January 04, 2024
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
It's no secret that the simple jig catches a larger class of bass, regardless of the time of year. However, a jig plunged into the frigid waters of winter is particularly effective for attracting high-quality bites.
The jig appeals to cold-water bass for many reasons. The slow movement and bulky profile of a jig and corresponding trailer match a bass' slower winter metabolism, enticing it to seek "quality" over "quantity" in its table fare. Additionally, a jig can get into various cover types where larger bass live, be it offshore piles of wood, craggy mounds of rock or thick, shallow bushes. Lastly, considering the jig's ability to perfectly imitate a defensive crawfish on the bottom—a prime meal for big bass—it's easy to understand why cold-weather anglers should have a jig tied on and ready to go each time the boat is launched.
Jigs are designed to be dropped, dragged or hopped along the lake bottom, from shallow to deep, yet not all jigs are created equal for every task a cold-weather angler will face. Jig design has evolved over the last several years, with manufacturers tailoring their creations to fit specific techniques, cover types and depths.
Bass, of course, won't know the difference in design; however, the specific attributes of the jig will optimize its performance to suit the task. What follows is a breakdown of jig techniques for winter bass, from shallow water to deep, and the jigs designed to catch them.
Flipping a jig into shallow cover during the winter months will often lead to fewer but bigger bites. Prime locations for shallow flipping within a reservoir or river system will typically be related to water clarity, with a slight stain of 12 to 24 inches of visibility and flooded cover in 2 to 5 feet of water being ideal for holding shallow bass. In most reservoirs, the lower end of the lake remains clear while the midsections and upper ends of creeks and tributaries have the right amount of stain to make the flipping bite successful.
During winter, shallow wood cover within flipping distance of meandering creek and river channels are key areas to flip a jig. Make sure to direct the jig into the thickest part of the shallow cover, as bass are not likely to move a great distance to strike the lure. When water temps are in the 40s, let the jig sit for several seconds before moving it with subtle shakes of the rod tip. When fishing near the shoreline, take note of the slope of the bank, as steeper banks with wood cover in the form of bushes, trees and stumps are typically more attractive to larger winter bass than flat banks, points and pockets.
The slower fall rate of a lighter 5/16- to 3/8-ounce flipping jig is preferred when the water is cold. Most jig aficionados match it with a plastic or pork trailer with minimal action, such as the chunk-style trailers, to closely resemble the slower action of a cold-water crawfish.
The depth at which offshore bass can position in winter is in direct correlation to the prevailing water clarity. The clearer the water, the deeper bass are willing to position to follow their forage. Depths of 25 to 35 feet are not uncommon for winter bass to frequent across the southeastern U.S. However, depths exceeding 40 feet or more are common for bass (spotted and smallmouth) to stage at in clear, highland reservoirs.
Searching for bass offshore during the winter is most often done where there are significant contour changes. River- and creek-channel drops tend to concentrate schools of shad; therefore, focus specifically on dragging jigs off channel edges where channels make sharp bends. Long, extended points near these channel bends will also increase your odds of finding groups of winter bass with a jig.
A rocky bottom can be a magnet for bass any time of year. However, the winter months increase the likelihood of finding bass hanging over rock. Additionally, isolated rock piles, rocky ledges and gravel bars are much preferred over mud and silt bottoms.
For offshore applications, the 3/4-ounce football jig is popular, though 1-ounce versions are useful for maintaining contact with the jig at depths greater than 25 feet. The classic kicking action of a twin-tailed craw works well for imitating a crawfish, but the muted leg action of a twin-tail grub trailer or chunk trailer also works well in cold water.
Fish the football jig by dragging it in short bursts or small, subtle hops in winter. Long pauses between movements cause the trailer legs to rise and mimic a defensive crawfish, enticing cold-water bass to strike the jig.
Bass can be found from shallow to deep in the winter months depending upon the available cover types in a given body of water. Riprap banks found along bridges always appeal to bass, as creek channels funnel schools of shad near the riprap points of bridges.
Cast the jig to the riprap shoreline and work it all the way out to where the rock ends with short lifts of the rod tip. Most commonly, bass are found foraging here on sunny days, as the water is often warmer than in surrounding areas. Furthermore, any type of woody cover growing near the shoreline of a rip rap bank is also worth exploring with a jig.
- Note: Shane Beilue is the host of the "Bass Crash Course" video series. Click to watch
The heavy rock of a riprap bank can often cause the oblong shape of a football jig to snag in the rock crags. Therefore, the rounded head of a ball-shaped or Arkie-style jig head will typically lead to fewer hang-ups on the retrieve.
These rounder head designs are also great for working boat docks and the outside edges of submerged grass lines, and for dragging through offshore brush piles—all excellent locations for winter bass. Trailer options for the casting jig are much the same as the football jig, with twin-tail craws and grubs typically getting the nod.
Another type of jig to consider during the cold winter months is the finesse jig, typically weighing 1/8 to 3/8 ounce with a shortened, light-gauge wire hook. The small profile is enhanced by having fewer strands of skirt material to reduce bulk. Many jig makers also trim the outer skirt strands to form a "collar" around the base of the jig head, further reducing the profile.
This diminutive jig is a great choice for clear-water fisheries, and though it can be fished shallow or deep, the extremely slow fall of the lighter jig heads is best suited for water less than 15 feet deep. The small profile and slow fall rate in winter can be especially deadly around docks, riprap banks and offshore rockpiles when bass refuse other options.
To avoid "overpowering" the finesse jig, trailer choices should be equally downsized and subtle in action. A twin-tail grub bitten down to half its length pairs well with a finesse jig.
GO FOR A SWIM
Regardless of how cold the weather may be, there are always periods of warming trends, even if only for a few days. As the water temps start to tick up slightly after a few days of sunny weather, the swim jig emerges as yet another way to catch winter bass. Stained water warms faster than clear water; therefore, this approach works in the same location where you would flip a jig.
Slow-rolling a swim jig next to shallow cover, similar to how you’d fish a spinnerbait, is one of the best ways to fish a swim jig in winter. With temps still in the high 40s, bass are not likely to chase a lure down if presented away from shallow cover; therefore, ensure the swim jig is brought in very close proximity to any shallow cover in the area.
When matching trailers to winter swim jigs, twin-tail craws and grubs work well, as do small paddle-tail swimbaits. Here again, the jig presents many options to tempt bass.
- Dress your jig with these five top performers.
The sheer number of trailer options for jigs can be somewhat overwhelming. Therefore, a thorough understanding of how you want the jig to perform will help assist in trailer selection. For example, do you need a fast or slow fall? Subtle movement or a more aggressive kicking action? Here are five top choices for winter jig trailers.
- The Yamamoto Yama Craw is a relatively new offering from the makers of the original Senko, and is built on the classic action of a hard-kicking, craw-style trailer. The uniqueness of the Yama Craw lies in the floating material the craw trailer is composed of, which causes the appendages to stand straight up when resting on the bottom. When you need a slower fall rate with hard kicking action, this is the one. ($7.99; baits.com)
- Strike King’s Rage Menace is a rather slender twin-tail grub that minimizes resistance in the water. Additionally, the subtle movement of the appendages reduces drag for a slightly faster fall rate and also matches the subtle movement of a crawfish in winter. This is an all-time classic design for winter jig fishing. ($6.99; strikeking.com)
- As its name implies, Zoom’s Super Chunk is a chunk-style trailer with the classic twin-tail “batwing” design, offering a more subtle flapping movement than the aggressive kick of a craw trailer. Rather than being threaded onto the shaft of the hook, the abbreviated Super Chunk merely rests within the bend of the hook. Less plastic equals less water resistance and a slightly faster fall rate. ($3.29; zoombait.com)
- The Uncle Josh #11 Pork Frog is an old-school trailer that was recently reintroduced due to the demand of seasoned jig anglers across the country. The Uncle Josh offering is made from actual pork and has been a favorite of jig fishermen for decades. Like the Super Chunk, the body of the pork frog rests in the bend of the hook, and the thick pork body slows the fall rate. The thin legs of the pork rind will respond to a jig’s movement in the water but offer no real “action” or kick. ($11.99; acmetackle.com)
- Berkley’s PowerBait MaxScent Power Chunk is a plastic trailer resembling the Uncle Josh pork rind, with a new plastic material that offers a realistic texture while emitting a scent trail in the water. With a classic shape and minimal action, this is an overall great cold-water jig trailer. ($4.99; berkley-fishing.com)