The Secret Baits of Winter Fishing:
And the Secret to Staying Warm
by Bruce Callis
Winter bass fishing is not for the faint of heart. Water temperatures plunge to dangerously low temperatures. Cold fronts can bring conditions that can change from cold to frigid. Rain, sleet, and snow can happen on any given day. And don’t forget the wind, it can make a decent day turn into a monster. The weather can be your worst enemy during the winter. But winter can be an awesome time to catch monster bass.
There are many things you need to remember about winter fishing.
The first secret is to use your head and plan ahead. No matter where you are headed, you need to let someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be off the water. If you are in a boat or on the bank, accidents can and will happen. The boat motor has issues, you drop your phone overboard, you lose your car keys, anything can happen. This gives everyone a starting point to look for you if you don’t check in.
The second secret is to dress appropriately. Dress in layers, and that means starting with a good base layer next to your skin. Today we have so many great products that will allow your skin to breathe and still keep you warm. Remember, it’s not about looking good, it’s about staying warm. Luckily, today we can do both. Don’t worry about it might get warm, dress for the coldest part of the day. You can remove layers during the day as you get warmer, but you can’t add more if it gets colder. The last layer needs to be one to help cut the wind. One thing we may forget is our rain gear. This makes a great top layer. It is waterproof, so we don’t have to scramble for it if it does start to rain, sleet, or snow. It also is a perfect layer to help cut the wind.
While it could be the number one thing on the list of secrets, the third thing to remember is the most dangerous of all. Hypothermia is the leading cause of deaths during the winter. Take it from someone who has fallen in during the winter, it happens quickly. When you fall in, the cold water takes your breath away. The cold will cause you to not think straight. As soon as you hit the water, the effects start. Your body temperature starts to drop. By wearing layers, it helps slow the drop, so remember, don’t remove clothing when you fall in. Air gets trapped in between the layers and it can buy you a little extra time. And time is precious in surviving. That is another reason why you need to wear your PFD while on the water. It can keep you afloat as you try to recover and get out of the water.
The fourth secret is the extremities. Your feet are so important, if they get cold it becomes so difficult to get them warmed up. It pays to have good socks. And you need good shoes. Those shoes made to dry quickly just don’t work to keep your feet warm. And heat escapes through your head. A good hat or stocking hat can be the difference in keeping in the heat or not. I love my hat and while in the summer I want it to breathe, in the winter I want a solid fabric hat. On those really cold days, the stocking hat is a must. I actually use both, sliding the stocking hat over the hat, giving me the brim to help cut glare and yet still covering my ears. And gloves for your hands is a must. Everyone has a preference here, I love to feel my rod with my hand. I use Fish Monkey half Wooly gloves, which leaves my fingertips exposed. But when the temperatures drop, this can be dangerous as your bare skin is exposed and frostbite is a real danger. You can move up to full fingered gloves, but then I lose that feel through my hands. I have learned to have some good hot hands and slide them into my glove. It helps keep the blood warm and circulating, plus, by closing your hand, it allows it to warm your fingertips. It has helped keep me fishing on the coldest days. Hot hands are one of those inventions that helps so much for anglers everywhere. And they have expanded it to other products and into a bigger size. You can slide one into key areas to help heat the blood and keep the body warmer. Just be careful not to put them in the wrong areas.
Finally, one secret that helps in the winter is putting something on your line and rod guides to help prevent icing. There are many tricks people have used and products. Some people swear by WD40 and Pam, while others use lip balm, Stanley’s Ice Off, or Reel Magic. The best product I have found is Reelsnot as it is a line conditioner as well. What ever you use, make sure to put it on the guides and the line guide on your reel.
The best secret about winter fishing is using your brain. We go out and prepare ourselves to be in a position to catch bass. We look at maps and study them. We look for key areas we believe they will be in. We bring baits that we have confidence in and know they will catch bass. Why would we not use our brain and prepare for the cold itself. Go out, have fun, but think smart, think safety, and think warmth.
We already know we can catch bass, but what baits do you use. I have my preferences, and I have confidence in them, I know they catch big bass. My favorite bait is a lipless crankbait. A lot of people only think of them as spring and summer baits, but they excel during the winter. I can cover a lot of water with one, and I can fish it at any depth. My favorite way is to make a long cast and count down my bait until it hits the bottom. Once it hits the bottom, I will give the rod tip an upward jerk to make the lure jump up off the bottom. I am trying to make it jump off the bottom about 4-6 inches and then I will slowly reel it back, making it stay right near the bottom. If I run into grass, I will rip it free. A lot of times, this is when the bass will attack it. I will also make a long cast and let it sink to the bottom before jerking it up about 6 inches and then letting it sink back down. I will repeat this action all the way back to the boat or shore. Winter is a time when you may need to make multiple casts to the same area, but the reward could be the bass of a lifetime.
My second choice is a suspending jerkbait. I use one that suspends in 3-5 feet of water and one that gets down to around 10 feet. The deeper the water, the deeper you want your bait. You need to make a long cast and then reel and jerk your bait down to the targeted depth. Once you have your lure in the targeted depth, start to work it slow. You need to make long pauses between jerks. I find that I tend to work it too fast unless I actually count the time. And vary the jerk on slack line, one jerk and pause, or it may be 2 jerks with a small pause between them with a longer pause then repeat. You are imitating a struggling baitfish.
The one lure that will work all year long is a jig. It is not one of those baits I am great at, but one I am trying to get better at. I have caught some really nice bass on it and the more I use it, the more confidence I have in it. And winter is a prime time for it to catch me a real monster bass.
If you watch enough of the pro anglers, a winter bait that will catch big bass is an Alabama rig. Since it imitates a small bait school, it is more likely to get a reaction. The problem is that it requires a special pole and a lot of dedication to chunk that big bait all day long. I can throw it for a little bit, but there is no way I can do it all day.
The last secret bait for winter fishing is a Carolina rig. It is slow, painfully slow at times, but can be deadly. You don’t want to hop your bait, but drag the weight across the bottom, and not drag it too fast or far. Remember, the water is cold and everything moves slower. If you feel extra weight when you go to drag it, or nothing at all, set the hook. Or should I say, reel up the slack and do a sweeping hook set.
Be prepared to stay warm. Use baits that you have confidence in. Make plenty of casts and cover water. Look for those areas that will offer bass the opportunity to slide up and feed when the sun warms the shallows, but offers them the safety of slipping back into deeper water quickly. Go have fun this winter! Go catch some real hawgs!!