Winter Fishing for Bass: how to fish in cold weather

Winter Fishing Overview

Winter fishing for bass need not be as hardcore as it sounds. While it’s true that bass will slow down as the water cools, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the party is over.

Bass function just fine in water 38 degrees to 90. Don’t be put off by cooling weather.

We’ll provide you with everything you need to know in order to make a successful winter bass fishing trip. That said, even if you get skunked, many times just having a patch of water to yourself can be totally worth it.

winter bass fishing

Is it worth it?

First, let’s set some expectations. You shouldn’t expect to crush it the same way you would in the warmer months.

However, you’ll have less competition for fish. To answer the question bluntly — yes, it’s worth it. Of course, winter fishing for bass is worth it only if you’re properly prepared.

Obviously, as the weather cools, fall into winter becomes more unpredictable. You’ll need cold weather layers and waterproof gloves at a minimum.

We’ll get more specific into gear recommendations later in this article.

Biology & Feeding Habits of Winter Bass

Bass are cold blooded animals — meaning their biochemistry is going to change drastically in the winter. As food supplies deteriorate, bass have adapted to live off their own bodies.

Dissolved oxygen will also diminish which means the nervous system of bass will also suffer. This will impact your baits and how you work them within the water column.

As an aside, a lack of food may improve their overall longevity and health as they are forced into a scarcity mode that slows their metabolism. Like all animals, bass have adapted to the cycle of their food supply.

This is also important when considering how to bait and catch wintering bass. You’ll never want to present something that wouldn’t be present within a cooling environment.

This means you should be paying attention to the local weather as well as local ecology. It’s no accident that the best fishermen tend to be the best ecologists and conservationists.

But, like any other animal bass will take an opportunity at a meal if properly presented in the right context.

Also, while it’s true that bass slow down in winter, they still need to strike fast in order to catch their food. This means while you may want to slow the presentation, a jerk bait will still work on a wintering bass.

Where to find bass

Just so it’s clear, we’re not talking about ICE FISHING for bass in winter! Once the water starts to drop below 50 degrees, bass will become more lethargic and begin to swim deeper and start to conserve energy.

In very general terms, this is where you’ll need to focus your effort.

Bass in winter tend to first find warmer water until there there is none to find. Then they will find pockets if possible then ultimately dive into deeper water.

Even a slight difference of 1 degree in the water can impact where bass will aggregate in the water column. This means that if you’re serious about catching bass in the winter, you’ll need a surface water temperature monitor.

A monitor is essential not only in winter bass fishing but for all seasons if you’re targeting cold water species.

Winter: 48 degrees and below

In reservoirs and natural lakes, most of the bass population will be on the main body of water, as opposed to tributary arms. They will be relating strongly to vertical and fast sloping structure: rock bluffs, river channel dropoffs, standing timber, 45-degree rock or earthen banks, or standing timber. These are all places where they can make a major depth change by moving up or down.

In cold water, bass are lethargic, and won’t swim long distances to change depths. In clear lakes, bass often suspend in the water column rather than hold tight to cover.

Water clarity is a major determinant of bass depth in winter. In clear lakes, bass can go extremely deep — 50 to 60 feet is not uncommon. In murky lakes, they’ll be much shallower.

Kevin VanDam from https://www.bassmaster.com/vandams-6-season-bass-guide

Strategies: how to catch bass in winter

While searching out likely bass holding areas, I’ll fish parallel to the structure; this keeps my lure deeper in the water column longer.

Since bass are sluggish, use a slow presentation. In any season, use search lures to find active bass. In winter, I prefer ones that draw strikes without moving fast.

Suspending jerkbaits are a favorite winter artificial, if the water clarity is sufficient to use them (these lures don’t work as well in very stained water). The fact that you can fish these lures in the same place for long periods of time makes them extremely deadly on suspending bass. Leadhead grubs also work great now; they probe vertical and fast sloping structure efficiently. The same goes for jigs, metal blade baits and spoons. I may fish a crankbait in the upper end of the winter temperature spectrum.

Kevin VanDam from https://www.bassmaster.com/vandams-6-season-bass-guide
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Clothing for winter fishing

In a word: LAYERS.

If you’re fishing from a boat, hopefully it goes without saying, but you’ll need to start with a proper lifejacket. After 21 years in the Coast Guard, however, I know firsthand that this isn’t obvious to everyone!

Okay, off my safety soapbox….

Winter Bass Fishing Safety and Preparation - Winter Bass Fishing Strategies
Source: Fix.com Blog

Avoid cotton layers because this will make you hypothermic as you get wet. So long as you can stay dry and insulated, you’ll enjoy the hunt for big bass in winter.

Here are some great winter bass fishing options:

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Bass Fishing Gear

Here’s where it can get gnarly.

Honestly, many of the same bass rod/reel combos, baits and lures that you’d use for bass will apply in winter season as well.

You’ll likely have to get better at targeting and may have to go deep as the water chills. I wouldn’t overthink it, and go ahead and stick some techniques that you may already be used to.

Lure Selection

Like I said, don’t overthink it. Just get out there and see what works. Here are some suggestions:

Jigging Spoon. This should work well for vertically fishing in the water column.

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Blade Bait. This is a metal lure that vibrates and creates a flash which may attract bass while fishing both vertically and horizontally.

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Drop Shot Rig. Downsizing to a 3″ soft plastic works well in winter. Can be used beneath the boat or for fishing horizontally.

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Hair Jigs. These imitate crawfish and small baitfish. The hairs pulsate and attract bass well in winter.

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Football Hair Jig. These imitate a crawfish along the bottom.

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Don’t be intimidated by winter bass fishing. And, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that it’s not worth the effort! Make sure you’re well prepared both physically and mentally, and you’re very likely to capitalize on smaller crowds.

What is your experience fishing for bass in winter?

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