Catching bass during winter can be a hit or miss proposition, but the productive days can provide some mighty fond memories.
Finding the places that winter bass use may be your biggest challenge, but that can be made easier with good fishing electronics and a tank of gas. I say that because this is the time of year when I spend a lot of time at the wheel, motoring around the most likely spots watching for shad and bass to appear on the sonar screen.
Of course, it helps to look in the right places. The primary goal is to find the clearest water because that’s where the bass will be easiest to catch. Cold, dirty water is the bane of bass fishing, but you can make fish react when they can see well. The strike zone may be small, but the fish will respond to a lure that they can see.
Secondly, you want to key on vertical structure near major creeks or river channels. Bluff banks, deep standing timber along a channel bend or sharp river drop-offs are my favorites.
I usually start my search where a major creek empties into the main lake and work my way back into the cove. I’m watching for what I call the “magic zone,” which is merely the depth at which most of the shad are holding. For example, if I see that most of the shad are down 40 feet, I began searching for structure that connects with 40 feet of water. That could be a bluff bank, a sharp dropping point, or a channel bend against standing timber.
Once I locate the vertical structure, it becomes a matter of driving over the best looking spots and watching for baitfish or schools of bass. You rarely find one without the other. Furthermore, if the lake contains stripers, white bass, or trout, it’s not unusual for those species to mix with the bass. That’s not a bad thing since anything you catch this time of year is going to add to an enjoyable day on the water.
Once fish are located, I get over them with my trolling motor and begin working lures that can be fished vertically. My favorite is a ¾-ounce jigging spoon because it gets down quick and triggers more bites. I fish it just above the depth at which the fish are holding then begin a jerk-and-fall presentation, maintaining contact with the spoon at all times. Most strikes occur as the bait descends.
If I get bites on the jigging spoon, I may switch to a tail spinner lure. There’s something about the rotation of the blade on weighted tail spinner that entices bigger fish.
Both of those lures will work around timber, too, but I like the ½-ounce Strike King Rocket Shad better because it’s more weedless. The Rocket Shad is a heavy yet compact safety pin spinner that can be fished on the fall. I let it free fall around deep timber where it looks like a dying shad to the bass suspended around the limbs.
I fish those lures on 10- to 14-pound fluorocarbon (Bass Pro XPS) because it is more sensitive (important when fishing deep), it sinks faster than mono, and is abrasion resistant.
Once you catch a few fish, drop a marker buoy. When action slows, work around that area because the shad will move and the fish will follow.
Not every day is easy, but when you locate these roving schools of bass and get a bait in front of them, you’ll discover that fishing is a lot more fun than being a couch potato on a cold winter day.