With the water temperatures getting colder and the bass getting lethargic it might seem like going finesse in the winter is obvious. It is to some, not so much to others. I’m in the first group.
Here’s my game plan:
First off, let’s wrap our heads around where the bass are going to be found in the winter. If you’re fishing a river with current in it, they’ll be in the deepest places where there is no current. If you’re fishing a reservoir, they’ll be on or close to the main lake or creek channel. In a natural lake they’ll often go to the deepest and steepest banks in the lake.
Once you know where to look for the bass it’s time to start thinking about how to catch them. I’m going to give you my four choices of lures — two reaction baits and two slower baits. They aren’t the only ones that’ll work, but they are the ones that have produced consistently for me over the years.
The Silver Buddy comes first in the reaction bait category. It’s a simple blade bait that was designed by Buddy Banks and Billy Westmoreland for winter fishing on Dale Hollow Lake.
The most effective way to fish it is to make long casts and snap the bait up a foot or so off the bottom before you let it fall back down on a semi-slack line. Most of your bites will come on the fall. The vibration of the blade bait makes them react, and the falling bait looks like a dying shad.
I fish Silver Buddy’s on a Cashion Drop Shot Rod, a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel, 12-pound-test Sunline X-Plasma Asegai braid and an 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader that’s between 15 and 20 feet long.
My second offering is usually a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce spoon fished vertically. I fish a spoon like a Silver Buddy. The basic difference is that with a spoon you can get it directly over the fish you believe are down there. I say believe because sometimes they’re sitting with their bellies right on the bottom. Sometimes you can’t see them even with Lowrance electronics.
I fish my spoons on a Cashion 7 foot, medium heavy casting rod, a Daiwa Tatula 100 reel with a 7.3:1 gear ratio and 12-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon.
My slower bait selections start with a Missile Jigs Ike’s Micro Jig. I let it drop down to the bottom and then drag it along real slow. Think about the fact that nothing in cold water moves very fast. Your jig shouldn’t either. This jig is special because the skirt slowly flairs and moves like no other bait when it’s worked slowly.
I like to fish my Micro Jig on a Cashion Micro Jig Rod with a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel spooled with 12-pound-test Sunline Xplasma Asegai braid and a 15 to 20 foot, 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader.
I also fish a Damiki rig in the winter. It starts with a Damiki 3-inch Armor Shad jerkbait rigged on a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce jig head. It’s best fished vertically. All I do is drop it down and hold it real steady a few feet off the bottom. Most winter bass are feeding up. If they’re in the area, they’ll come to it. It can be a really cool way to catch them because you often see the bass come up to the bait on your electronics before they even bite it.
I fish the Damiki rig on a 7 foot, 6 inch Cashion Spin Bait Rod. My reel is a Daiwa Ballistic LT 3000 reel spooled with 12-pound-test Sunline X-Plasma Asegai braid and a 15 or 20 foot 8-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader.
Go armed with these four baits this winter and you’ll be in good shape. I know it’s cold, but if you catch a couple of good ones you’ll warm right up.
By Mason Prince
Old Man Winter may be knocking on your door by now, if he hasn’t already made his presence felt. As the calendar flipped to December, we’d already begun to see a few snow flurries (and even some full-on snowstorms) across the country.
December snow and cold may prompt most anglers to stay indoors, but a couple of MLF pros say that you may be surprised at how productive the dead of winter can be for bass.
Snowy Day Aggression
Like the old song says, Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to David Walker. The MLF pro lives in Sevierville, Tennessee, in the heart of the Smokey Mountains, where he says he’s already seen the first snow falls of winter. When the forecast calls for snow, that’s when Walker begins to get his tackle ready for a cold but active day of fishing.
“I don’t know why but on snowy days, it’s on,” Walker said. “I don’t really know what to attribute that to, but the fish get pretty darn active. You think that the weather would have a negative effect on the fish, but it’s really the exact opposite. Typically, winter isn’t a great time of the year, but if it starts snowing, you can guarantee that I’m going to get out there.”
Kansas pro Brent Chapman agrees with Walker’s winter assessment. Chapman’s first experience with snowy fishing was about 15 years ago on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. For six days, Chapman struggled to figure the Ozark bass out in the midst of constant snow. While he struggled, other anglers prospered using the opposite approach of what Chapman’s instincts told him about catching fish in cold water.
“As a young and naïve angler, I was fishing slow like you would think you’re supposed to under those conditions,” Chapman recalled. “I found out after getting beat pretty bad all week that guys were hammering them on a buzzbait. So now I like to do that when it starts snowing up here in Kansas and Missouri, to work a little quicker since the fish for some reason become more active in the snow.”
What to Target
When the snow starts falling, Chapman likes to look for a 45-degree rock bank for structure. Walker likes to work the bank as well, but with a specific bait in mind.
“The main thing I want to do is cover a bunch of water,” Walker said. “I usually try to start with a crankbait and work down the bank. I get my boat as close to the bank as I can so my bait will keep hitting the bottom. I want my crankbait to be hitting and deflecting off of rocks and other cover as much as possible.”
Laydowns and brush piles are pieces of cover that Chapman likes to focus on when there’s snow on the ground. While Chapman goes with a buzzbait due to his lessons learned in the past, Walker picks up a jig when fishing heavier cover.
“Whenever I don’t think I can get my crankbait through specific cover, I reach for a jig,” Walker explained. “I look for laydowns, docks, or brush when using that jig. I’ll usually pitch a jig out there in stuff like that – you can honestly use a jig the entire time if you feel like it.”
By Shaye Baker
In a world full of clickbait, there are a few trigger words that can be hard to stomach — “secret” being one of them. That being said, when we do stumble onto something a little obscure from the fringes of fishing, a secret is a good way to describe it. When that secret is about cranking and comes from the crankbait master Kevin VanDam, then “best kept” is a necessary precursor.
(1 of 4)HE RARELY TALKS ABOUT IT
“I’ve weighted crankbaits for a long time,” VanDam said. “Before we had XD series crankbaits, I weighted Series 5s and Series 6s for years just to gain extra depth in the summer. It’s something I learned a long time ago that helps the effectiveness of certain crankbaits in certain situations.”
KVD has taught the majority of us the majority of what we know about cranking. But the process of weighting crankbaits is one thing he’s rarely spoken about. And according to VanDam, the winter months are a critical time to take advantage of this tip.
VanDam is a big believer in flat-sided crankbaits and their effectiveness in the winter months when the fish are neutral, so he designed the KVD 1.5 Flat and the Lucky Shad to be used in colder water conditions.
“There are lots of times where you don’t have to do anything to them. Like in November it’s still not too cold to catch them even up where I live, but it’s getting that way. Come January, especially in the middle part of the country, you definitely have to get that bait down a little deeper and in the rocks.”
(2 of 4)DEPTH AND CASTABILITY
The Lucky Shad is a very light bait, so VanDam recommends throwing it on spinning equipment and 8-pound fluorocarbon to get some extra distance and added depth to it. But even with the best gear in the best hands, throwing baits like the Lucky Shad or Shad Rap has often been compared to trying to cast a potato chip. A heavier bait is obviously easier to cast. So a little added weight can go a long way in boosting the bait’s performance on multiple levels.
“I’ve learned that with any of those baits, it’s better if you weight them. It’s not because you need them to suspend necessarily. And I don’t want them to sink like a rock, but I don’t mind if they sink. I want to do everything I can to maximize the depth on them when it’s really cold.”
Weighting the bait not only helps with casting and increasing its depth potential, but it also allows you to reel the bait slower. Without the added weight, you have to depend on the physics of the bait’s lip to get it to the bottom and keep it there. The faster you reel, the harder the lip pulls against the water and the deeper it dives. But in the winter, you want to crawl a crankbait like this as slow as possible.
(3 of 4)HOW TO DO IT
So adding weight to a crankbait in the winter helps in three ways: depth, castability and rate of retrieve. But how do you actually do it?
“There are a few different ways you can weight them,” VanDam said. “The balance point on a crankbait is right by the throat or just forward of the front hook hanger. That’s where you want to add the weight. You can use Storm SuspenDots by just sticking them to the bait in that area. The SuspenDots are good when you don’t need to add a lot of weight. But if the bait needs a considerable amount of weight, then it just takes too many of them and they don’t stay on there very well.”
VanDam even mentioned a company he tried at one point that made what amounted to a tungsten silly putty, though this was a messy find and difficult method to use when really fine tuning the weight needed.
“I had a guy, way back in the day, teach me how to weight suspending jerkbaits like the old Rogues and the old number 18 Rapalas,” VanDam said. “We’d drill them and put led plugs in them and I still have some of those that I’ve done.”
Of all the methods VanDam has tried though, the SuspenDots work best when only needing a little extra weight. But what if you need a considerable amount of weight?
“I’ve learned a lot simpler and quicker way to do it with clip-on weights that I add to the front hook hanger of my crankbaits. The ones that I use are some that Shaw Grigsby used to market for tubes. I don’t even know if you can still find them but I have a bunch of them. If you can’t find them, you can open up the eye of a lead dropshot weight and do basically the same thing.”
(4 of 4)ELEVATION AND WATER TEMPERATURE MATTERS
But how do you know how much weight to use? That’s where hanging a weight like this really shines. You can field test and fine tune the bait in real time on the water. The buoyancy of a crankbait is basically determined by water temperature and the elevation above sea level of the fishery. So tuning a bait in the sink or swimming pool at home doesn’t translate when you hit the water.
“I built a 1.5 Flat on purpose to have a real slow rise to it,” VanDam said. “So the warmer the water, the faster the rise is. You can weight one for 50-degree water in your sink, but when you go to the lake and it’s a different elevation, it changes everything. So you kind of need to check them on sight, and that’s why it’s nice to be able to fine tune it there.”
VanDam starts by attaching a fairly heavy weight. He places the bait in the water and checks it. If the bait is sinking really quickly, he’ll take his side cutters and clip a little of the weight off, then repeat the process until the bait hits that sweet spot between suspending and a very slow fall.
As the water temps bottom out, try weighting your wintertime crankbaits to maximize their effectiveness. A little extra weight will kelp you throw them farther, get them deeper and keep them there longer. Although, there are several ways to add the weight, there’s only one place to do it – just forward of the front hook hanger. And one weight doesn’t fit all, so be sure to tune your bait on site. Once you have the weight dialed in, you’re going to be able crank up just as many as Kevin VanDam. Or maybe just a few less. But hopefully more than before.
When bass get sluggish in the wintertime your tackle selection shrinks considerably to cater to the mood of the fish.
The key to choosing winter lures is to think about slow-moving lures because a bass will usually be swimming slowly even when the fish are in a feeding mode. So I choose lures I can work slowly to tempt winter bass.
The weather also dictates the lures I throw during the winter. If the weather is calm and sunny I prefer throwing a spinnerbait, jig or a double-tail plastic grub around shallow rocks. As the day gets warmer I will favor slow-rolling a spinnerbait more than bottom bouncing a jig or plastic grub.
Suns Out Guns Out
On windy, sunny days, I opt for a faster-moving lure such as a suspending stickbait or a medium-diving crankbait. Bass tend to suspend rather than move to the bank during windy conditions because wave action continuously churns up colder water preventing the shallows from warming. Suspending jerkbaits and medium-diving crankbaits work best in this weather condition because the lures can be retrieved slowly through the water column where the bass are suspended.
When the weather turns overcast and the water’s surface is slick as glass, I bounce a jig or double-tail grub along ledges of bluffs to catch winter bass on the main lake. I also head into creeks and twitch a suspending jerkbait along ledge rock banks and secondary points.
Crank Them Up
Cloudy, windy days in the winter means really cold weather, but I know if I can brave the cold I can still catch bass on clear-water lakes. If the water temperature is still in the middle 40s to low 50s, I can depend on a crawfish- or shad-pattern crankbait to catch bass along main lake bluffs or areas where the bank changes from a bluff to a flat or point. If the water temperature is in the upper 30s or low 40s, bass stay in the same area but drop deeper, so I switch to a suspending jerkbait.
It might sound crazy, but winter bass fishing on my home waters of Lake of the Ozarks and surrounding clear-water reservoirs can be great on snowy or rainy days. When it’s snowing and a north wind’s blowing, bass will bite a Wiggle Wart crankbait if the water temperature holds around 45 degrees. In colder water, I rely on a suspending jerkbait to catch bass during snowy weather.
Top Winter Fishing Lures
Slowing down is a common and effective approach for targeting bass during the winter months. Here are four baits we recommend
by Jody White
In recent years, fishing a lipless bait, a spinnerbait or a vibrating jig in offshore grass in Florida has lit up the leaderboard in many tournaments. Tyler Woolcott, a second-year pro from Port Orange, Fla., has plenty of experience tracking the bass in offshore grass throughout the seasons, and you might be able to learn a thing or two from him.
FIND THE BEST GRASS
According to Woolcott, the most important aspect of offshore grass fishing is also the simplest: You want to be fishing the best grass. Because Florida grass growth fluctuates seasonally and depending on where it is sprayed or harvested, your best bet is often to find the freshest, least-pressured grass.
“You kind of just have to put the time in and find it,” says Woolcott of the hunt for good grass. “There will be little community holes where people have found it for a while, and then there will be spots that pop up that people haven’t found yet. If you saw that big bag that Terry Scroggins weighed in October in the Glenn Browne Memorial, that was off a little patch of grass that nobody had found yet on Harris. If you can find something that nobody has found yet, the fish can be so stacked on it.”
The best way for Woolcott to stay on the leading edge of the search for fresh spots is to have a good network.
“Me and my buddies will spend hours and hours idling around,” he says. “We put our heads together trying new areas to try to find something new that nobody has pressured yet.”
Though finding unpressured grass is often the biggest factor in offshore Florida success, it’s important to recognize how varied that grass can be. A great grass spot can be as unobtrusive as a small patch growing 6 inches or a foot off the bottom, or it can be a tall stand of hydrilla that is almost topped out. Woolcott figures the average grass he fishes is growing about halfway to the surface in water that is 6 to 8 feet deep.
Finding grass that is actually alive and in good condition is also key. Woolcott likes to fish it and pull up a few strands to be sure, but he says you can tell the liveliness to an extent with good electronics skills.
“Once you idle around on a lake for a couple days and see how it looks you can kind of get a good idea,” says Woolcott. “Growing grass is going to look a little different from dead grass. Dead grass is going to sink and flatten out; it’s going to look bland on your StructureScan. When it’s green and growing it looks a little different.”
This year on Lake Seminole, Woolcott found one key stretch of growing grass amid a lot of dying grass. He rode that to a cut and an $11,500 payday.
THE SEASONS ONLY MATTER A BIT
According to Woolcott, you can almost always find Florida bass in offshore grass, but he gives an edge to certain places when the spawn is near.
“Right now, the fish aren’t really doing much of anything besides eating, so they get on things that haven’t been pressured much,” says Woolcott. “Once the spawn comes, if you can find an area that is outside of a good spawning canal or a bay that hasn’t been getting much pressure, that would be a really good area.”
Woolcott has seen hydrilla close to spawning grounds play a number of times, most notably in wintertime tournaments.
“What I fished on Kissimmee last year [in a February Tour event] was like that,” says Woolcott, who booked a top-10 finish with a vibrating jig in that tournament. “I had found a really good area for them to spawn, and they were out staging in the hydrilla next to it.
“I fished with Justin Atkins as a co-angler on the Harris Chain in 2017. He had found some grass at the mouth of a canal in a different part of the lake than usual, and literally my first cast I lost a 5-pounder, and then he caught a 6-pounder. That was a weird area, but it’s set up for that time of year.”
Of course, even when the spawn is in session, you don’t want to just look at the places near spawning areas without looking at the truly offshore grass.
“Depending on the time of year and the weather, places like the Harris Chain can set up different ways, but even if they are spawning there are so many fish there that you can still catch them in the offshore grass and catch them on the bank,” says Woolcott. “The year Chris Johnston won [the 2018 Tour event], he caught them offshore. I was with Rob Jordan as a co-angler the second day, and he caught them just going along the bank and catching fish on the bed.”
HOW TO PUT THEM IN THE BOAT
For most of his grass winding, Woolcott relies on two baits: a vibrating jig and a 13 Fishing Magic Man lipless crankbait.
For both baits, he uses either a 3/4- or 1/2-ounce model, depending on the depth of the grass, and sticks with natural colors such as shad, shiner or green pumpkin patterns. For trailers on his vibrating jigs, Woolcott usually likes either a Gambler Little EZ or EZ Vibez.
Using a 13 Fishing Concept BOSS reel with a 6.6:1 gear ratio to help him keep the baits down, Woolcott always sticks with 15- to 20-pound-test Seaguar AbrazX. He fishes both baits on a 7-foot, 4-inch 13 Fishing Envy Black Chat-R-Crank rod.
“It’s moderate fast, so it has a good parabolic bend, but also a good tip,” details Woolcott. “When you’re throwing a vibrating jig or a lipless, you don’t want to set the hook right away. Usually, when they eat it they kind of load up on it, and you just pull back. I’ve perfected it in the last year or two, and that rod is absolutely perfect for it.”
Woolcott does make some modifications to his approach when he’s fishing very shallow grass. Primarily, he moves up to an 8:1 gear ratio reel and swaps over to heavy braided line. The change allows him to clear the bait out of the grass better and fish it faster and higher in the water column.
Perhaps the biggest key for fishing the grass is to actually fish it properly, and that means making a lot of contact with it.
“When I’m throwing a vibrating jig or a lipless, I don’t always do a steady retrieve,” says Woolcott. “I usually get it down in the grass and pop it out. In the offshore grass you want your bait on it. They usually aren’t sitting above it; they’re in it or on the edges using it as an ambush point. So, if you don’t have your bait in it then they probably won’t eat it.”
Fishing moving baits is always Woolcott’s go-to in practice, but sometimes things slow down on derby day. Then he’ll turn to slower stuff like a worm, especially if he’s camped on a particular patch.
It’s tempting to flip all day in Florida, and the amount of visible, excellent-looking cover can be hard to pass up. But, if you can stand to spend some time idling in search of the motherlode you just might find it. Though finding a willing group off the bank in Florida isn’t a dead parallel to catching fish from offshore schools on the Tennessee River, it can be pretty electric and worthwhile.