Ask any bass fisherman which season requires the most unique approach to locating bass and invariably the answer will be winter. Winter bass fishing is challenging on many fronts. Anglers must deal with often bitter cold temperatures, frozen-over creeks and much lower fish metabolisms. So with all these obstacles, what can an angler do to improve their chances of hooking up in the winter?
Since largemouth bass are cold-blooded animals, their metabolism is much less in colder water. Metabolism is linked to digestion. This means bass eat less, so making the fishing more difficult. It is much easier to coax a hungry fish into biting lures.
The entire food chain is suffering from lethargy this time of year, due to depleted energy stores. Do not forget that many of the largemouth's essential forage is in hibernation, most notably, crawfish. Animal life is not moving very quickly this time of year, either. Both predator and prey succumb to their metabolism and anglers often forget that their lures and bait must match the general mood of their environment. Work your lures too quickly and you'll be setting off red flags.
Locating largemouth bass in the wintertime requires a good understanding of the seasonal migrations that take place during the year. Generally speaking, bass migrate from the creeks of lakes into the main body of water during the winter. They may be located just inside of tributary arms, but are usually closer to main lake structure.
The reason this migration takes place is well known among experienced anglers. The bass move to deeper water because the water temperatures are more stable. If the bass were to stay shallow, they would be subjecting them to much harsher temperature fluctuations which is difficult for a cold-blooded animal that is seeking a constant environment.
Shad, a main forage of largemouth bass, are very prone to dying in cold water. Schools of shad will make the same migrations during early winter, seeking those more stable water temperatures. Where the food goes, the bass will follow. Remember this simple rule and your fishing will improve dramatically.
We know bass are deeper in winter. What presentations are most effective to catch them?
Proven winter bass fishing techniques have one thing in common. They all require you to work your lure close to the bottom. Also, a large percentage of the known effective techniques require a very slow presentation.
If there was a lure that was synonymous with winter bass fishing, it would be the blade bait. There are just a few manufacturers of blade baits, with the two most notable being Bass Pro Shops and Silver Buddy. Silver Buddy is the original and probably most refined blade bait on the market. Essentially this lure is nothing more than a flattened silver piece of metal shaped like a baitfish. When rolled through the water, it has a very tight vibration that is noticeable through the rod. Simply let the Silver Buddy blade bait sink to the bottom and give short twitches back to the boat. The Silver Buddy should touch the bottom after each and every twitch. The goal is the make the lure vibrate during the twitch, but not raise it off the bottom more than a foot at a time.
Another common winter bass fishing tactic is fishing a hair jig. While there are countless styles of hair jigs and hair patterns to choose from, the most effective for winter is the common deertail (bucktail) pattern. Bucktail hair does not breathe in the water as much as other hairs. While most anglers see this as a disadvantage, it is the very reason deertail jigs work so well. Since it has a lifeless appeal, it fits in its surroundings well and is seen as more natural to its environment.
The key to catching bass on hair jigs is in the retrieve. A 1/4 oz. Egypt 3/8 oz. hair jig is best because it will let you keep the jig close to the bottom where the bass are in winter. Simply cast the hair jig out on 8 to 10 lb. test fluorocarbon and let it sink to the bottom. You will want to give the jig very small and slow hops back to the boat, never raising the jig off the bottom more than one foot.
Some top winter bass fishing locations to find fish are drop offs, ledges, points and inside channel bends. Locations to avoid are shallow and expansive flats, slowly sloping banks and current-laden areas. Holes are key spots and can often be loaded with hundreds of bass. While largemouth group up in large numbers in winter, very few will be willing to bite. You must cover lots of water until you find one willing to strike.
As you can see, winter bass fishing demands a much different game plan than the other seasons. There are numerous obstacles to contend with, and not all of them are under your control. While you may be able to psych yourself up to catch fish, it is not always possible to psych a winter bass into biting. Cover a lot of water looking for those transition areas where fish can hold in stable water temperatures and you should be able to catch a few during these tough times.