Many anglers sit out the coldest days or focus more on hunting, but frosty winter mornings can mean big bass on the line, frequently with little competition.
In many ways, winter fishing simulates hunting. Once anglers find bass, they can usually catch them. Bass naturally drop into holes during cold weather since deep water remains relatively stable. Once anglers find bass lairs, they might keep catching lunkers for weeks.
“Keep experimenting to find fish and determine a pattern,” advised Kevin VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champion from Michigan. “Bass in winter patterns like to be on vertical drops. I like to fish main lake structure such as bluff banks, riprap, bridges and structure like that. Main creeks where a channel swings against the bank with steep edges can hold a lot of bass in winter. On cold days, I might start out on a deep creek channel in 40 feet of water with a jigging spoon. As the day warms up, I might switch to throwing a suspending jerkbait in 15 feet of water.”
For tempting bass in deep water, few techniques can beat vertically jigging 1/2- to 3/4-ounce chrome spoons. In really deep water, upgrade to a 1-ounce slab. Small, heavy and compact, a jigging spoon sinks quickly and flutters down like a wounded baitfish. Light dancing off facets in the chrome simulates the flash from baitfish scales.
“A spoon looks like a dying shad when it’s sinking,” remarked Tanya Kreuzer, a professional bass angler from Arizona. “I like to vertically fish a spoon around dips, humps and creek channels, anything different on the bottom contour. I also look for balls of shad and jig a spoon around them.”
For vertical jigging, most people simply position a boat over a good spot and drop a spoon to the bottom. After the spoon hits bottom, the line goes slack. Then, people reel up the slack, lift their rods a foot or two and let the spoon plunge back to the bottom repeatedly. When the metal hits bottom, the impact sends out vibrations that fish can feel. Some people reel a spoon up a couple feet and jig it a few times at that level.
Rather than letting a spoon freefall to the bottom, use a controlled descent. Bass usually grab jigging spoons as they fall past their noses. As the spoon sinks, place a finger on the line to keep it fairly tight, but still falling steadily. That way, anglers can detect even the most subtle strikes. In cold water, anglers might not even feel a hit, just a little heaviness on the line. If in doubt, set the hook.
In addition, even on the coldest days, bass don’t always stay right at the bottom. They frequently suspend, perhaps even halfway between the bottom and the surface at whatever level where they can find the best combination of oxygen levels and comfortable temperatures. Moreover, bass in deep water habitually look up to spot prey silhouetted against the bright surface rather than crawling around on a dark bottom. Whenever possible, try to place spoons slightly above the fish.
With a good sonar unit, anglers can determine where bass want to hover. Signals from many sonar units reflect off the metal spoon in the water. Anglers could even watch the spoon on the screen as it descends and stop it just above the fish. Lucky anglers occasionally experience the thrill of watching the screen as individual fish grab their offering dangling far beneath the boat.
“A jigging spoon is probably more overlooked by bass fishermen than any other bait,” detailed Roger Stegall, a professional bass angler from Mississippi. “It’s about the most effective bait for fishing deep water. I have caught largemouth bass in 55 feet of water, but most often, about the deepest I find bass is 25 to 28 feet deep.”
Anglers can also find where fish suspend with the old-fashioned method. If nothing hits the bait right at the bottom, crank the reel handle a few times to fish a little higher in the water column. Jig the spoon up and down at that level a few times. If nothing happens, raise the bait about five to 10 feet higher and try that depth. Continue testing depths until something grabs the enticement or it hits the surface. Even on cold days in the deepest water, anglers sometimes catch bass holding just under the boat.
Besides vertically jigging, people can also cast spoons and work them almost like jerkbaits or lipless crankbaits. Let a bait sink a few feet and then vigorously jerk it. Keep repeating the procedure. Adding a split ring on the front of the spoon and tying a barrel swivel with a snap to the line helps keep the lure from twisting too much.
“For bass suspended off the bottom, I throw spoons,” Kreuzer recommended. “Often, bass hang under a school of shad and shoot up into them to feed. That’s the perfect scenario. I pull the boat back, make really long casts and let the spoon sink all the way to the bottom. Then, I bounce it up off the bottom and let it fall again. Bass chase the bait up and hit it when it starts to fall again.”
When fishing with jigging spoons, anglers normally use stout tackle. Many anglers recommend at least a 7-foot medium to medium-heavy action rod with a fast tip to power big fish up from the depths. For line, most people use 14- to 20-pound monofilament or similar braid. Many people prefer fluorocarbon line since that type of line sinks faster than monofilament and virtually disappears in the water.
In the right spot, anglers can put many bass in the boat quickly even on cold days, perhaps without moving from the hole. Besides largemouth bass, anglers jigging or casting chrome spoons might also catch crappie, white bass, striped bass, spotted bass, smallmouth bass and other fish with the same techniques, depending upon the lake location.