However, there are some anglers who brave the frigid elements to go fishing. And it’s not to practice casting or check equipment — it’s to catch fish. Anglers can choose their days on the water during the colder months, and their chances of boating some quality bass increase.
Winter locations for bass
Longtime bass angler Randy Payton of Oxford likes rocks and rip-rap for winter bass catching. He usually can be found on the Coosa or Tallapoosa chain of lakes.
“One key thing I look for on rip-rap is stick-ups,” Payton said. “If there are a couple of stick-ups in the rocks, you can bet a bass will be there.”
Lakes and rivers with hydro-electric dams generate electricity for people to warm their homes on cold winter days. This generation process creates a current flow in the river. Shad and bass will position on breaks or points to avoid the current. These are the areas to focus on under moving water conditions.
Bass will hold in schools during the colder periods of the winter. Generally, if you catch one fish, others will be nearby. In some lakes, the bass may suspend in open water and usually in the proximity of a large school of shad or other bait fish. Also, some shad will die in cold water conditions and the bass will close in for an easy meal.
Hot lures for cold-water bass
At other times of the year, bass can be caught on almost any type of lure. For cold water bass, there are a few lures that will produce fish on a regular basis. Crankbaits, jerkbaits, jigs and spoons are excellent choices for catching bass in ice box conditions. Deep diving crankbaits are not needed in cold water as a majority of the bait fish will be around 10 feet or less on most lakes.
“For cold water situations, I like a Shad Rap,” Payton said. “These lures have a very tight wobble just like shad have in cold water.”
Most cranks have a wider wobble or wiggle on a retrieve, and bass prefer the tighter wobble moving slow under cold water temps. Payton believes in using crankbaits for cold weather and will use them to go after largemouth under cold water conditions.
Another lure Payton likes to use for icy bass conditions is a small jig head rigged with a finesse worm. The smaller morsels can be bumped slowly across the bottom or along rocky points to entice a lethargic bass.
Cold water lure techniques
Payton said when fishing for bass under cold water situations, a slow retrieve is needed. On the crankbaits, he suggests to get the lure down and slow your retrieve to a crawl. Barely keep the lure moving just enough to feel the vibration. The bass are cold and will not chase after a lure like in the spring or summer months.
According to Payton some bass will be shallow even in cold water conditions. Anglers should target rip-rap strewn banks that have received plenty of warm sunshine. Try different lures and let the bass tell you what they prefer for that day. On certain days, crankbaits work fine and then the next day it may be a jig or jerkbait.
Payton does not use heavy line when fishing in the winter months. For his finesse jig, he sports a spinning reel with 10-pound test line. Using the bass style jigs, Payton opts for a casting outfit with a 7-foot rod and 14- to 20-pound test line.
Jigging spoons, like those made by Hopkins, are used for vertical fishing when the bass are a little deeper. This is usually when the water temp is approaching the 40-degree mark. The boat can be positioned above the bass and the lure lowered to the desired depth.
“Shad will ball up in pockets and coves,” Payton said. “The bass will usually be right below them and the spoon can be dropped to the depth needed by pealing off line from the reel.”
The spoon is pulled up slowly with the rod tip and allowed to fall as slow as possible in front of the bass. The fluttering action of the spoon will simulate the dying of a cold shad. Don’t expect the strike to be heavy, it will be a slight bump or the line will go slack.
Anglers should layer up
A big part of fishing during the colder months is the ability to stay warm while out on the water. Wearing the proper clothing and keeping warm will help you keep your focus to detect soft strikes from bass. There are several new types of materials available today to provide warmth and comfort in the outdoors.
Layers of clothing trap air close to the body and allow the angler to move a little more freely. Wool blends and polypropylene tops and bottoms worn next to skin will help wick away moisture and hold in the heat.
A short boat ride can feel like sub-zero wind chill. Rain suits or insulated outerwear made from Gore-Tex fabric are waterproof and will turn back the cold winds. These types of clothing are lightweight and offer good protection from cold and damp conditions.
It is smart to wear a hat or toboggan-style head cover. Baseball-style or regular fishing hats do not provide enough protection in preventing body heat from escaping. A jacket or parka with a hood will give some added protection.
An angler’s hands probably are affected by the cold more than any other part of the body. Special neoprene or Gore-Tex gloves designed for fishing will help keep your hands warm while allowing use of your fingers. Some anglers make their “fishing gloves” by trimming off the gloves’ fingers.
Chemical type, disposable hand warmers are a great item to keep in jacket pockets. Also, some of the larger-sized warmers can be placed in inside pockets of outerwear to help retain body heat. The hand warmers will maintain heat for several hours.
A fall into wintertime waters can cause hypothermia in only a few minutes. Even with proper clothing a tumble into the cold lake waters can be deadly. It is smart to always wear a life jacket or one of the self-inflating PFD’s when fishing under frigid conditions.
A little planning, some patience and the right lures will heat up the day for some ice-weather bassing on just about any lake around.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.