When it comes to catching cold water bass it can be hit or miss. Bass will often school up on a certain piece of structure such as a point or ledge, leaving similar structure vacant. When bass are in this stage pattern fishing can become obsolete. Many fishermen will do exactly what the books say, marking the winter hot spots and tying on their jigs and jerkbaits. When they fish all day with nothing to show for it, they pack up their gear for the winter and wait for spring.
The first step to finding and catching these tight-lipped bass is to approach the day with the mind-set that there are feeding fish somewhere in the lake. This thinking keeps you focused and open-minded enabling you to find success in areas outside of the normal winter locations. All too often fishermen miss or lose fish due to inattention; an entire day of it makes your trip to the lake a waste of time and money.
The next step is to read articles and watch videos about cold water bassing. This accomplishes two things: 1. It gives you ideas about where to start your day and what lures to throw and 2. Because you are seeing it done, it gives you the confidence that these fish can be caught. Some of my favorites are the Classic Patterns and The Bass Pros DVD’s. These are very informative and great quality productions that feature the world’s best fishermen in all types of conditions and display a large variety of techniques.
Now, put what you have learned to work. You will generally find that most information says to start on bluffs, points, ledges, humps, or any other deep water spot where bass can school up. Try it. Mark these spots on your map and mark a lot of them. Remember, these fish school up and maybe only one out of ten or even twenty very similar points may harbor bass. Don’t spend too long fishing any one area. In the summer most fishermen are good at this. The make a few casts on a point with a crankbait and a jig then move on. In the winter they know bass are lethargic so they want to slow down and spend all day in an area trying to tempt the inhabitants. Chances are, there aren’t any. Graph your structure, find the sweet spot (this time of year it can many times be a school of bait rather than brush or a rock pile) fish it and move on. You need to fish as many of these spots as possible.
Alternating between deep and shallow is the key during the winter and really any other time of year as well. Fish a couple deep water areas then move shallow and fish a cove or two and repeat this until you get a feel for where the best bite is going to be. Bass will stay put surprisingly shallow all winter long and they are some of the easiest to catch…. when you find them. The shallow fish are patternable as opposed to the schooling deep water fish that may be on similar structures, but only on a select few of them. Look for sun warmed banks with sparse cover. The sparse cover will help pinpoint the bass and allow you to slow down and fish each hot spot thoroughly.
Jerkbaits and jigs are what the books will generally tell you to use. Throw them. I prefer the classic suspending Smithwick Rogue to any other brand made. They are less expensive than many of the more popular Japanese models and, in my experience, they out fish them too. I like finesse jigs rather than the bigger bulkier ones I prefer in the spring and fall. The Omega Custom Tackle 5/16 finesse jig is best for shallow water bass while the 7/16 ounce pitchin’ jig is more efficient for deeper water. But, don’t forget about a slow rolled spinner bait and a very slow moving crankbait. These lures get less use and leave fish unaccustomed to these presentations.
For all of your winter fishing, use lighter line. Bass are more baitfish oriented and not usually in the thickest cover. The light line allows you to subtly finesse your bait through the water mimicking all the lethargic cold blooded species that live in the water.
Remember this winter that bass can be caught anywhere at any time eating any lure presented in any way. Keep an open mind and believe that there are biting bass in the lake. Start where the books, reports, guides, and local fishermen tell you then branch out from there. Use all of this information to figure the fish out for yourself and you will have the experience that creates the intuition to become the best of the best.