Deep Water Bass Fishing Tactics
February 09, 2011
The action is likely to be slow in deep water, but with the right tactics you might hook a largemouth of a lifetime this month. Here's what you need to know!
When the air is hand-numbing cold outside it is easy to stay home to be warm and comfortable. You just know the bass are as miserable as you would be if you went fishing. After all, they can't come inside and warm up. They stay cold all the time so there is no way you can catch them.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Such thinking is misleading. Bass are cold blooded and do not get uncomfortable because of cold water. Their bodies respond to it by slowing down. They become very inactive and don't eat very often. They usually won't chase anything very far. But, they can be caught.
The good news is they do eat, and the bigger bass seem to feed more than smaller ones. When you are miserable because it is so cold, it can be a good time to hook the biggest bass of the year. You just have to adapt your fishing methods to the way the bass react to the frigid water.
In the cold of winter bass hold in deep water. With one big exception they seem to like cover such as rocks, stumps and brush. They don't migrate to shallow feeding areas very often, if at all. Bass may not move for days at a time. They eat very little since their bodies don't require much food because they are so inactive.
To catch bass you first have to find them. Deep structure with cover is where you should search. Find humps, long points that drop off into the channel, channel edges and other deep contour breaks that all attract winter bass. Add a rock pile, stump or brush to the deep structure and its even better.
The one exception to holding in cover is the attraction of a smooth, slick hard bottom. Hard sand or clay on a hump or point attracts bass and they hug the bottom in such places. Sometimes you land a bass with mud on its belly fins, a sure sign they are holding in contact with the bottom.
A good depthfinder is essential to finding winter bass in deep water. Bass usually bunch up on a small spot on the deep structure and, since they won't move far to hit your bait, you must hit the place they are holding. Riding over deep humps, points and drops while scanning the bottom with a depthfinder for anything on the bottom is a good way to start.
Sometimes you actually see the bass holding just off the bottom on hard areas with no cover, but usually you are watching for brush, stumps and rocks where the fish are holding. In either case you need a marker buoy to drop near, but not right on top of, the cover or fish you spot.
Also watch for balls of baitfish over the structure. Bass hold in areas where baitfish are plentiful since they do need some meals during the winter. Baitfish like shad often die in the cold water and fall to the bottom, offering bass an easy meal as the dead minnows flutter down. Spotting baitfish over the structure you fish is definitely a plus.
There are two basic methods to fishing for deep bass in cold water. You either jig for them or slide for them. Jigging means hopping a bait up and down, preferably in one place, to attract a bite. Sliding means crawling your bait along the bottom, keeping in contact with the lake floor and moving the lure very slowly.
Jigging is best when you are fishing a tight school of bass or on a small patch of cover. Sliding works best when you think the bass are holding right on the bottom on scattered cover like stumps or a slick, hard bottom. Some baits work best for one method or the other, but several can be fished in either way.
A jigging spoon is the classic way to catch bass in the winter and it works well. But you can also jig a tail-spinner lure like a Little George or a lead head jig. Jigs can either be hair -- like bucktails -- or have plastic bodies.
With jigging, you want to present a bait right in front of a bass over and over. Make it look like a dying baitfish falling to the bottom and struggling to swim back up. It also will look like a meal too easy to pass up.
Baits that work well sliding on the bottom to cover more area are a jig-and-pig, horse head jigs with a small spinner like the Fish Head Spin or plastic worms. A Carolina- or Texas-rigged plastic worm crawled along the bottom works in cold water, but a shaky head jig is often better. It has better action when sitting in one spot and not moving.
You can slide a tail-spinner lure along the bottom, but you get hung a lot due to the dangling hooks. You do better sliding a Fish Head Spin with its upturned hook.
You can jig a Texas-rigged worm up and down, but it won't have the same appeal as a spoon fluttering in the same fashion. Try different methods and you may find one that works best for you that is not the norm.
When jigging, it is important to get directly over winter bass since they won't move far. Many times the guy in the front of a bass boat catches fish after fish, while the guy in the back, using the exact same lure, never gets a bite. That is why it is important to stay right on top of the bass. A depthfinder with its transducer mounted on the trolling motor helps you fine-tune your position relative to the marker buoy and keep you in the right spot.
Drop your bait down till it hits bottom. Take up the slack in your line until the rod tip is near the water with the line tight and the lure on the bottom. Pop your rod tip up, then let the lure fall back on a tight line. When it hits bottom, repeat the process.
It is extremely important to keep your line tight as the bait falls since that is when almost all your hits happen. With slack line a bass can suck in a bait and spit it out before you feel the hit. Watch your line for any ticks or unusual movements as the lure falls. If the line moves, set the hook. Also set the hook if the lure does not go down as far as it should. That often means a bass holding just off the bottom has sucked in your bait.
Try different speeds in moving your jig, from a fast pop to a slow pumping rise and fall. Also jig it up different heights off the bottom. Sometimes bass want a bait going up a foot or so, other times you need to raise it several feet off the bottom. Experiment and let the fish tell you what they want that day.
With a jigging spoon or bucktail you won't feel much as you raise it up and down. A tail-spinner vibrates as it goes up and down. Each has its own feel and you can get tuned in to what it is doing as you fish it.
A couple of things make your jigging more effective and easier. On a spoon, use a split ring to attach your line. This allows it to swing freely and move better. Also put a swivel on your line about 18 inches above the spoon. Spoons twist line badly as they fall and a quality ball bearing swivel will cut out most of the problems. Attaching it on a leader above the spoon keeps it away from the bait, but still cuts out most line twists.
The end of a long point has revealed scattered stumps near where it drops into the creek channel. Although no fish are visible on the bottom, balls of baitfish are suspended over the point.
This is a good scenario for sliding a bait along the bottom and bumping the stumps. Throw out a marker at the shallow end of the area you want to cover then back off. Start your casts near the marker and make each additional cast a little deeper.
Slide your bait along the bottom. Use a heavy enough bait to stay in contact with the bottom, going heavier if wind or current is affecting your bait. Deeper water calls for heavier baits, too.
Slide it along until you bump a stump then pause it, giving a bass holding there time to hit in the cold water. Keep moving your bait along until you cover the whole area from your marker to the drop, then move to another spot.
If your bait feels mushy as you move it along, set the hook. Watch your line for any unusual movement, but bass in cold water often suck in a bait, stay in one place and you never see your line move. If you feel anything different, set the hook.
Water clarity is more important when jigging than when sliding. Clearer water seems to always produce more hits when jigging a bait up and down. In stained water a bait that makes more vibration, like a Little George, would be better than a quiet jigging spoon or bucktail. Sliding a bait along the bottom adds more vibration the bass can feel and helps them find the lure.
For jigging, a baitcasting reel works best since you can control your line easier, letting more out slowly as the depth changes. A rod with a light tip, but strong backbone allows you to feel your bait going up and down. But it also gives you a good hook set when a bass hits.
A short 51/2-foot rod gives more control over the jigging action, but a longer rod will allow you to move the bait up and down more. More length also gives you more leverage when setting the hook. Try different length rods until you find what works best for you.
For sliding a bait along the bottom a longer rod is better, and you can use either spinning or baitcasting. You need enough backbone to set the hook with a lot of line out, but a light tip gives you better feel for hits.
Fluorocarbon line is a good choice for either kind of fishing. It does not stretch as much as monofilament so the hook set is more positive, and it gives you good feel for strikes. That also helps signal what your bait is hitting on the bottom when sliding it along. The invisibility of fluorocarbon line helps in clear water, too. You can go with heavier line without spooking the fish.
The bass are out there and they are not uncomfortable. They will hit if you adapt your fishing to the way they respond to cold water. So, dress warmly, get out there on the water and you can catch bass, even in miserably cold weather.