Winter: time to get the bass gear packed up and the boat winterized. Bass fishing is, after all, a warm water sport. Or is it? Maybe it’s not the most lucrative time of year to be chasing bass, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, with a huge drop in - or complete lack of - fishing pressure, winter can be a great time to be on the water.
Don’t store that gear away just yet. We’ve assembled our best tips to make a winter’s day chasing bass a successful one. Before we get started, we’re not going to be covering ice fishing below. If that's what you’re looking for, please check out Ice Fishing for Bass.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Bass Behavior in the Winter
- 2 How to Catch Bass in the Winter
- 3 Go to Techniques for Winter Bass
- 4 Don’t Forget About Yourself
- 5 Final Thoughts
Bass Behavior in the Winter
Fish are cold blooded, and because they are, their internal temperature is regulated by their surroundings. So naturally, as the water cools, so does a bass’ temperature, and as their temperature decreases, their energy levels will follow suit. Think of how much less energetic you become when you’re cold. All you can think about is staying warm. It’s the same for bass.
50 to 60 degree water temps signal the fall transition period, and this is when fish will put on the feed bag and stock up for the long winter ahead. Once that temperature drops below 50 degrees, fish are going to be in a winter pattern and will become much tougher to catch. Tough, but not impossible. The colder that water gets, the harder they are going to be to entice, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be caught; it means we as anglers need to adapt and understand.
As bass make that transition from fall to winter, they’re going to move to deeper water. But deep water is relative to the lake, reservoir, and even pond you are fishing. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to all be concentrated in the deepest water available; it means they’re going to relate more to deeper water than they typically would in warmer months. This could be twelve feet of water, or it could be 30 feet of water. It all depends on the body of water and how they relate to those deeper areas in the summertime. If there were never bass hanging around the shallower water close to those deep holes in the summer, then they wouldn't be hanging out in that deep water in the winter. Bass will not go in search of the deepest water on the lake, but instead they find the deepest water close to them.
As a bass’ metabolism slows, so too does their movement. Known to move a lot throughout the year, once the water temperature is mid- to low-40’s, fish will start to position themselves in cover right on the bottom or suspended over deep water humps. That slow metabolism also means that they don’t need to feed nearly as much as they did in the warmer months. So how do we catch fish that don’t want to move or need to eat? Let’s take a look.
How to Catch Bass in the Winter
Choose the Right Lure
You might be thinking to yourself, if fish aren’t actively feeding as much, then what do I use to catch them? Not everything you used in the warmer water months is going to work. Those months tend to see faster-moving, more aggressive baits work best, but that's not going to cut it in cold water. Think finesse and think bottom. Slow moving, heavy jigs, spoons, and blade baits are going to become staples for winter bass that are hugging the bottom of the lake or holding close to points and humps. That doesn't mean that lures like jerkbaits can’t work; you just need to change your approach. But we’ll discuss that more later on.
Check out our dedicated guide for the Best Winter Bass Fishing Lures
Once you’ve decided on the lures you’re going to use, you’re going to want to downsize them. Lethargic winter bass aren’t going to be attracted to the big baits you were catching them on before. They’ll often see larger baits as more of a threat than anything, and you might just end up scaring them off. Bass won’t see a smaller bait as a threat but rather as an easy meal. Remember, they don’t need as much sustenance to survive when they’re not expending as much energy.
Color is an important factor any time of the year, but there is no more important time to have that dialed in than in the winter. Just like with the size of your lure or bait, the color could be more of a hindrance than an attractant. Winter water is typically some of the clearest water you’re going to fish, and if your presentation is too bright or too flashy, bass are again going to see that as a threat instead of a meal. Go as natural as possible, with neutral colors like brown, green, white, or black.
This is probably the single most important piece of the puzzle. We all love to fish fast, especially when it comes to fishing for bass. Because we’re used to fishing that way the rest of the year, it can be hard to train ourselves to slow down, but it's a must. The best case if you’re fishing too fast is that the fish will simply ignore it. The worst case is that you’ll spook them and cause them to shut down even more than they already are. Slow down, and once you think you’re fishing slow enough, slow down a little more.
Know the Water
Electronics are a fisherman's best friend when trying to locate fish. Use them to your advantage. But we don’t always have the latest and greatest in electronics, and that's okay. Study the lake. Study contour maps to pinpoint where the fish might be. Bass can be highly concentrated this time of year and knowing where those deepwater ledges, humps and points are will almost guarantee you’ll find some fish. Better yet, fish a lake, or lakes, that you’re already very familiar with - such as lakes you fished in the summer and know like the back of your hand.
Keep it Simple
Don’t overthink it. Know winter bass patterns and the lake you’re fishing, and you’ll find fish. Have a handful of the right baits in the right colors for winter fishing, and you will catch them.
Go to Techniques for Winter Bass
Live Minnow on a Jig Head
Many hardcore bass anglers might scoff at the idea of using live bait, but there is no denying that a live minnow will entice any slumbering bass. The rig is simple: hook a minnow through the mouth on the lightest jig head you can get away with for the water you’re fishing. Hooking a minnow through the mouth (not the head) will keep it alive longer and let it swim around naturally. Using the lightest jig head possible is going to allow the presentation to drop slowly in the water, and it's going to offer little resistance for the minnow to be fighting against, helping it swim better and live longer. You can cast the jig and minnow out, but often the best approach is simply dropping it over the side of the boat and letting it sink. Keep your focus, though, because bites can be so subtle that they’re almost indistinguishable.
Drop-shotting is a finesse technique through and through, so it’s not surprising that it’s one of our favorite ways to catch winter bass. It's not just reserved for smallmouth bass; wintering largemouth love it too. While there are countless drop-shot baits available these days, you can’t go wrong with a minnow, live or otherwise. Chances are, small minnows are what winter bass are feeding on. The Zoom Super Fluke is a staple when it comes to drop-shot minnows, but other great options include the Strike King KVD Perfect Plastics Caffeine Shad and the Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow.
You’re probably reading this part and thinking to yourself, “Doesn’t a jerkbait go against everything I just read?” Yes and no. Yes, jerkbaits are known to be aggressive baits that search out aggressive fish, but that doesn’t mean that with a little patience they can’t be used subtly. Okay, a lot of patience. For a jerkbait to work on winter bass, it needs to be fished very slowly: a subtle little jerk, with a pause anywhere from 8 to 30 seconds. It can be painful, especially when you’re used to fishing a jerkbait quickly, but it works. Of course, you’re going to want to downsize and use natural, less flashy colors, but a bass will pick up on the wounded baitfish look, and the long painful pause will give them plenty of time to have a good look. The Smithwick Walleye Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue isn’t just for Walleye; bass love it too. Just remember to slow down and be very patient.
Don’t Forget About Yourself
Try not to focus just on the fish. Think about yourself, too. Nothing ruins a day on the water faster than being cold, or wet, or both. Dress accordingly, with layers that can be added or taken away as the temperature changes throughout the day.
Not raining when you hit the water? Bring your rain gear anyway. Winter conditions can change faster than any other time of year, and just because you're not in the water doesn’t mean you can’t get hypothermia.
Be prepared for anything mother nature can throw at you, and always, always wear a life preserver.
The idea of winter bass fishing is relative depending on where in North America you’re located. If you’re lucky enough to be in an area with open water all year long, don’t be so quick to pack up your gear when the cold weather comes. Concentrated fish with a lot less pressure on them can mean some incredible fishing. If it’s trophies you’re after, winter can be one of the best times to get into big bass.
We hope this article will help you pinpoint winter bass. Do you fish for bass in the cold water? Be sure to leave us a comment and let us know!