Winter bass fishing can be a rewarding experience, especially if you observe the right strategies. To enhance your chances of catching bass in the winter, it’s important to prepare well and have the right fishing tackle.
To bass fish in the winter, it’s important to understand their behavioral patterns. Using lightweight bait is highly advisable since bass fish usually have low metabolism during winter. It is also advisable to fish in the afternoon when basses are moving around in the warm water.
If you’re still reading, chances are you want to learn a thing or two about winter bass fishing. Read on for an in-depth guide on how to catch bass in the winter successfully.
Bass Fishing: A Basic Overview
Bass fishing is a popular summer (and winter) activity for fishing enthusiasts. The name bass is shared by several species of popular, regularly angled game fish. Bass includes both marine and freshwater species that are native to North America and surrounding areas.
There are many bass species considered as gamefish in the US, which include largemouth bass, spotted bass (Kentucky bass), smallmouth bass, rock bass, and Guadalupe bass, which are also referred to as black basses. Black basses belong to the family Centrarchidae, while temperate basses (white and striped basses) belong to the sunfish family Moronidae.
Bass fishing can be either recreational or professional. Bass angling has enjoyed a steep rise in popularity, with professional bass fishing considered a multi-billion industry due to company sponsorship and tournament prize money. Some common bass angling pro circuits include Walmart FLW Tour, Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, and the Major League Fishing Pro Tour.
Winter bass fishing is as challenging as it is rewarding. The greatest challenge is that basses usually have slowed metabolism during the winter months, which means they won’t need to feed as much as they normally would. As a result, you’ll need to be extra careful when picking baits to ensure they’re good enough to attract basses.
Below are the steps to consider when planning to fish during the winter months.
Get the Right Type of Bait
If you fail to get your lures right, chances are you won’t be a successful winter angler. Again, basses are very lethargic during winter, which means they’ll try to conserve as much energy as they can.
A bait that moves too fast won’t tick a black bass box during winter. If they choose to eat at all, it must be something that doesn’t require too much work. So you can throw that fast-moving artificial bait out the window, at least until spring and summer.
Most experienced anglers will tell you that live baits work well during winter, especially since they’ll move slowly and attract the basses. Try live worms and minnows as their slow movements will attract the basses, thus boosting your chances of making a catch. However, if you opt to use artificial lures, be sure to slow down their movements to attract the basses.
The bait you choose should be highly visible to catch the eye of lurking basses. Vividly colored baits are more likely to be spotted than dull ones, which explains why most pros will go for gold or chrome coated baits. When cold weather fishing, you’re likely to succeed when you bait with feathers. Of course, this won’t be necessary if you opt to use live bait.
A bait with feathers translates to underwater movement, which is vital in making a lure realistic. During winter, the cold water can easily freeze soft plastic baits, making them immobile and extra stiff. Feathers will allow for slow natural movement as they react organically to current movement, making the artificial bait highly realistic and attractive to the basses.
Below are great examples of baits that can help increase your success rate when bass fishing during winter.
Both hard suspending and soft jerk baits can come in handy when winter fishing. When jerk baits are jerked between pauses, basses are often convinced they’ve found easy food. Hard suspending baits like the Rapala X-Rap are known to elicit reaction strikes from different types of bass. Even soft jerk baits like the popular Zoom Super Fluke work well when bass fishing in winter.
Jigs also work well when winter fishing. They are perfect for slow fishing as they make an enticing presentation for lurking bass. When jigging, the best technique is to allow the bait to sink and sit at the bottom since bass fish tend to stay deep during winter as the water is usually warmer than surface water.
After you’ve set the jig at the bottom, start dragging it slowly along the bottom between systematic periods of rest. The periods can either be long or short, depending on bass behavior.
Jigs are ideal because they can be left at rest and still make a lifelike presentation since the trailer and skirt will move according to current movements. A hair jig works well as it imitates crawfish. Moreover, the movements of the hairs make the presentation even more attractive for basses.
Blade baits are great lures for both smallmouth and largemouth basses. When using a blade bait, it is advisable to sink and rest at the bottom slowly. You’ll then need to slowly jerk the rod tip to make the bait move up and down.
The good thing with blade baits is they don’t need to sit at the bottom all the time. You can pull up a blade bait slowly and maintain it at different levels.
Pick the Right Time
Fishing during winter is no walk in the park, but it isn’t rocket science either. There are strategies you can use to make the most of winter weather. Avoid heading out to the lake on extra cold days as the fish are likely to be inactive compared to sunny afternoons.
So what time of the day should you bass fish during winter? Ideally, you should plan to fish when the sun’s out. Expert anglers will recommend fishing between 10 a.m and 5 p.m; however, the right time should depend on the prevailing weather.
One of the best tips to increase your fishing success during winter is checking the weather forecast. Although not ideal for an angler, cold fronts usually make the best time to go bass fishing. Like most fish, basses are usually more active before a front and tend to be less active after it passes. Therefore, it is advisable to go bass fishing before a cold front.
While fishing when the sun is out is highly recommended, you can still achieve considerable success at daybreak and dusk. The bass will be few and far between during early morning hours, hence the need to catch some sleep and hit the lake when it’s warmer. You should also avoid a lake or river with a high current, especially if a high current is predicted in local forecasts. High currents will work against you when winter fishing.
As a rule of thumb, you should go bass fishing when it’s fairly warm. The colder it is, the less active basses will be, which translates to reduced chances of successful angling. While some enthusiasts might prefer hitting the lake at any time of the day, you should avoid fishing on rainy and stormy days. Remember to lower your lures further more in-depth if the weather changes abruptly when bass fishing.
Know the Right Spots
For a successful fishing adventure, it’s crucial to know where to start. You’ll need to know the right spots that are attractive to basses. Luckily, there are abundant resources to guide you when looking for the right fishing spot. For instance, you can check out fisheries and wildlife websites to know more about local lakes and the hot areas for catching basses.
You’ll need to avoid lakes or rivers with predictions for high current. Fishing in high current rivers is not only difficult but also a safety concern. Check online reports on lake marinas websites as they’re usually regularly updated. Try going through comments on fishing forums. And in case you want more details about bass fishing, you should consider checking out credible bass fishing sites like ultimatebass.com.
Knowing a thing or two about bass and their wintertime behavior can also help save you time (and disappointment). Basses fancy any type of cover they can lay their fins on. Whether grass, docks, or wood, basses will try their best to stay in a secure area. Therefore, when setting up, target areas with rock fixtures and formations as you’re more likely to spot basses there.
Below are important factors to consider when in search of the right spot to fish bass.
How deep you fish bass depends on the lake or river you’re fishing on. Some lakes are fairly shallow, while others can get as deep as fifty feet. To determine the location of black basses during winter, it’s important to make estimates based on previous summer depths.
For instance, if basses like to hang at a depth of, say, ten feet in a given lake, then you should head out to a location where it’s thirty or forty feet deep during winter. The trick is to go to a deeper location than you would during the summer. Therefore, try situating your boat close to the lake’s deepest areas.
Check on Cover
Weeds and rocks make ideal covers for basses. These fish love hanging around items that can help keep predators at bay. While weeds make for great fishing spots, they also tend to make the fishing process more arduous.
Due to this, you might need to fish with specialized tackle and lure. When scouting for weeds, target green ones with defined structures like Lilly pads, hyacinths, reeds, and green mosses. But since you’ll be winter fishing, chances are you won’t come across too much vegetation.
Rocks and logs also make great fishing spots. Bass love rocks due to the nutrients they tend to provide. Therefore, you should keep an eye for smaller rocks as they often attract baitfish and can also be used as spawning surfaces, especially for smallmouth bass.
Prepare Your Fishing Equipment
Although similar to summer bass fishing, winter fishing will put more strain on your fishing equipment, hence the need to ensure all equipment is working as needed. A reel bearing that was stiff or noisy under warm weather will almost certainly fail when used in winter fishing. Old oil and grease will thicken due to the cold water and air, making the reels extra hard to use.
Therefore, it is highly advisable to clean and lubricate your reels afresh before heading out to the lake or river during winter. But if disassembling and reel maintenance work isn’t your expertise, you can outsource to local professionals. Although not mandatory, maintaining your reels before winter fishing will help boost your chances of success.
Winter fishing is all about patience and preparedness. You have to move the bait slower than you would in the summer and wait for the basses to nibble your bait. And since you’ll be fishing in extra cold conditions, it’s best to work with comfortable rods. Ideally, the rod should be sensitive and flexible enough to allow for your movement.
Medium or heavy-powered rods work better for basses as they don’t bend too much. A low-powered rod isn’t a bad option either, especially if your target is smallmouth bass. The type of rod you pack should depend on your preferences. Casting rods can handle heavy lines and lures, making them perfect for large and extra aggressive bass. Spinning rods will allow for better accuracy and access to those hard-to-reach spots.
Choosing the right type of fishing line for winter bass fishing isn’t as straightforward as many people think. And although most professional anglers will have their preferences, it’s best to use the highest quality lines that’ll remain supple even in the extra cold water.
As a result, we highly recommend using line conditioners like Reel Magic, Bass Pro, and KVD Line and Lure to prevent line twists. You should also use the conditioner on your rod guides to ensure water doesn’t freeze in them. This is because water from fishing lines can collect and freeze on the guides, preventing the line from smoothly passing the eyelet.
The good thing with winter bass fishing is that basses are sluggish and potentially less aggressive. Moreover, the lack of vegetation means you won’t need a heavy tackle. Use light tackle instead, especially since the fish are more lethargic. Fluorocarbon lines are great options for winter fishing since they’re light and less visible.
Remember, since waters tend to get extra clear during winter, it is highly advisable to use a line that is less visible to the fish. With fluorocarbon fishing lines, you’re more likely to feel the subtle bites from lethargic basses during winter.
Boost Your Bait With a Bit of Flavor
Lethargic winter bass can prove hard nuts to crack, especially if you don’t use the right types of lures. However, even the most attractive lures and baits might fail to get the job done during winter. And to boost your chances of getting those much-needed nibbles, you might want to try out the following flavors.
Spices and Salt
Spicy flavors can help make your baits extra tempting to lurking basses. Consider trying spices like garlic salt, garam masala, turmeric, and even ground chili. Remember to focus mostly on slow bait movements as the baits won’t fancy pouncing on extra fast lures.
Alternatively, you can sprinkle salt on your corn, pellets, or maggots to attract bass within a smaller radius. Point to note, though; you should steer clear of using table salt as it’s usually chemical-laden and might fail to attract the bass. Instead, go for sea or rock salt.
Peperami is highly attractive to largemouth bass. To use the peperomia, be sure to whittle it down to small chunks and place it on the hook. It is also advisable to remove the outer skin of your peperomia and chop it before casting. Bass will love both the appearance and smell of the peperomia and will move towards the lure.
Corn is an effective bait when saltwater fishing in winter. A few corn grains should get the job done as they’re usually visible and easy for bass to digest. A sight of sweetcorn will attract basses to the radius.
Alcoholic beverages like gin or whiskey can help attract bass during winter. The trick, however, is to mix the ground pastes and baits with alcohol. Apply a generous amount of alcohol if you want to attract several basses to your line.
Understand How Basses Respond to Water Temperature
Water temperature plays a massive role in determining the feeding patterns of basses. This is because basses tend to move from shallow to deep, depending on water temperature. Below is an analysis of how basses respond to water temperatures.
Water Temperatures Below 40°F (4.4°C)
Be prepared for a tough challenge when fishing bass in extremely cold water. Basses in water that’s under 40°F are inactive and won’t struggle to grab a meal. This means that for you to capture bass in waters below 40°F, you’ll need to bait right in front of the fish. At such temperatures, the fish will be inactive and do all they can to preserve their energy.
Water Temperatures Between 40–50°F (4.4–10°C)
You’re likely to have more luck when bass fishing in this temperature range. Although bass living in these conditions won’t aggressively jump on baits, they can still chase lures and be caught on some baits. However, you’ll need to be extra patient and target rocks, fallen trees, or any objects that might act as bass cover.
The warmer the water temperatures, the more likely you are to catch bass. Ideally, you shouldn’t cast too deep on warm sunny afternoons as bass tend to swim higher up the water. But you’ll need to cast deep when it’s cold and raining.
Tips for Winter Bass Fishing
Electronics Can Come in Handy
Winter fishing is already hard on its own. Using some electronics can help you save both time and, even more importantly, energy. You probably know how uncomfortable and unpredictable winter weather can be, so you should jump on any chance to use modern fishing technology.
A bass fish finder will come in extra handy during the winter. This is mainly because anglers need to set the bait right in front or close enough to basses due to their reduced activity. Without a bass fish finder, finding the right spot can prove challenging.
Below are some of the best fish finders in the market.
- Humminbird GPS G3 Fish Finder: This high-quality fish finder features a 7-inch TFT display with 800H X 480V resolution. It is designed to provide underwater clarity of up to 125 feet under your boat. The touch screen fish finder allows you to search either wide or narrow. Wide mode notifies you about bass location, while the narrow mode gives you maximum detail.
- Garmin Striker with Dual-Beam Transducer : Not too many fish finders can give you the precision that comes with the Garmin Striker. The 4’3 display allows you to view fish behavior with relative ease, while the high resolution ensures you view crystal clear images. Moreover, the presence of built-in mapping software will enable you to store maps for future reference.
- Lowrance Fish Finder with TripleShot Transducer: The simplistic settings on this fish finder ensure the angler focuses more on finding fish than on the device. It features both side scan and down scan technologies, which give you great underwater views. It allows you to easily locate fish-holding structures like cover, drop-offs, and ledges. The fish finder comes packed with settings that allow you to add trails and waypoints.
Size Down the Lures
When winter fishing, it’s important to keep the behavioral patterns of basses in mind. Go for small lures, as large lures won’t get the job done during winter. Remember, basses, similar to other fish, will have low appetites during winter. Going with small live baits like worms or a tiny football head jig can come in handy when winter bass fishing.
Small baits won’t intimidate the bass and won’t feel like much work, especially if you drop the bait close enough to the bass. As a rule of thumb, the colder it is, the smaller the jig head should be. Take advantage of the fact that basses love easy meals during the winter by dropping extra small lures in the freezing cold waters.
Check on Your Presentation Speed
To catch fish during winter, you’ll need to think like one. Again, since the water is cold, basses will have reduced metabolism to conserve as much energy as they can. As a result, they won’t be interested in chasing fast-moving baits.
The trick is to have a smooth, slow presentation. If you have a fish finder, use it to determine the location of the basses. Once you know the right place to cast, be sure to move the lure slowly and erratically. The bass will respond by nibbling the bait in the hopes of an easy meal, and voila- you have your easy catch!
Patience Is Key
Truth be told, you won’t have as many nibbles as you would during the summer. Chances are you might even get under six nibbles the entire afternoon. Whatever you do, don’t rush the process and start moving your lure without care.
Keep changing distances by moving the lures gradually. The warmer it gets, the more likely you are to catch a bass. So keep modifying your approach depending on water temperature.
Dress for the Occasion
When bass fishing in the winter, you’ll be spending hours out in the cold. This means exposure to extreme weather elements for several hours. You won’t have much fun fishing without the right protective gear.
To keep warm, it is important to dress in layers. The first layer should comprise thermal tops and socks. You should also put on warm socks. On the other hand, a second layer, also called a mid-layer, should be a fleece material. Fleece will ensure you get the desired breathability.
The third layer should comprise water-resistant material. And for increased flexibility, it is advisable to wear fingerless gloves. A hand warmer will also help provide additional warmth and keep you motivated to keep fishing despite the harsh weather.
Bass fishing during the winter can be a truly rewarding experience. And although it’s not the easiest time to fish, you can still manage a couple of nibbles if you observe the right strategies.
Instead of going for large lures, opt for small ones as they’re usually more attractive during winter. Another important consideration is the movement of the presentation. Make sure you move your lure slowly to avoid scaring the bass.
Remember to check the weather forecast to determine the best time to fish and always dress in layers to stay extra warm when winter fishing.