10 Tips for Deep Early Winter Largemouths
Bass fishing in the early cold-weather months can be very good; follow these tips and tactics to find and catch your share of cold-water lunkers
December can be a great bass fishing month for savvy anglers. Problem is, many anglers aren’t so savvy. They don’t fish this time of year because they don’t know the specialized tactics needed to catch largemouths that have moved to deep, cold water.
If you’ve been part of this stay-at-home group but would rather be fishing, hitch up the boat, head for your favorite bass lake and give these tips a try.
Super-structure is a smaller, specific component of much larger structure where winter bass gather. Let’s use creek channels to illustrate the principle. Deep, primary creek channels are among the best structures to fish during winter, but bass aren’t found along each channel’s entire length. Instead, they gather in small schools where the channel exhibits some sort of change. This may be where a secondary channel intersects the main channel or around a tree standing on a sharp bend—anything different from the norm. Use a bottom contour map and fish-finder to pinpoint these hotspots, then fish them hard. Finding super-structure can mean the difference between catching lots of bass or none at all.
Look for Ledges
When using sonar, scan for underwater ledges near bankside bluffs. These are hotspots for cold-weather largemouths, especially when found near timber, brushpiles or other bass cover. Big soft-plastic crayfish are ideal lures for fishing them. Cast to the bluff and work the lure down the drop-off, hopping it in stair-step fashion until you get a hit.
Underwater springs bubbling up in a lake bottom often attract winter bass. Spring water stays at a constant temperature, usually 60 to 70 degrees, thus attracting baitfish, which in turn attract bass. Temperature gauges can help locate springs. Watch, too, for springs revealed where vapors rise from the warmer water’s surface on cold days. The water around a spring is usually clearer than the rest of a lake, so use lighter line and smaller, realistic lures or live bait.
Many bass lakes provide cooling water for adjacent electrical power plants. Such waters provide some of the fastest winter action available. Look for bass around cover and structure near discharge outlets where warm water flows into the lake. Discharges create a warm subsurface current covering a big area, and to enjoy success, you’ll have to search to zero in on bass hideouts. Sometimes power-plant current hugs the shore; it may curve offshore. A temperature gauge can help you determine the pattern so you can fish where largemouths are likely to be.
Trap Your Quarry
Vertical jigging with a lipless crankbait such as the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap or Cordell’s Super Spot is deadly on winter bass around deep structure such as sunken islands, rock ridges and channel drops. Position your boat over the structure, then lower the lure to the bottom. Reel the slack from your line. Lift the lure off the bottom and let it free-fall, but don’t fish it with a 3- or 4-foot jigging action like you would in summer. Use a shorter drop, twitching the rod tip vertically and letting the lure flutter back, always on a tight line so a bite won’t be missed.
Jigging spoons are excellent for fishing deep winter structure such as bottom channels. Work the lure vertically using a gentle lift-drop motion, always on a tight line so a bite won’t be missed.
Minor alterations to a spoon sometimes improve fishing. For example, in muddy water, you can super-glue an Excalibur Rattle to the spoon. The added sound may help bass zero in on your lure. Or, if the spoon you’re using has a plain treble, consider using a feather-dressed treble instead.
Big Cranks for Big Bass
Big, deep-diving crankbaits are hard to beat for enticing trophy-class largemouths in cold water. Bass don’t reach trophy size by using lots of energy running down mere tidbits of food. The biggest ones prefer a big mouthful. You’ll need to work the lure properly, however, if you expect it to entice a heavyweight. One good way is to crank the bait deep very quickly, then work your rod with a pump-and-drop action, pulling the rod forward and dropping it back. This allows the lure to “tread water,” giving slow-moving winter bass the chance to catch up and inhale it.
Swim a Swimbait
Swimbaits also are good lunker catchers this season. They’re available in sizes up to a foot long, and whenever a fish grabs something that big, you can bet it’s going to be big, too. Use a 7- to 8-foot flipping stick and baitcasting reel spooled with braid. Cast the lure, let it sink to deep structure, then bring it in with a steady retrieve. Work it nice and steady. You want the swimbait to mimic a lazy baitfish swimming along. When a bass hits, it may feel soft or like you’re hung up. When that happens, tighten down on the fish and set the hook as hard as you can.
Spinnerbaits aren’t usually considered good winter bass lures, but they sometimes can be “helicoptered” beside rock bluffs and creek channels to entice lethargic cold-water largemouths. A heavy spinnerbait (up to 2 ounces) with a single large blade works best. The lure is bounced down the drop-off on a tight line; rod tip movement controls its fall. As the lure flutters down, the blade spins. Usually bass strike on the drop, so watch your line closely for slackening or sideways movement that indicates a hit. Whatever clue you get, strike hard and fast.
If you’ve followed all the tips above and still aren’t catching bass, keep on the move, trying new locations until you find your quarry. A common mistake is staying in one place too long. If bass are present and feeding, they’ll usually let you know right away.