Poor weather and water conditions can make winter bass fishing tough. A storm front passes, and the fish get lockjaw. Or perhaps the water is too muddy or rising very fast. Previously successful fishing patterns fail to produce, and we think about giving up and going home.
There is no magic formula to insure success every time we fish. But if we know how largemouths are likely to behave during unfavorable conditions, we can tip the odds in our favor and catch fish even when the situation seems bleak.
Let’s look at several scenarios and some desperate measures we may need to catch fussy bass.
Problem: Passing Front
A storm front has moved through the area. Bass-fishing success has dropped off—way off. Big bass, in particular, seem to be affected.
It may help to alter your fishing approach whenever the barometric pressure rises after a front. Ignore dormant lunkers for a day or two and go for smaller bass, which will remain active to varying degrees. Single-blade spinnerbaits fished along the bottom have a deserved reputation for producing these post-front bass.
After two days, look for thick cover along any sort of drop-off. This is where big bass often go after a front. Position your boat over the cover and fish with a tube bait, a drop-shot rig or a grub and jighead. Work the bait slowly, or let the lure settle on the bottom and leave it alone. If the bass are there, they’ll let you know when your impatience finally forces you to move the lure.
Problem: Muddy Water
The lake you’re fishing is extremely muddy. A white jig dropped in the turbid water disappears 6 inches down. You catch a few bass while moving from one area to another, but on a scale of 1 to 10, the fishing hardly rates a 3.
If you find your bass lake heavily colored with silt, a change of tactics is again in order. First, remember that a bass in muddy water relies more on sound and vibrations to find food than it does when visibility is less limited. Consequently, lures that rattle, vibrate and flash may improve success. A slow retrieve is important regardless of the lure used, and it may help to spray your lure with a scent product bass can home in on.
Muddy-water bass are usually in the shallows and hold tight against cover features such as treetops, ledges and stumps. This gives them a reference point and sense of security when visibility is poor. The anglers should find proper cover in shallow water and get in there with them, flipping or jigging. But always fish very slowly and work every inch of cover. The lure or bait must be presented right under their noses.
Keep in mind, too, fishing for muddy-water bass may be best on sunny days. Under other conditions, the early morning and evening hours may be best. But in muddy water, midday hours often are most productive.
Problem: Fast-Rising Water
After heavy rainfall, the water level in your favorite lake is rising fast. Flood waters have inundated lots of new cover. Fishing your honeyholes has proven unproductive.
High or fast-rising water often is encountered after heavy rains. This condition can give bass a severe case of lockjaw, and at times, no amount of savvy will make one iota of difference. Still, there are things you can try to improve your catch rate.
First, understand that fast-rising water tends to scatter fish. As the water level rises, more and more cover is flooded, giving bass lots of new territory to go to. They seldom stay concentrated in any one spot. Instead, most will be suspended and moving like nomads. Normal fishing patterns aren’t evident.
The key to resolving this tough situation is staying on the prowl until you determine a pattern. Keep a fish-finder on, and watch it closely, looking for suspended bass. If you find a school, toss out a marker buoy and fish the area thoroughly. If not, keep moving, casting and watching the sonar. If you’re patient and cover lots of water, sooner or later you’ll establish a productive fishing pattern.
When the water level peaks and stabilizes a few days, look for bass suspended and holding tight to offshore cover. Fish know the water will soon drop away from the banks, and their instinct tells them to get in deeper water until everything settles down. Try fishing jigs, worms, deep-diving crankbaits and big spinners using a slow approach and working each bit of cover thoroughly.
Problem: Fast-Falling Water
The water level in the bass lake you’re fishing is falling fast. Perhaps the agency that manages the lake has opened dam floodgates to draw it down. Or perhaps rains have ended after an extended period and the water level is simply returning to normal. You’ve fished several shoreline areas that produced bass last week, but the fish have now vanished. Nothing seems to work.
Bass tend to leave shallow-water habitats when the lake level begins falling at a fast rate. They know the water is going to drop away from the banks, and their instinct tells them to get out in deeper water until everything settles down. Most will be suspended, holding tight to offshore cover such as flooded standing timber, bottom humps and channels, and the deep ends of points.
To catch these bass, savvy anglers use a slow approach with relatively small lures. Try downsizing to smaller jigs, for example—from a 1-ounce model to a 1/2-ounce version. Or use a 2-1/2-inch deep-diving crankbait instead of the 4-inch version you normally fish. Again, fish slowly, working each bit of cover and structure thoroughly.
This is one of the toughest conditions a bass angler faces. And often, when the water is falling fast, you can’t hire a largemouth to bite. The only alternative is to fish slowly, close to offshore cover and structure, using smaller lures. That’s your best bet for success.