When you walk outside and see frost has formed on your bass boat, it’s time to break out the the blades.


The Original “Silver Buddy” produced a new category of “blade baits” for bass anglers over 30 years ago. Since then, a number of blade baits have resided in fishermen’s wintertime tackle boxes. These small and simple blades produce a tight vibration and flash that perfectly resembles the desperate action of dying baitfish, and bass find this “meal” difficult to resist.

In cold water conditions, tighter wobbles often equal more strikes.  The conservative movements of most species in the water column make more aggressive-action baits seem out of place sometimes to predatory fish. This can be easy to remember when you’re fishing and can barely muster the dexterity to tie on another lure. It’s also a unique time of the year when you can see what I like to call the “dance of death” by small baitfish. The larger a fish is, the easier it is for it to retain heat and survive in cold water. Baitfish can be so small that they often die if the water becomes too cold. Just as anglers shiver in the cold, baitfish can shiver in the cold water as well. Blade baits are the best lures for imitating that twitch-and-shiver action.

Blade baits can be used to catch suspended fish and also fish hugging close to the bottom. It’s a technique that piggybacks with jigging spoons, another popular wintertime fishing bait. Contrary to a spoon though, you might be surprised at the amount of vibration a blade bait produces when pulled through the water. My preferred blade-fishing method is a hop-and-pause action. It works excellent on bluff walls or ledges, and can also be used on other offshore structure where bass are located. Experimentation with the hops and pauses is important. I like to start off with short, quick bursts, pausing a second or two in between. If that isn’t the cadence the fish want, I’ll explore a slower lift upward and longer pauses in between lifts. Bites will mostly occur when the bait is fallingl, but bass will also pick it up off the bottom. Don’t be afraid to experiment with extra long pauses on even colder days. Lifting the bait a few feet off the bottom is often better than big strokes upward of 5-6 feet in cold water.

The “stair-step” action is key to fishing blade baits along ledges and drop-offs.

If you find yourself on a lake that has bluff walls, these can particularly be good areas to fish blade baits in the winter. These wintertime bass structures will usually hold a variety of forage, and provide both deep and shallow water cover for fish to move up or down the water column and feed. There will usually be boulders or chunk rock scattered down the bluff that will hold bass. Try positioning your boat a long cast away from the bank and work the blade down the bluff wall. Use short lifts and allow the bait to fall straight down close to the rocks. Follow the bait downward with the rod tip to detect a bite during the fall. This “stair-step” method is great for covering a large depth range, and will allow you to eventually target a key depth where you find the bass are biting.

Blade baits come in various weights, but I almost always prefer a 1/2-ounce bait. I will sometimes go up to a 3/4-ounce in water deeper than 30 feet or when I’m dealing with very windy conditions. You’ll find the most popular colors on the shelf are a nickel-and-gold finish, but there are other painted colors to fit your specific fishery. I stick with gold in dim light conditions or more stained water, and switch to nickel in clearer water and brighter light conditions.

One of the author’s gold blade baits that he prefers to throw during overcast days.

As you might imagine, blade baits are very castable lures, but I prefer to throw them on spinning gear. Spinning gear allows you to drop the bait straight down in the water column faster by simply opening the bail of the reel. A spinning reel will give you a noticeable advantage when vertical jigging or ledge fishing. I use 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon in clear water, but I prefer to use 10-pound braided line with around 6 feet of 10-pound fluorocarbon leader for added sensitivity if the water conditions are less clear. A 7-foot medium-action rod will work well with most sizes of blade baits.

Blade baits are often viewed as a winter smallmouth bait in the northern half of the country, but they’re actually excellent baits for both largemouth and smallmouth bass all over the United States. Whether fish are suspended or holding on cover, this bait is excellent when the bass are targeting baitfish during the cold months. These little flashes of vibration are capable of turning a difficult day on the water into a success. I find the best way to stay warm on the water when it’s frigid is to catch more fish! Make sure to keep some blade baits in your boat for the cold days ahead.

Justin Rackley offers tips for making the most of your umbrella rig baits for bass fishing.

Justin Rackley gives an overview of the football jig, including tips for using football jigs to catch bass.

Justin Rackley offers tips for catching bass with chatterbaits.

Novice bass anglers tend to be magnetized by the potential of shoreline cover, but sometimes your best bet for finding fish is to patrol the depths.


Bank fishing has always been a staple for catching bass at all times of the year. In the spring, you’d better be fishing the bank! During the summer and fall months, however, there are a lot of fish that move away from the bank and group up together to feed. Finding a good school of bass offshore can be a rewarding feeling, and can pay off big for tournament anglers. But the ability to locate and target bass in deeper water out in the open takes knowledge of the lake bottom and experience with reading electronics. For someone who’s looking to try offshore structure fishing for the first time, here are a few things to speed up the learning curve.

Just like points on the bank, bass will follow the same principal of using points to feed in deeper water. The majority of offshore structure fishing is based around points.  Points with creek channels nearby, brush piles on points, rock piles on points, pond dams on points, road beds on points … you get the idea.

Getting to know your electronics is essential for finding bass offshore. If you’re inexperienced with reading a graph, it’s well worth it to hire a good guide who knows electronics to give you a jumpstart on knowing what the difference is between hard and soft bottom, and what bass and baitfish look like. Once you have a basic knowledge of those things, you’ll be able to build confidence in reading your own electronics. Electronics that include side and down imaging capability are a great tool for learning the bottom. A split-screen view of down imaging and standard sonar is the easiest way to learn the identity of the images you’re looking at.

Going over a group of active feeding bass usually looks something like this. Notice, some are a couple of feet off the bottom.

Once you actually find some fish, it’s important to stay on them. A must-have tool is a marker buoy, and a handful of them. When you’re away form the bank, it’s much more difficult to calibrate where you might have just made a successful cast. Having a marker buoy or two will allow you to reposition quickly after having your head down for a few minutes. When idling over a group of fish or structure that you want to fish, continue past the area 10-20 yards and then give the buoy a toss. This will allow you to cast directly where the fish are without getting tangled in the buoy, and this tactic will also prevent some fish from being scared off during the initial buoy drop.

Having the ability to mark a GPS waypoint on your electronics is another key to successful offshore fishing. A healthy collection of waypoints marked throughout the lake gives you a nice roadmap for a potential milk run. Don’t be afraid to mark the little things that you think might hold fish at some point in time. You can go back to that waypoint after a few years and it becomes the new honey-hole.

Using trees as landmark can help stay on a spot, but having a buoy out helps stay precise. 

As a general rule, try to keep the boat at a distance that reflects your longest cast. The less noise you make around fish, the better. Don’t forget to change angles if you’re not getting bites where you know there are bass. Sometimes, the bass like the lures to come from a certain direction. Making a circle around the spot can help identify the exact angle they prefer. At certain times, and often in water that’s 20-plus feet, it can be productive to position the boat directly on top of the fish and use a vertical presentation to keep the lure in the strike zone longer.

Remember that fishing away from the bank often means deeper water, so investing in some heavier weights to maintain a good feel of the bottom is a good idea. Texas rigs and football-headed jigs are excellent lures to fish when fish are close to the bottom and require a slow presentation. Lure weights from 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce are usually heavy enough to keep you feeling the bottom and getting good casting distance. The Carolina rig is arguably one of the most popular setups to target bass away from the bank. It’s very easy to work and very effective in the way that it naturally presents the bait on the bottom. It also allows you to feel what’s down there with a direct connection to the bottom. Deep-diving crankbaits and spoons are good hard baits to keep handy when fishing off the bank as well. When fish are actively chasing shad around, large hard baits will attract some very big bass! Also, having something to vertically present a bait such as a drop shot will help to get more bites when fishing is tough.

Having some longer rods will make offshore fishing easier. Being able to achieve more distance and pick up more line on those long-range hook sets is a big advantage. Try using rods that are at least 7 feet, 3 inches in length, and see what feels the most comfortable to you. Also, having a low-stretch line such as fluorocarbon or braid will help you get more lure sensitivity at greater depths.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re offshore fishing is that, unlike bank fishing, you’re not looking to get a few bites down a stretch, but rather pinpointing a group of bass to potentially load the boat. Don’t be afraid to run around the lake and not pick up a rod until you see something on your electronics that gets you excited. There’s nothing better than seeing a big group of bass on a screen that you just know haven’t seen a lure yet.

Summer doesn’t need to be a punch in the gut for bass fishermen. Adapt your angling techniques and you’ll continue to slap bucketmouths into submission.


The difficulty of summer bass angling often derives from the water chemistry in the hotter months. Oxygen will diffuse quicker in warmer water, and it can also rise to the surface creating a separation between cold water known as a thermocline. The thermocline often becomes a congregating depth for plankton, baitfish and ultimately their predators. This zone is the coolest part of the water column that still has good oxygen levels during summer. The water below that zone becomes less oxygenated due to decaying organisms, which sink to the bottom and use up a lot of the oxygen. Temperature and light penetration can also influence bass to suspend at certain depths. In any case, we’re often forced to fish for suspended bass in the summer months, and catching them if often more difficult than when they’re positioned close to the bottom.

The good news: Bass that are suspended still like to relate to cover when they can, and vertical cover is an easy way to find and catch suspended bass. There’s some sort of vertical cover in almost every lake. Trees, docks, bridges, grass lines and marina structures are all good places for bass to suspend. The biggest challenge is figuring out what the common depth is where these fish are suspending. For example, a marina that has an average depth of around 50 feet might hold fish that are suspending in depths of 10-15 feet.

Pitching to suspended bass on a standing timberline using a Flick Shake worm.

Figuring this out takes a little patience and concentration, or paying attention to your electronics to find what depth is showing the most activity. One of the best presentations for catching suspended bass and figuring out their key depth is to use a soft plastic bait or a jig. Pitching these baits as tight to the cover as you can and then letting them sink straight down is a good way to run directly into a suspended bass.

A Flick Shake or weighted wacky-rigged worm are great choices for triggering bites from suspended bass in vertical cover. The action of the worm while sinking is hard for even a sluggish bass to resist. A 3/16- or 1/8-ounce jighead or weight will help achieve a slower sink rate. This gives the fish enough time to grab the bait as it passes by, but it’s not so slow that the fish has time to analyze the artificial meal.

Keep in mind the pendulum effect that happens when letting a bait sink after you cast. When casting out ahead, your lure will start to sink toward you if no line is let out and the line is tight. When using a spinning reel, this problem is easily solved by simply opening up the bail and allowing the line to spiral out until the desired depth is reached.  With a baitcasting set up, you will need to physically pull the line off the reel to put slack in the line. If you’re fishing multiple pieces of vertical cover, it can also be efficient to use the trolling motor to push yourself toward the lure, putting enough slack in the line necessary to make the bait sink straight down and stay in the strike zone while it’s sinking. It’s very important to pay attention to line twitches and jerks or irregular activity.  The bass will often hit a free-sinking bait while the reel is disengaged, so noticing a bite quickly to engage the reel and set the hook is key.

Presenting other hard baits, such as crankbaits and swimbaits with a horizontal presentation, will also work well once the key depth has been identified. This is also where practicing and knowing the sink rate and diving depth of your lures comes in handy. Casting out along tree lines and other groups of vertical cover and keeping your lures at that key depth will maximize your time in the strike zone.

The slow and natural sink of a Flick Shake worm is difficult for suspended bass to resist.

In clear-water fisheries, one of the funnest ways to catch suspended bass around vertical cover is using a topwater bait. Wake baits and walking baits around trees and marina docks are good lures to entice bass to come up all the way to the surface. A topwater bait technically suspends, so it can stay in the strike zone and give enough time for bass to shoot up from below and grab the lure.

A good thing about summertime bass is that when they suspend on these structures, there can be many of them grouped together in a school. It might take some boat gas and time checking out different areas, but when you find the right spot, it can be loaded! It’s not uncommon to catch over a dozen bass off one piece of cover during the summer school time.

If the bottom bite isn’t working out for you during summer, switch to suspended tactics to catch more fish.

Cast after cast, your reliable old standby lures aren’t getting bass to bite. It’s time to get creative with your presentations.


Fishing can sometimes be a challenge when the dog days of summer roll around. Not only are you trying to stay cool, you’re trying to put together a pattern on the lake. Water conditions that are causing bass to become less aggressive result in lots of casting and winding back in with little results. This is also the time of the year when fish have endured months of heavy fishing pressure, and they’ve seen all the new baits that hit the tackle store pegs in the early spring. This is where creativity comes into play. Experimenting with tackle with an open mind can mean more bites on those tough summer and early fall days.

Color is one of the easiest things to modify about your tackle. Odd colors, which we don’t often think are natural looking, will often trigger bass to bite because they stand out so much. If you’re into airbrushing your own hard baits, this is easy to do. However, there are plenty of different colors that often go into the discount bin at tackle stores that are perfect for this occasion. For example, when hitting an area where you know fish have seen many shad-colored crankbaits, try something with a chartreuse combination.

The same thing can be applied to soft plastics as well. I’m often reminded of the many bags of chartreuse pepper worms I keep handy for late-summer offshore fishing. A bright pink, orange, or chartreuse worm works well on some lakes that have a lot of offshore fishing pressure. There are a number of dips and dyes available to modify the head or tail of your plastics to stand out.  Dipping the tail end of a plastic in chartreuse is a well proven method of getting more bites at times when bass won’t bite the standard plastic color.

Adding feathered trebles and trying odd colors can sometimes keep the bass biting in high-pressured areas.

There are many baits that can be modified to change the action to be a bit different. Again, it’s often the baitfish that stands out the most that gets eaten. Crankbaits are a good example. Shaving or melting the plastic lips on crankbaits can make a bait more erratic, dive deeper, have a tighter wobble, etc. Bladed baits, such as chatterbaits and spinnerbaits, can also be modified by changing the size or the shape of the blades to push more or less water. You can also try swapping out different kinds of plastic trailers to change the action and fall on your spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, frogs, jigs and others. If you have a garage full of tools, it’s the perfect place to craft a new action on your lures before heading to the lake.

There are a handful of accessory modifications to give your lure a more aggressive presence in the water. Insert and banded rattles can easily be added to soft plastics and jigs to make them stand out more. Crankbaits and other lures that traditionally have rattles also come in different versions. Some use larger or harder rattles, others have no rattles at all. Blades and feathers will also create a different look. Add a feathered treble hook to your favorite crankbait when it’s not getting bites. You can also add a spinning willow blade to your favorite swimbaits by using a screw lock and a swivel, giving extra flash and vibration. Bass are highly visual predators, but don’t forget about scent as well. There are a variety of liquid and gel scent products on the market to put a good stench on your lure to entice bites.

If it’s applicable in your state, there are lots of double-rig ideas that you can apply to give a bigger presence in the water. A double fluke rig is a regularly used pair, but you can apply this to other baits as well. Fishing a shakey head on the bottom? Try adding a drop-shot rigged worm right above it. One of my favorite options for fish that are shy to hitting a topwater is to replace the back treble with a short leader and weightless rigged worm or fly. This way, the fish doesn’t have to commit to coming all the way to the surface to grab your topwater bait.

Replacing the back treble with a fly will give a subtle target for timid topwater bass.

You might be surprised at what bass will actually go after. Remember, bass are opportunistic feeders, and they often eat the the baitfish that stand out from the rest. It’s these tough times on the water that have sparked some of the best lures we all have in our tackle boxes today. So, when the fish aren’t biting very well, take a break to examine your tackle. You might just create the next big bait that fishermen can’t live without.

With Old Man Winter on his way, the bass are gathering their friends and strapping on the feedbag.


Experiencing the feeding frenzy of schooling bass is a heart-pounding treat. The water is churning, shad are jumping for their lives every which way, and hearing the unmistakable sound of bass using their namesake large mouths to engulf those wildly fleeing baitfish just never gets old.

And that’s what makes the fall one of the most-exciting times to be on the water. Autumn brings on an instinctual feeding mode that triggers bass to work in schools, rather that hunting solo. Before the winter hits, many bass will be doing their best to pack on the calories. But it doesn’t mean the fishing is easy. Schooling bass can be voracious but at the same time highly focused and selective—not to mention well surrounded by frantic food. It’s not always a guarantee that you will hook up when you toss a lure in the midst of such a frenzy—but there are some tactics that will definitely increase your chances.

This is such a common term in fishing, but it really comes into play during the fall when bass zero-in on a particular shad size. Shad will sometimes have a fall spawn if lake conditions are favorable, yielding groups of small shad that may be only an inch long. Paying attention to what size shad you see being eaten will equal more hook-ups. You would think that with the fish being so aggressive, most any size would do, but often that’s not the case. Be sure to include some smaller lures in your tacklebox when fall arrives. Big bass will hit small lures during this period.

How can bass be shallow in deep water? Shad are often pushed to the surface in the fall by hungry bass, or by their own stomachs, to feed on plankton in the low-light hours. Stay alert and periodically scan the water around you. At this time of year you might notice the splashing of feeding bass hundreds of feet away from the bank. Some of these bass have been holding on standing timber in deep water, but sometimes these fish will simply get into a “chasing mode” very similar to striped bass. And much like whitetail bucks that get a little lost in the smells of chasing does in the rut, bass will often chase shad far away from their typical hiding places.

When building your fall lure collection, keep in mind that bass are looking up toward the surface during their schooling behavior.


Topwater Walkers
Walking baits work very well for schooling bass because they have a “wounded bait” action, but most also have a loud, attractive sound to bring bass up out of many feet of water.

Assorted Cranks
Lipless crankbaits are an outstanding bait because they can be cast a long way, and make a loud sound that stands out from all the shad that are grouped together. When fishing around wood or other cover, try using a square-billed crankbait that deflects off of such hard cover easier.

Small Jerkbaits
When bass become lure shy or just more difficult to catch, I like to throw a small jerkbait and work it quickly and erratically.

Scrounger And Lead Head Jigs
Threading your favorite small swimbaits and straight-tail plastics (such as flukes and boot tails) on a scrounger head is a very natural-looking presentation. In lakes that have very clear water, going with just the leadhead jig and plastic will sometimes trigger more strikes.

Spoon Feed ’Em
Arguably one of the greatest fish catchers of all time, spoons put out a lot of flash that can trigger savage strikes from schooling bass. Casting spoons such as the Kastmaster feature an enticing, erratic action on the retrieve, and as a bonus they can be thrown very long distances. For bass that are suspended around structure, a large 4- to 5-inch flutter spoon can really get bass fired up.

Schooling bass action can be fast and furious, but chasing fish that move out into open water, much like pelagic tuna, can often be a waste of time. It’s much better to target more-defined structure such as lake points and creek channels, which will consistently hold bass in the fall. Both are prime areas to encounter fall schoolers. 

Crankbass-600The author hammered this big bucketmouth with a crankbait—one of his favorite lures for fooling schooling bass. 

Long casts are very important when trying to reach a school that suddenly pops up. Using lighter lines and lighter-action rods of 7 feet or more will help increase casting distance, and your hookups. Timing is also important; you want to be ready to cast quickly when you see a school surface. I like to keep a “go-to” schooling lure hanging a few feet off the end of a rod tip ready to go when needed. Whenever possible, you want to cast beyond the school of bass and swim your lure into them. Often, “plopping” a lure in the middle of the school gets missed, because the fish are on the move. 

To make the most of a lull in surface activity, I like to have a setup rigged to slowly fish the bottom. A Carolina rig or a football jig are great ways to probe the bottom while you scan the horizon. Try to take note of areas where you see consistent surface activity; there could be a piece of structure below the surface-holding bass that can lead to some bigger fish.

If you stick to areas of structure and don’t wander off after schools that can lead you into the wide open, you will find schooling bass a strong, consistent fall bite. And better yet? Once you experience the heart-pounding, water-churning excitement of a fresh-breaking fall school, you may never be the same.

The lake is quiet and you’re in your bass boat, loaded for bear as anglers usually are. You start to see signs of some random schooling activity but no luck on your well-placed cast. It’s fall now, but it’s still hot outside and both you and the fish are waiting on that first big cool down. This is the scenario that can make for some tough days in bass fishing. It can be a grind to catch a limit, but breaking out everything and the kitchen sink to throw at these early fall fish is sometimes the best way to go. Think of it as your final exam for the year. You’ve been tested over the coarse of spring and summer, and now it’s time to put all those tricks and lessons to the test.

I don’t have an exact number of rods I prefer, but it usually ends up being around a dozen different baits. Around half a dozen soft baits and half a dozen hard baits all told. The moving baits are your seeking and searching lures. I like to have a few cranks with different diving depths, a few blade baits, a lipless crankbait, a topwater bait of some sort, and a scrounger-head fluke (for the occasional schooler). For soft plastics, I like to have a drop-shot worm, a weightless trick worm, a Texas-rigged creature bait, a finesse jig and a Carolina rig.

Having a variety of baits that behave differently is essential. A crankbait behaves differently from a spinnerbait, just as a weightless worm behaves differently than a jig. The different actions will allow you to cover all the major behaviors of bait prey species. Rolling out your arsenal on key targets can help you figure out if there’s one particular bait that is working better than others. However, on most tough days when you resort to junk fishing, it becomes a technique where no bait accounts for the majority of the fish you catch.

Having a variety of baits that behave differently is essential. A crankbait behaves differently from a spinnerbait, just as a weightless worm behaves differently than a jig. The different actions will allow you to cover all the major behaviors of bait prey species.

Scanning for key targets while you’re junk fishing can pay off big time. It’s always a good idea to have some good polarized lenses when junk fishing to locate the targets that might be just under the surface, such as stumps, laydowns, brushpiles, etc. When you locate key targets that just scream, “keeper bass here!” that’s when it’s time time run through the arsenal, mixing up multiple casts with moving baits and then switching to your soft baits that are better for probing the cover if necessary.

rods-out-600Once you locate a promising hole, hit it with everything you’ve got before giving up and moving on.

This isn’t a tactic that involves a few rods, but rather many rods. Being able to quickly switch between different techniques will make you much more efficient in putting multiple casts with different baits on a target. In fact, this is the key to junk fishing: making multiple casts to targets with different baits to try and get a reaction strike. The faster you can switch up, the faster you can get to your next target. You might lose some real estate next to the trolling motor, so watch that back-step when you set the hook!

Being able to quickly switch between different techniques will make you much more efficient in putting multiple casts with different baits on a target. In fact, this is the key to junk fishing: making multiple casts to targets with different baits to try and get a reaction strike.

Junk fishing can often feel like you are just spinning your wheels, but once you begin to put a few fish in the boat on a few different baits, it becomes very mechanical. You find yourself getting into a habit of reaching down for another rod every minute or two. When you are in the zone during junk fishing, you will have full confidence to land a fish on one lure and then immediately pick up a different lure because you know the only pattern is covering water with different baits.

Junk-600You didn’t buy all these lures from the bargain bin for nothing. Put them all to use when you’re junk fishing.

When it’s time for junk fishing, it really pays to have a buddy to fish with you. You can be twice as efficient and spilt the work load in half by each of you taking half of the baits in the arsenal. It’s fun to work together as a pair, and the guy up front in this case isn’t always the one getting the bites!

Something else you want to keep in mind is tuning of your reels. If you’re like most anglers, you don’t have a dozen of the exact same reel in the boat. Each reel can be a bit different in its tuning, so be mindful of switching from reels that might be set differently. It can be a formal invitation to a day of picking out backlashes if you’re not careful. So, make every cast count and put all those lures you’ve been collecting to good use next time it’s a junk fishing day.

Sleep in and catch more fish? When temps dip, smart anglers dress for success and take advantage of major activity periods.

ColdSmall600At this time of the year many bass fishermen are getting their boats ready for winter storage—if they haven’t already done so—and are stowing rods and tackle in favor of other outdoor pursuits. Many have now shifted their focus to hunting, donning camouflage and blaze orange, yet it’s important to know bass angling, in many locales, is far from over.

It’s true that bass fishing in the colder months isn’t exactly the fast and furious action seen in the late spring and early fall, but it still means the chance to catch some of the truly biggest bass all year. Now is the time when most fish are at their broad-backed, big-bellied best. And if you’re like me, that’s a serious reason to be on the water.

The metabolism of a bass is much like a reptile’s; bass are cold-blooded. Unlike mammals, most fish are at the mercy of the ambient water temperature to become truly active. If you live out in the country, you’ve probably experienced the habits of snakes and lizards in the colder months around your house. It’s usually not until the afternoon hours when the atmosphere has warmed enough to trigger these creatures to travel and hunt with confidence. The same concept applies to bass and other fishes. However, this doesn’t mean that bass (or even their scaly terrestrial comrades) won’t capitalize on an opportune meal if one wanders a bit too closely.

We all know that bass are opportunistic feeders. But unlike during the warmer months, a cold-water bass that has just gulped down a crippled shad or slow-moving crawfish won’t soon be on the lookout for its next meal. In fact, that one meal could be the only one that bass eats all day. And if the water is really cold, that fish might postpone eating again for several days. Talk about making every strike count!

To catch more fish in the cold months, it can help to imagine how you would act, swimming around in bone-chilling water. Have you have ever been so cold that you can’t even tie a knot?  Keep that low-dexterity experience in mind when attempting to trigger that next bite. Slowing down is the key to triggering more strikes in the cold months. You need to give the fish every opportunity to swim over and eat your lure, before it’s pulled out of reach. And speaking of speed control, your lure will also look somewhat unnatural if it’s swimming much faster than local baitfish, or anything else in the water column. Slow it down.

JerksCold600Jerkbaits might be the ultimate cold-water lure for suspended fish; the way these lures hang in the water column often proves irresistible to otherwise lethargic fish.

Some of the best lures for fishing ultra-slow include jerkbaits, crankbaits, jigs and spoons. Suspending jerkbaits are my all-around-favorite baits for catching big bass in the cold months. Because they can “sit still” in the water column for so long, these lures are uniquely able to entice reluctant bass into biting in the coldest conditions.

Clacking and crawling jigs around rocky areas can be very effective, especially in the afternoons on sunny days, taking advantage of active fish near this warmer, shallow-water structure.

Finesse jigs and hair jigs are also good slow-moving lures, especially when used as crawfish imitators. Clacking and crawling jigs around rocky areas can be very effective, especially in the afternoons on sunny days, taking advantage of active fish near this warmer, shallow-water structure. Lastly, the spoon is a very effective lure when fished vertically over suspended bass. Vertical jigging, as opposed to more-conventional casting and retrieving, helps increase your odds by keeping your lure in the relatively small “activity zone” of lethargic, cold-water bass.

Afternoons are almost always the best time to fish during the cold months.  Even the slightest warm-up in surface temps can excite baitfish and other prey species to move around and feed, and the increased light penetration into deep-water areas also offers bass better vision to hunt. Go ahead and experiment with lures and techniques earlier and later in the day, but during the afternoon I like to buckle down, focus, and fish my hardest. On most cold days the afternoon will hold your only real shot at a flurry of activity, and you must be focused to capitalize on that small window of opportunity.

It’s been proven that in cold conditions, people generally have less focus, so gearing up to stay warm is just as important as making sure your hooks are sharp and your line is in good condition. “Layering up” is crucial to retaining your body heat. The warmer you can keep your core, the more warm blood will circulate to your extremities—especially your hands and feet. Cold hands can be especially crippling, preventing accurate casting, even efficient reeling and the ability to hang on to your rod!

LayerCold600Dress correctly in multiple layers and you’ll not only fish longer and harder, but also with much more focus.

When it’s February and I have a tournament in 30-degree weather, I use a proven four-layer system to keep the cold from affecting my performance. I start with thermal underwear or similar moisture-wicking layer, then add a sweatshirt, followed by a heavy-duty hunting jacket-and-bib combo, and topped by a 100-percent wind/waterproof outer layer. My head is kept warm with a wool beanie or mask, and I’ll also wear heavy wool socks. I finish off my system with waterproof, thermal footwear, and some wool gloves with fingertip cut-outs. All this may seem a little overkill, but you can always shed a layer, and in my experience, it is always colder when you are on the water where there is no way to block the wind. Dress right and you’ll keep the focus on your lure, instead of your freezing fingers and toes. If you can, the payoff will come in landing your next light-striking, big-bellied, cold-water bass.