Ben Hudson – “Blue Collar Bassin’” Print This Post
“No cure for the summertime blues”
Fishing in the frigid months of winter
A new year has arrived, and with it brings another cold winter season. Many anglers fear the frigid temperatures of the winter months and even make excuses saying “the fish won’t bite in this cold”. While this may be true at times, the fact of the matter is that bass, like humans, still need to eat…even when the water temperatures drop into the 40s or below.
Fishing in the cold weather months…“straight up stinks!” is how Missouri fishing pro Dion Hibdon describes it, even though for many anglers like Dion (and myself) it is our favorite time of year to fish. Fishing a tournament especially in the extreme cold is in no way a comfortable experience. However, cold winter tournaments are the days that many veteran anglers look forward to. They know that you can count half the field out, because of the tough conditions and many fun fishermen stay at home and that keeps the fishing pressure down on the lake.
So what does it take to excel in these extreme conditions? Besides an obvious strong tolerance for the cold and determination to keep Mother Nature at bay, the first step would be investing in the proper cold weather gear. A good pair of insulated bibs and matching jacket is a basic need in the cold. Bibs with a belt attachment of some kind are my personal choice because it helps take the strain off your shoulders when standing in heavy clothing all day. Along with a winter bib and jacket, insulated socks are another necessity, and as another personal preference I choose to wear leather shoes instead of boots. Boots can sometimes allow the cold air in around your toes where shoes keep them packed down tight and insulated.
So now that you’re dressed properly and ready to go out and brave the elements, what are the strategies for catching fish in the ice cold water?
The name of the game in cold water is SLOW.
A bass’ metabolism slows in the cold water making them lethargic and less likely to chase moving baits, so fishing slow and steady is the way to go. While many believe that all bass go deep for the cold months, this is not fully true. Many bass do retreat to the deeper water in the cold weather, but there will always be some bass in shallow water (meaning 10 feet or less) looking to feed on easy meals in the shallows. To me, finding these bass that have chosen to remain shallow through the cold temperatures is how you catch the bigger bass.
Winter baits and techniques differ depending on type of water you’re fishing and area of the country you’re in, paying attention to the cold water conditions is crucial. Typically in the winter months the water is very clear, particularly in lakes. Snow runoff can make the lakes crystal clear and bring the water up if there was a fall drought. Clear water close to the main lake or areas with deeper water nearby is typically where you want to focus. Bass will still come shallow to feed in the cold water, but having a nearby deep water access is convenient for them and a good place to begin your search for these bass.
One of the best baits to start with in the ice cold water is a deep-diving suspending jerkbait. A deep-diving jerkbait can be fished super slow and mimics a dying baitfish struggling in the frigid water. The Smithwick Elite 8 Rogue or Rapala Shadow Rap Deep are good jerkbaits to start with, and typically when dealing with the clear water, natural and translucent colors are the best. Another tip would be to give your jerkbait longer pauses between jerks in the cold. Remember, bass are slow and lethargic in the chilly water and the long pauses give them a chance to come up and get the bait, even in deeper water. I usually start with 3 jerks and 10-15 second pauses between rhythms, but have had to go up to as long as 30 second pauses in water below 40 degrees.
Another good option is a skirted jig. Jigs are bulky baits that settle slow, perfect for the cold water. Targeting rocky areas that could hold heat for bass rooting for crawfish is a good tactic with a jig in the winter. Also, while the clear water may favor a green pumpkin style natural color jig, my personal favorite when the water goes below 45 degrees is black & blue. I am a huge believer in the darker blue colors for a jig as the water gets extremely cold, and crawfish gain that blue color. Same as with the jerkbait with blue and translucent colors, I prefer to use black & blue jigs in the icy water, even in clear water conditions.
Clear water isn’t always promised though in the winter months. A bass fishermen’s nightmare is having to fish in cold and muddy water, which in my opinion, is the absolute toughest conditions an angler can face.
My best advice if you encounter cold muddy water is to run away from it. Try to find any other area that may be clear. If you are way up a river attached to a lake, try to move toward the main lake where the water may be clearer or towards the back of coves and pockets where the clearer water may have gotten pushed toward.
Sometimes there is no way to avoid the dreaded cold, dirty water though. If this happens, my best advice is to tie on a chartreuse spinnerbait with a single big Colorado blade and fish it very slow through shallow areas. Bass depend on sight much more in the cold due to their lethargic moods, and lack of clear sight in dirty water makes fishing extremely tough. A big thumping Colorado blade on a bright colored spinnerbait is your best bet to pass by the face of a hungry bass and have it “hone in” on the pulsing Colorado blade. But as I said before, I would make this technique a last resort if no clear water was available.
Fishing in the winter months is definitely not for the faint of heart, but can be the most rewarding experience. Nothing shows your passion for the sport like baring the toughest conditions of winter and showing Mother Nature who is boss. Just remember to stay safe in the icy conditions and always wear your life vest and check for ice on the boat ramp before launching your boat, but next time you wonder if it is too cold to be on the water that morning, remember you could be missing out on the day of a lifetime on the frigid water!
“Blue Collar Bassin’”