Winter Bass Fishing

March 5, 2016,
By Bryan May:

Winter is upon us. Well at least it is here in Ohio and Indiana...  Many people think the fish go into some strange hibernation during the winter so they just throw a cover over the boat until spring rolls around.  Fish don't go into a suspended animation. They don't just stop eating because it's cold.  If you've spent much time on the water you likely know that it can be tough fishing. Fish are cold-blooded animals. This means that they are the temperature of their surroundings. They don't maintain a certain internal temperature like you and I do. So as the water cools, so do the bass. Literally. As the fish cools down they move more slowly. They expend less energy and require fewer calories (food) to stay alive and healthy.  This works out nicely because their food is also moving more slowly.  Black bass, especially large bass, are lazy. They aren't going to be chasing anything around especially in the frigid waters of winter. Bass will want to move up and down the water column with little effort.  They do this for a few reasons:
  • to regulate their temperature
  • to find food
  • to find acceptable oxygen levels
  • to avoid too much direct sunlight

Winter is a time of year where I eliminate 95% of the water before I even reach the lake. I focus almost solely on steep (45 degrees or so) rocky banks. There just aren't that many of these areas on my lakes - yours may vary...  Now that 95% of the lake is gone, what's next?  I turn to my electronics now.  I'm looking for concentrations of bait fish (shad).  Although the bass aren't eating as often as I'd like them to, they will still want to be around food. And the shad, especially the smaller Thread-fin Shad, begin to die as the water temperature reaches the low forties. That makes it easy pickins for the bass - remember they are lazy, right? You will very often find that the bait fish are bunched up, so once you find them you will find millions of them. The bass will often be bunched up nearby as well.  So we're now in a high percentage area and are finally ready to begin fishing. 

The age-old question now is - what to throw?  For me this is an easy one.  When I left the house I had 2 rods rigged up and ready to go on the deck of my boat.  One has a blade bait tied on and the other has an underspin jig ready to go.  My go-to is the blade bait so I will always start with that, especially when I find bunched up bait fish.  My approach is simple.  Cast out the blade bait and let it fall all the way to the bottom. I do this on semi-slack line and I watch my line the whole time.  Bass normally hit the bait on the way down and they do it very softly.  You will often times not detect the strike but will simply see a slight tick of the line.  After it settles to the bottom, you will lift it a foot or two and let it flutter back down. This simulates dying shad very effectively.  These are days that require more than a little perseverance.  I've fished blade baits for 10 hours for 5 fish. And I've fished 10 hours for 1 fish.  If baitfish are bunched up I will throw blade baits until my arms fall off.  If they are more spread out or if I mark bass suspended I will throw underspins rigged with a small plastic swimbait (match the hatch time). This is, for me, a more or less steady retrieve through the water column.  You can slow roll it over the bottom or pick any depth - make sure you try that depth where you marked them suspended...  Some people slowly drag jigs along the bottom in the winter and that can be effective but for me it's blade baits and underspins.

Cincy Fisher Blade Bait

Cincy Fisher Underspin

Tight Lines,
Bryan May