For the sake of this article, I will refer to the aforementioned 50-degree water temperature and lower as cold water. To being with, always remember, in order to survive, fish have to eat, regardless if it is spring, summer, fall or in this case, winter. Years ago, it was held in high belief the only way to catch cold water winter bass was to use more vertical presentations such as a grub, a bucktail or a jig in deep water. While those lures and techniques proved successful, I have found a few other horizontal presentations and lures that produce just as well and opens up the complete water column, from shallow to deep.
Another thing I would like to point out is all of the lures I am going to talk about will be fished in water depths less than six foot. I know that seems odd when fishing cold frigid water but there is always a population of fish that remain shallow year-round and I have found that even in the worse conditions, they can be easier to catch. Shallow fish are usually the ones who are most actively feeding, so their aggressiveness can be used against them.
First let’s talk about where to look for the fish. Rocky banks, hard bottom areas, deeper grass flats, stump fields, cypress trees and docks are all the main areas I focus on regardless of where I am fishing. All of these types of cover or bottom contours will attract fish in the winter time. If they have a deeper water access nearby, that makes them even better. Please, don’t let the phrase “deeper water access” fool you. To a fish that spends most of his time in two foot of water or less, five foot of water is considered deeper water.
While my choice of lures this time of year is pretty simple. I will start the day with these lures rigged up on the deck of my boat and at the end of the day the same ones will still be tied on. I seldom switch colors unless water clarity dictates such a change. I will use a ½ ounce Rat L Trap style of lure, a ½ or ¾ ounce single bladed spinnerbait, a ¼ ounce swim jig, and a flat sided crankbait. My follow up bait is always a ½ black/blue jig and/or a Carolina rig. With these six baits I can win a tournament on any body of water I am fishing.
The idea behind my lure choices is to cover enough water and make enough casts to search for and catch whatever active fish a body of water may have to offer. I will slow down with a jig or a Carolina rig if I believe a particular area is holding a number of catchable bass. Even in the winter I have always believed if I can present my lures to more fish, even inactive ones, the better my chances of catching them.
My rattle bait is usually a Strike King Red Eye Shad. I like a crawfish or red colored one most of the time but I have seen times when a shad pattern works betters. Your retrieve speed can be critical so always be aware of that. My spinnerbait is usually a ½ ounce homemade version with a single #5 Colorado blade, I prefer the ¾ version on wind blow days. I don’t go too crazy with colors as I usually go with Chartreuse/white with a white trailer behind it. The key with the spinnerbait is to retrieve it just fast enough to feel the blade thump.
The swim jig is something I discovered by accident and usually works best in areas where grass or dead lily pad fields are still present. I like a ¼ ounce shad pattern regardless of water clarity and I use a boot tail style swim bait, such as a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper, as my trailer. This is a finesse slow rolling technique and it will catch giants! I use 30 lb. braided line due to the heavy cover and grass.
When choosing a flat sided crankbait the DT6 by Rapala would be a solid choice. I like crawfish and shad patterns and will usually have one of each tied on. The tight wiggle of the flat sided crankbait is something that works extremely well in colder water but I also believe the lack of a rattle chamber in these lures is also a key element to their success. My choice of line for this technique is 12 lb. monofilament. This size line allows the lure to work better and handles better in colder weather.
It is very important this time of year to pay close attention to where you are getting your strikes. Were the fish off of the bank, half way back to the boat on your retrieve? Were they on the sunny side of the dock suspended? Maybe the fish hit when you pulled your lure free from a brush pile or grass clump? Each fish should give you a clue as to how to catch the next one; this is especially true when targeting bigger bass.
Each year I spend a lot of time tweaking my techniques or trying to learn new ways to catch bass. In order to stay competitive in tournament competitions or to just feel like I have a chance to catch fish on the days I spend on the water, I have to keep an open mind as to what will be the best way to be successful. That being said I have found, at least for me, it is best to go with what you know and put the percentages in your favor. Fishing cold water with power does that for me!