Cold weather can bring out the worst in fishing. Baitfish get lethargic; food sources that were prominent in the warm weather months are now all but non-existent; bass simply turn off. So it stands to reason that bass anglers do the same thing, hanging up the rods in favor of the guns and leaving the boat in favor of a tree stand.
With the challenges that face bass anglers in the winter, it’s understandable that many simply pack it up for the season. But don’t be so quick to brush the season off. If you’re looking for solitude on the water, and possibly some of the best big bass fishing of the year, winter is your time.
To be successful, however, you have to master the art of winter fishing. That's why we’ve put together this look at the best winter bass fishing lures to ensure your success on those cold days.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- Best Bass Fishing Lures
- Best Worms For Bass Fishing
- Best Crankbaits for Bass
- Best Soft Plastics For Bass
The Best Winter Bass Fishing Lures
One thing is for sure: jigs catch bass - and lots of them - all year long. There's a good reason why they are a staple for recreational and professional bass anglers alike.
Of the jigs available, one of the biggest producers when cold weather strikes is the football jig.
While many may argue that “a jig is a jig” and it doesn’t matter what you use, we would have to disagree. Worked slow or fast, skirted or with a soft plastic, a football jig is one of the most versatile jigs. Its heavy head keeps it on the bottom at all times, and its flatter, less rounded shape creates the perfect balance of subtle yet erratic action when worked slowly across the big boulders winter bass are relating to.
In the warmer weather months, you’ll often see anglers adding trailers to their skirted jigs like plastic curly tails or plastic craw imitations. And while you can do this in the colder months if the fish are super picky, it isn’t always necessary as the bulk of the jig itself is often enough to entice, especially considering there is very little in the way of crawfish moving around the bottom. One look at your jig making its way along the bottom, with nothing else around, and bass will seize the opportunity for an easy meal.
Choosing the right football jig isn’t easy, and I often find myself standing in the aisle at the tackle shop staring blankly at the never-ending choices. Strike King’s Tour Grade Football Jig is a good place to start. Available in multiple colors and sizes, there isn’t a winter bass fishing situation you can’t cover when you have a handful of these in your bag. The premium soft rubber skirt not only provides that life-like look but is incredibly durable, holding up to multiple big bass and the unforgiving cover they inhabit.
Another good option is the Jewel Bait Heavy Cover Finesse Football Jig. This jig features a skirt that extends slightly over the head of the jig, giving it that little bit extra on those tough days. Like most football jigs, the flat-sided head allows the jig to stand at a perfect 45-degree angle when not in motion, imitating the defensive posture of a crawfish perfectly.
Available at: Bass Pro
When we think of jerkbaits, the first thing that comes to mind is the often aggressive nature in which they are fished, and the savage strikes associated with them. That's why it could possibly be one of the most overlooked lures for winter bass, but even the pros would agree that it’s one of the best ways to catch them in cold water.
Of course, how the lure is worked in the winter can be dramatically different than how it’s worked chasing more aggressive bass in warmer water. Slow is key, with small twitches of the rod and painfully long pauses that allow the fish to dial in on it.
Jerkbaits are most effective in the winter when you’ve located pods of bait fish. If there are baitfish, then there are most certainly bass around. Fishing directly around that school of baitfish is key. Even if bass aren’t feeding at that moment, they always have their eye on those bait fish, and when they catch a glimpse of what they think is a wounded one, they’re unlikely to pass it up. Hold on, because they’ll often hit it with just as much savagery as they would in the warmer months.
The right jerkbait is going to depend on where the bait fish are. Are they suspended over deep structure, or are they up in shallower water basking in the afternoon sun? You should have an assortment of deep and shallow running jerkbaits to cover either situation, with the key feature being lots of erratic movement. That erratic motion is what will trigger the reaction strike from an otherwise slumbering bass.
The Strike King KVD Deep Jerkbait is a favorite amongst winter bass anglers for a few reasons. The internal weight transfer system makes long-distance casting easy, perfect for when you're keeping the boat away from spooky fish in clear water, or for when you’re fishing from shore trying to get to those fish sitting offshore. The extended lip means with a couple of good twitches, the lure dives down to the strike zone quickly and stays down banging off the cover as you work it back.
Most jerkbaits these days will suspend, or float, but what makes the Berkley Stunna unique is its slow sink. Another easy-to-cast weight transfer jerkbait, the Stunna offers incredible action coupled with the slow sink that will trigger inactive fish.
Crankbaits are search baits, and that doesn’t change just because the cold weather has come. What does change is the speed at which you use them. Like any other lure on this list, a crankbait needs to be fished significantly slower in the winter. The idea, however, is the same.
As with a jerkbait, fishing a crankbait in the winter months is going to get those reactionary strikes, although they’ll more than likely be much more subtle than those with a jerkbait. Essentially, you’re going to fish a crankbait the same way you do in the warmer months, cranking it down to the bottom and banging it off rocks and other cover, calling out to bass in the area. A twitch of the rod tip here and there doesn’t hurt either. Because you’re looking for the reaction strike, the more erratic the movement, the better chance of enticing nearby fish.
With baitfish being the most prominent food source for bass in the winter, shad-style cranks are best. That crank should also be able to get down to the bottom and start working its magic quickly. The unique curved bill on Strike King’s Pro-Model XD helps it do just that. With a couple of good cranks, you’re banging rocks and calling out to fish. The lure's ability to track properly, even after bashing it off of several rocks means it always maintains a natural appeal while in the water.
Rapala’s Shad Rap is the crankbait that all other crankbaits strive to be, and after generations of catching big fish, it’s easy to see why it’s the benchmark lure that every other crankbait manufacturer shoots for. There are plenty of variations of the Shad Rap, but it’s hard to beat the original balsa wood version. Not only does it dive quickly, but it also has a natural fish-catching action that few other crankbaits can replicate. Add in the fact that it starts floating back to the surface when paused, and you’ve got a lure that can drive slumbering bass crazy.
The simplicity of a blade bait is what makes it so great. Best described as a metal lipless crankbait, a blade bait is a nose heavy metal spoon at its core. The weighted head gives them their uncanny casting ability and quick drop once in the water, and the blade or spoon body is what makes them flutter and dance in the water. A blade bait’s looks are subtle, but the action and vibration is incredible, so it's understandable that a lot of bass anglers consider them one of the best cold-weather lures around.
Developed in the early eighties by well-known smallmouth angler Buddy Banks, it was cold water bass that he had in mind. Without a doubt, blade baits are deadly for smallmouth but are just as good for largemouth in cold water too. The unique vibration and flash brought on by even the slightest movement of the rod tip is enough to drive any bass crazy.
Having been around for a number of decades now, it’s no surprise that tackle companies have taken the blade bait and put their own spin on them. Colors, body shape, you name it - companies have tweaked the design in an attempt to perfect it. While the fancier, more flashy designs available now are great, the beauty of this lure is in its simplicity.
About as true as you can get to the original, the Reef Runner Cicada is hard to beat. The vibration as the lure is worked, matched with its fluttering, darting movement as it falls imitates a dying bait fish as it struggles to swim, and we all know that cold water bass have a hard time refusing an easy meal.
If you’re looking for something with a modern design and a little more flare Cabela’s Mean Eye Blade Bait is a great choice. This lure puts a modern spin on a classic design without sacrificing the incredible action. Available in multiple fish-catching colors, the Mean Eye also features three line positioning holes, each one providing a different action, making it easy to adjust according to what the fish want.
Available at: Bass Pro
Hair Jigs are not the secret, end-all bait. What they are is criminally underutilized. Hair jigs have long been a go-to for many anglers, but as soft plastics developed over the years, getting more and more life-like as those years passed, hair jigs began falling to the wayside and have never quite recovered.
The reality is that they still catch lots of fish. That hasn’t changed, and every bass angler should have a handful of them in their tackle bag. Hair jigs like a bucktail jig or a marabou jig (not actually hair, but feather) offer a low-key presentation that is perfect for cold water fishing. The bulk of the jig lets it fall slowly, and the natural movement of the hair in the water gives a realistic, strike-inducing look, even when the bait is stationary on the bottom. Often, the slower these are worked, and the less action imparted the better. A simple short lift and fall is all it takes to attract the fish and the enticing movement of the hair as it rests on the bottom is all it takes for those fish to grab it.
When it comes to bucktail jigs, look no further than the Spro Bucktail Jig. Many hair jigs are tied on round jig heads, offering a quick up-and-down motion when being raised and lowered. This is where Spro’s jig differs. The unique shape of the jig head makes it glide through the water in a swimming motion, staying parallel to the bottom, closely resembling foraging bait fish.
Best used in clear water, the VMC Dominator Marabou Jig is an excellent example of a jig that doesn’t have to be worked at all to be effective. The seductive, natural movement of the lightweight marabou means this jig can sit directly on bottom. It can also be suspended from a slip float, and with little to no effort on the angler’s part, entice some of the biggest bass around.
Winter bass fishing isn’t easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? Just because it might be tough doesn’t mean it should be given up on. With the right mindset and a tackle bag full of the right lures, winter bass fishing can be just as great as any other time of year.
Have you fished any of these lures in the winter? Are there any you plan on trying? Leave us a comment below and let us know!