch a bait sit still for a full minute or longer before deciding to strike. Some bass lures work better at slow retrievals than others, so we broke down the best lures to use for winter bass.
Arguably the ultimate “go to” cold water bass lures are jerkbaits. They are very well known for their effectiveness in early spring and late fall.
More specifically, hard suspending jerkbaits like a Rapala X-Rap and soft jerkbaits like a Zoom Superfluke. Both models work in the same way, they are “jerked” between pauses, causing the bait to dart in different directions.
They’re best known for getting reaction strikes from bass. For hard suspending jerkbaits, a bass will watch it suspended in the water column and as soon as the bait darts in a direction the bass’s reaction is to attack it. For a soft jerkbait, the reaction is a result of a jerk while the bait is naturally sinking, or while it’s at rest on the bottom.
Jigs are excellent for working areas slowly while still giving off an enticing presentation to a bass. This makes them the perfect lure for cold water conditions. Both traditional bass jigs as well as hair jigs.
The best jigging method for cold water is letting the bait sink to the bottom and sit there. After some time, drag the jig slowly along the bottom between periods of rest. The periods of rest can be as long or short as you want them to be, but should be lengthened or shortened based on how the fish are biting.
You can leave the jig at rest because the trailer and skirt of the jig will move slowly with the water and create a lifelike presentation. How long you let the jig sit is an adjustment you will have to make, but twenty to thirty second pauses between drags is a good start. This method is especially effective with stand up style jigs, like a BiCO Jig.
Using a blade bait like a Heddon Sonar is a very effective tactic in extremely cold waters. These baits work for catching largemouth, but are especially well known for being deadly smallmouth bass lures. The best technique to use with a blade bait is to let it sink to the bottom and let it rest for a bit. Then you want to jerk the rod tip up and make the bait dart upward but stop and let it flutter back down to the bottom and repeat the process.
This technique doesn’t need to be strictly used on the bottom, you can use the same method of retrieval at different depths in the water column. Just let the bait flutter down a few feet then pull it back up. When the lure is getting pulled up it vibrates, creating a noise in the water you hope will bring nearby bass over to check it out.
Winter Bass Fishing
You may have noticed a trend amongst the three lures mentioned above, and that is they are all worked with a slow action. Many days during the winter, bass have lockjaw and will only move a short distance for food. So running power lures like spinnerbaits and crankbaits are not going to do the trick most of the time.
This means you are going to be sitting still for long periods, which can make you feel even colder than you thought you’d be while getting our to a spot. You really want to be warm and comfortable during this very slow style of fishing. If you find yourself shivering out there it’s going to be hard to remain focused, which is very important when you’re fishing slow.
There are some upsides to winter fishing though, and the main one is that you can catch big bass during the winter months. A big contributor to this is that fishing pressure on most bodies of water is way down.
Waters tend to get much clearer in the winter time, so it’s a good idea to use lighter line this time of year. This is when fluorocarbon makes the best choice for line type. It’s not only less visible to the fish but it gives you better feel for the often subtle bites that come from a bass in cold water.
If nothing seems to be working, you may want to lighten your tackle up even more and try fishing some finesse lures. Finesse fishing is a very effective style of fishing when bass are not very active.