12 Tips for Catching Coldwater Largemouth Bass
Fishing for winter largemouths can be beautifully simple, yet many bass anglers take this simplicity a step too far
Oneor two proven tactics command most of bass anglers’ fishing time, and if thesedon’t produce ... well, there’s always next time.
Factis, you can greatly improve your coldwater bassin’ success by trying a few newconcepts and techniques. Stick to traditional approaches when they’re producinghawgs. But when “regular” tactics don’twork, the following tricks can make your catch rate soar.
Slayed With a Blade
Many anglersoverlook old-fashioned bladebaits when putting together their winter angling arsenal.Favorites that have been around for years include the Heddon Sonar, Cordell GayBlade and Reef Runner Cicada. These compact lures sink quickly and maintaindepth when worked yo-yo fashion around deep structure and cover.
An upward rod sweeplifts the bait, causing a fish-attracting vibration. As the rod is lowered, thelure begins a spiral fall that triggers an instinctive attack from bass.
To eliminate linetwist, snip the line eight inches above the lure and tie a barrel swivel toboth cut ends.
In winter, shad area deadly live bait for big largemouths. Catch them using a cast net in the calmbackwaters of coves. Keep those 4 inches long or less. Fish them like minnows,but hook them through the nostrils to let the baitfish swim more naturally andremain lively longer.
Winter bank fishingcan be unproductive because bass move to offshore cover. But when nasty weatherkeeps you shorebound, try fishing at the end of a public fishing pier. Whensuch a structure is built, a deeper hole usually is created near the outsideend, and frequently, brushpiles are added to attract bass and other fish. Lastyear, on an Arkansas lake, I watched a pair of pier fishermen catch 20largemouths in two hours by fishing such a place.
Farm ‘em Out
Farm ponds alsoprovide possibilities for shore anglers. First, be sure first the pond containsbass; some don’t. If it does, and the owner grants permission to fish, you’rein business. Head to the levee that impounds the water. Bass frequently aretaken by casting to woody cover here. My favorite lure in this situation is ajig-and-pig or jig-and-eel, but carry of a variety of lures, and keep changinguntil you determine what is most productive.
Onsunny days in clear waters, use sonar to pinpoint bass suspended deep nearbottom channels. When you find a school, work it with jigging spoonsfree-spooled to fish below.
Jigthe lure by raising the rod tip with an upward flick of the wrist then quicklylowering the rod so the spoon falls on slack line. Bass usually strike as thelure drops. The line twitches or stops, so strikes usually are seen rather thanfelt. Watch your line closely.
Onwarm days, especially toward the end of the season, you may find bass in stump fieldson deep flats near the edge of major stream channels. These fish tend to fanout over large areas, but by fan-casting lures from an anchored boat, you oftencan catch loads of largemouths. When you catch one fish, cast immediately tothe same spot, repeating your casts until you no longer catch fish.
Head for the Headwaters
Onlakes with no power plants, headwaters areas tend to produce the best winterfishing. The headwaters area is the upper end, usually opposite the dam, wherethe major stream or streams feeding the lake flow into it. Bass move toheadwaters in late winter because this is where the water first begins to warm.Creeks and small streams above the lake warm first, because they are shallowand fed by the first warming rains. These in turn feed larger streams flowinginto the lake, and they, too, warm up before the deeper main lake.
Rememberthis when planning a fishing trip this time of year. Headwaters usuallyoutproduce other portions of a lake.
Going to Carolina
Some winter bassanglers use small lipless crankbaits on Carolina rigs. This is especiallyeffective in late winter when fishing flats in the headwaters portion of alake. If you use a floating lure, a 1/4-ounce sinker and a 24-inch leader, you’llhave good line control.
Work this rig slowlynear cover, with periodic twitches that impart action. The crankbait floatsjust above the bottom, and each jerk makes the lure dive and swim erratically,attracting hungry bass.
Dingy Water and Spinners
Ifyou’re fishing near a headwaters stream that is dingy from runoff, considerusing a spinnerbait. Winter largemouths may move fairly shallow to feed whenwater is heavily colored, and a spinnerbait is hard to beat for catching themunder this condition.
Workthe lure around stump fields, log jams and buckbrush on flats adjacent theriver arms. Fishing around the mouths of small creeks also produces. If waterentering the lake is clearer than the rest of the water, bass often will holdat the “mudline,” the margin of clear and dingy water. Work these areas slowlyand thoroughly, and get ready for some spectacular headwaters bass fishing.
If you sometimes fish live minnows for bass, try fishing “naked.” Doaway with your float and fish the outer edges of winter cover. Without anyweight except that of the hook and a small split shot, a minnow sinks veryslowly, twisting and darting as it does.
Bass aren’t the only predators thatfind such baits irresistible, so don’t do this if catching a bonus crappie,walleye or catfish now and then is going to bother you. If such an occurrencewon’t get you mad, then watch your line very closely as the bait sinks, lookingfor any slight movement indicating a hit. When regular live bait tactics fail,this one can save the day.
Use a GPS
GPSunits are more affordable than ever, with some priced less than $100. Thesehigh-tech marvels translate satellite signals into data an angler can navigateby to return day after day to first-rate winter fishing areas like brushpiles,open-water drop-offs, etc.
Don’twaste time triangulating with landmarks or watching a depthfinder to find yourfavorite winter fishing holes. Learn to use a GPS and you can be fishinginstead of looking.
Ifyou’ve followed all the tips above and still aren’t catching bass, keep on themove, trying new locations until you find your quarry. A common mistake isstaying in one place too long. If bass are present and feeding, they’ll usuallylet you know right away, even when the water is frigid.