Sleep in and catch more fish? When temps dip, smart anglers dress for success and take advantage of major activity periods.
At 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.
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS, BASS LISTEN
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!
SLOW IS GOOD, SLOWER IS BETTER
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.
Jerkbaits 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.
FOUR LURES YOU CAN’T FORGET
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.
SLEEP IN AND SCORE BIG?
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!
Dress correctly in multiple layers and you’ll not only fish longer and harder, but also with much more focus.
A PROVEN LAYERING SYSTEM
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.