Bass Fishing in Cold Weather

By Capt. Steve Chaconas

Water is at its coldest point of the year after fall migration and before pre-spawn. The good news is largemouth bass can still be caught!

Location and when to fish are keys to winter fishing

Defined by water temperature rather than calendar, winter fishing is generally the period where water temperatures are 38-48 degrees. Fish during the warmest part of the day and near hard, sun-warmed surfaces. A few degrees can make the difference.

2006 BASSMASTER Angler of the Year and 2003 BASSMASTER Classic Champion Michael Iaconelli says, "In colder winter months bass seek the deepest most vertical break areas in any given part of the lake. I look for the sharper break on main lake points and deeper channel bends. On tidal waters, I'm looking for an area out of the main fast current." Sharp drops allow fish to change depths without having to travel very far!

Ike doesn't overlook shallow bass and won't slow down! "I approach winter patterns like I approach spring, summer, and fall. I always try to generate that reaction strike." Starting shallow before heading deep, he throws tight wiggle crankbaits like Berkley's Flicker Shad, Frenzy lipless rattle baits with a yo yo retrieve, and metal baits like spoons and Silver Buddies. These imitate winter's dying shad. Most fishermen overwork blade baits like the Silver Buddy. Less is more ... you don't have to rip them to get bites. A short "burp" of 6 inches off the bottom and semi-tight line back down will entice sluggish winter bass to bite. Most bites occur on the drop. These baits are great at any depth.

Eliminating the shallow bite, Iaconelli goes smaller, deeper and lighter

He parallels break lines, dragging until baits hit bottom cover. "I like to pop with a light snap of the wrist and that sometimes triggers the bite." Bait presentations allowing you to fish in one spot for a while are best. Bass still eat, but aren't willing to chase prey. In addition the food chain is moving very slowly. When forced to downsize, Iaconelli uses dark 3-inch grubs, bottom-dwelling craw imitators like heavy Stone Jigs (with pork chunks), as well as The Bomb, a new, smaller finesse football jig. Keep baits on the bottom, where winter bass spend their time. You probably won't feel a tap ... if you feel mushy weight, don't try to figure out what it is ... set the hook!

For even more finesse, Ike rigs a 5" Power Bait Shaky Head worm. Ike likes this worm's buoyancy for shaky head action in one place, sometimes biting it down to 4 or even 3 inches. Furthermore, he says drop shot rigs also stay put, and are the perfect wintertime finesse presentation. Find baitfish on your depthfinder, then drop shot at that depth using 3 or 4-inch soft plastic baits. With a 4-8 inch leader above the weight, Ike leaves Gulp worms in one spot once he contacts bottom cover, allowing the bait to quiver and release its attractant. According to Iaconelli, "When you find them, there are a ton of them down there!"

Fishing in the winter can be rewarding, but safety and comfort are essential. A PFD is a must. Heavier clothing and fishing in deeper water can prove to be a disastrous combination if you fall overboard. Loose layers trap body heat and let moisture escape. Taking a buddy, letting an onshore contact know where you are and when you plan to return, and being prepared for emergencies make winter fishing good sense.