Winter has come and cold water’s descended on much of the country’s lakes and reservoirs, but that doesn’t mean bass fishing isn’t still hot.
Anglers all around the country take advantage of icy boat ramps, deserted lakes, and cold weather that deters the average fisherman from fishing. What they find in return is some of the best bass fishing of the whole year at their frostbitten disposal.
All you need to do is adjust your tactics and add a few different baits to your arsenal, and this icy opportunity is yours for the taking. Let’s take a look at six of the lures that you need in your tackle box to put bass in your boat this winter.
Jerkbaits are tried and true winter bass assassins.
They can be worked shallow or deep, and fast or slow. During the cold-water months, you’re going to want to work the bait on the slow side of the spectrum. One of the best retrieves involves dead-sticking the jerk bait for almost 30 seconds at a time. You should generally use a jerk-jerk-pause presentation -- the fish will inhale that bait after staring at it for a long time on the pause.
Jerkbaits are most effective when used in clear water. Bass like to chill in the wintertime (pun so intended) and chase shad and herring, which is what jerkbait imitates best. Match your color to the forage you have in your local lake and be ready to haul in a lunker.
You’re also going to want to target offshore, open water structure such as points, bluff walls, and humps. Good electronics can help you locate key areas that are holding baitfish, and subsequently, bass.
Blade baits are a historical bait, invented years ago to copy the erratic motion and vibration of a baitfish skittering to avoid a predator. They are very simple baits and are still relevant in today’s high tech world of bass fishing. They will work all year, but they really shine when the water temperature drops and you need a bait with high vibration to trigger reaction strikes from sleepy bass.
Blade baits are best fished near the bottom, generally with a jigging type presentation. You should let the bait sink all the way to the bottom and jerk it up a foot or so in an aggressive pull, feeling the vibration of the bait as you yank it up. Bass will generally strike the bait as it’s falling back to the bottom.
A second option is to fish the bait vertically under the boat for suspending fish. In this presentation, you’ll lightly but rapidly shake the rod tip, bouncing it up about six inches every so often.
Blade baits can be fished in largely the same areas as jerkbaits, and will really shine on rocky shoals, points, and humps. Smallmouth and largemouth are both suckers for this heavy piece of metal.
Jigs should be in any angler’s tackle box year-round, but are a bait best fished slow. This bait mimics a crawfish—a bass favorite in the wintertime.
You’ll want to use a heavier jig as you target deeper water. Typically, anglers use ½-ounce to 1-ounce jigs depending on the depths they’re targeting. Colors like green pumpkin, watermelon, and black and blue that match the hatch are preferred by most seasoned winter jig fisherman. Jigs should always be tipped with a good crawfish-imitating soft plastic like a chunk.
Jigs can be fished in a variety of ways, but the preferred presentation in the wintertime is a slow drag. The oblong shape of the jig head gives it a subtle, erratic action that bass can’t resist.
Cast as far as you can in the open water, let it hit bottom, and slow-drag it back, adding small hops every so often. Often, fish pick it up and start to swim away with it when they’ve bitten the lure.
You should target boulder-filled bluff walls, steep drops, and sunken brush piles that bass call home in the winter months for your best luck. Fishing the jig around cover is where it shines most.
It doesn’t get much more subtle than a hair jig. This bait also falls into the “historic” category and for good reason -- it flat out catches fish when the going gets tough.
Largely a favorite of walleye fisherman, the hair jig has found a place in the tackle boxes of bass fisherman everywhere for its ability to put big bass in the boat in the toughest of situations.
Hair jigs are another bait that can be fished slow and on the bottom. The nature of the hair allows these baits to flutter with the most subtle of movements, making it a favorite for stubborn bass in the winter. Largemouth and spotted bass gobble shad-imitating hair jigs as well as darker crawfish imitators.
It can also be a killer bait when targeting smallmouth in cold water. Relatively new to the realm of bass fishing, marabou hair jigs can be deadly for bronzebacks. Employing a “chuck and wind” presentation where you throw the lure out and slowly reel it back in, smallmouth can’t resist them. It is widely debated on what they think the lure is, but there is no debate in its effectiveness. The smallmouth’s favorite color is black, but white and brown are also colors that will bring fish topside.
In case you missed it, the theme with these winter lures is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
This bait shines on deep, suspended largemouth and spotted bass in clear water.
The bait is designed to be thrown out and counted down to the depth of the suspended bass, and slowly brought back to the boat at a rate just fast enough to allow the tiny willow leaf blade to tick in frigid waters.
Rigged with a soft plastic swimbait or fluke, the lure is awesome at triggering bites of herring chasers in highland reservoirs, as well as shad chasers on river impoundments, making it a jack of all trades in the winter.
Electronics are key to the success of the underspin. You’ll need to idle around winter areas, usually around the mouths and points of large creek arms, and deep-water basins in other lakes -- look for schooling baitfish and feeding bass below them.
Take note of the depth the bass are hanging in and count your lure down to the depth they are suspended. A rule of thumb is that a bait falls approximately one foot per second. This means if you want to get the lure down to 20 feet, you’ll want to let it sink for 20 seconds.
This jigging spoon is a staple of winter fishing all over the country.
A bait that doesn’t look like much, it has a very subtle action and is a favorite among anglers that fish in deep reservoirs with suspended winter bass. The jigging spoon creates a lot of flash which can draw fish in from a long ways away.
Different from its larger spoon counterpart, the jigging spoon is designed to be fished vertically, and again, electronics are the key to catching big bass on this lure. Much like the underspin, you’ll need to find suspended fish and fish the lure directly under the boat, jigging it just above the school. You’ll see fish slowly rise up to the bait out of the school on your fish finder and feel a light thump on your jig.
Jigging spoons are a popular choice for winter fishermen in deep standing timber, large basins, shoals, and points. The lure can be dropped down very quickly to take advantage of roaming fish. The lure can also be tipped with live bait for an even more tempting treat for these finicky bass.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to fishing lures for winter-time bass fishing, but as you’ve seen, the simpler the better.
There’s a reason many of these lures have been around since the birth of bass fishing—they catch a lot of fish.
This winter, take a look and see if your tackle box has any of these baits in it. Instead of putting the boat away, gas it up and hit the water in search of these elusive cold water lunkers. With the schooling nature of bass in the winter, once you find them, you’ll be floatin’ on top of the motherload.