Tips for Early Winter Topwater Bass Fishing Success
Topwaters for bass in early winter? Before you dismiss this as a crazy idea, listen to what pro bass angler Brent Chapman has to say on the subject; he has some pretty solid evidence that this time of year can produce some great surface action
At first glance, some bass anglers might think the headline for this story – Tips for Early Winter Topwater Bass Fishing Success – is a typo of some sort.
Not so says Brent Chapman, 2012 BASS Angler of the Year and Major League Fishing Cup angler.
"The month of December can bring good topwater action," said Chapman, a Lake Quivira, Kansas, resident.
"I know that sounds weird, but it really is a pretty good time to throw such baits."
For one thing, the water is often warmer than some people might think in the late stages of fall and the early stages of winter.
In the year that this particular story was written, unusually warm autumn weather produced rarely seen water temperatures for so late in the year.
"I had a buddy that fished Lake of the Ozarks the week of Thanksgiving and he found water temps still in the low 60s. That's just crazy."
In fact, Chapman said that he's usually looking for water that's down in the 50s and even the upper 40s to exploit the late-fall and early-winter bass topwater bite.
It's a time of year that the fish get shallow," said Chapman, the winner of four BASS events along with career earnings of more than $1.7 million.
"The fish go up shallow at this time of the year because they usually like to go sit over those warmer, rocky banks. They are sitting up there absorbing that last little bit of heat."
But as the water temps cool down towards their wintertime readings, it's almost as if a switch gets turned on in the brains of bass.
"It's kind of like the leaves out in my yard right now," laughed Chapman. "It's been so warm this year (during the fall) that I haven't wanted to get out and rake them up. But with a recent big-time cold front, it's getting cold and I know that I'd better get out and do it because it's now or never."
Which is exactly what triggers a bass into busting a topwater in the later stages of the year.
"I think that the fish get lazy until the water temps drop down into 50s," said Chapman. "That kicks them into gear and the think that they had better put the feed bag on to get ready for winter.
"In fact, they'll keep going until it drops down into the lower to mid 40s. Until then, they're going to gorge themselves on big gizzard shad that are along those rocky banks that they are using to stay warm on."
When it comes to the baits that Chapman will toss for this late-season topwater action, one of his favorites is a ½-ounce Picasso buzzbait.
"For the buzzbait, 45-degree banks are a key, so I go into a cove or a creek and I look for channel swing banks," he said. "Those 45-degree banks, or even a little bit steeper, I like to try and retrieve the bait parallel to the bank or fairly close because typically, the fish are within five to 10 feet of the bank.
"And the more time you can keep the buzzbait in the strike zone, the better. I'll usually retrieve it at a slower speed, just enough to keep the blades up (and turning)."
Another style of bait that Chapman relies on at this time of year is either a Livingston Walking Boss or the company's Walking Boss II.
"On the walking baits, you want to retrieve them slow as well," said Chapman. "You want it sloshing around and making a good amount of noise, but you don't want to move it too quickly either. You can do that with a walking bait, keeping a bit more slack in your line."
Chapman says one thing to keep in mind is to not move the bait with the reel.
"That's one of the biggest mistakes I see anglers making," he said. "You want to twist that rod tip and move it side to side with that, more so than moving the bait forward with the reel.
"And of course, as with any walking bait, the cadence is important," Chapman added. "Sometimes they'll want it slower, sometimes they'll want it a little bit faster. You've just got to experiment until you find what they want on any particular day."
The third kind of topwater that Chapman might use on a chilly day?
"Sometimes, a popping style of bait can work, especially if you're around some sort of vegetation," he said.
As he does during the warmer times of the year, Chapman insists on tricking out his early-winter topwater baits with his signature red treble hooks on the front of the lure.
"Oh yeah, any time I'm throwing any sort of a hard bait around, I'm going to have a set of Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp red treble hooks on," he laughed. "Sometimes, I'll use the same size as the factory hooks, but if I can get away with it and it doesn't adversely affect the action of the bait, I'll try a size bigger."
If there's a surprising twist to all of this – besides the fact that we're already talking about using topwater baits during the late-fall and early-winter months – it might be Chapman's enthusiasm for bass fishing in a snowstorm.
"I don't know what it is about snow, but some of the best topwater fishing I've seen is when it's snowing," laughed the 13-time qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic. "Sometimes, the fish go crazy when it's snowing."
Any proof of that statement?
"Oh, yeah," said Chapman. "I remember fishing an event at Lake of the Ozarks and it snowed all the way from the start of practice to virtually the end of the tournament. It didn't snow a lot at any one time, but you'd wake up to a dusting of snow and flurries during the day.
"The water temperature was 46 to 48 degrees and here those things were eating a buzzbait," he added. "Or maybe it was that I was enjoying fishing a buzzbait more so than a jig because it kept me warmer."
That late-season tournament isn't the only time that the Kansas bass fishing pro has observed the snowstorm-bass fishing correlation.
"One time, we were fishing at Lake Norman in North Carolina, and although it was closer to springtime, the first day of the tournament, it started snowing like crazy and people were catching fish like crazy."
Another time, it was Lake Murray in South Carolina.
"It was snowing so hard at that FLW event that you couldn't see 50 feet in front of you," said Chapman. "Some people had trouble getting to the ramp that morning, one guy slid off in a ditch if I remember right, and you could hardly see at takeoff. But we went out and caught some fish."
Whether it is snowing or not, Chapman's lures will be in shad patterns, although he says he doesn't get too worked up over exact colors.
"I'm very simple when it comes to lure colors," he said. "On the buzzbait, I'll generally throw a black buzzbait when it's low light conditions. If it's cloudy, I'll toss a white buzzbait and if it's bright and sunny, I'll throw a chartreuse."
What about the hard baits? "Just some sort of shad imitating color; I don't get too hung up with all of that. I think any form of shad color patterns will work most of the time."
What tackle set-up does Chapman use for early-winter topwater baits?
"Usually, I do this sort of fishing on a 7-foot medium-action baitcasting rod," said Chapman.
"I usually have a high-speed 7.1:1-gear-ratio reel on since I want to be able to take up line quickly if a fish hits," he added.
"And I've got that reel spooled up with 40-pound Gamma Torque braid."
Why such line? Because Chapman has found it works for topwater presentations, not to mention giving him the strength that he needs to horse a big fish to the boat.
"Other than February and pre-spawn, this might be one of the best big fish times of the year," he said.
Even with a topwater lure in hand, and sometimes, even as early winter snowflakes cascade down into the water.