Although I am currently taking a break from digging out following a later winter Nor’easter the majority of this season has been above average in terms of temperature. That means that fishing has also been above average as well. No ice on the rivers and temperatures 40s & 50s make it easy to keep the boat ready to go. But filling your creel in winter requires more than a few nice days and an extra layer of clothing. Winter bass react a lot different than those you target in July or August, almost as if they are a different species. You need to change your tactics accordingly if you want land your limit.
Change in Behavior
Winter bass are no longer worried about spawning or protection nests. Their only concern now is surviving until spring. Food is scarce and although bass still need to eat they are less likely to expend great amounts of energy doing so. They are also going to stick close to home for the same reason. Because cover is scarce and smaller bass are not likely meals for other predators look for fish to be schooled, presenting a larger more intimidating target.
So, you know that winter bass will be sticking close to home but where is that winter home? Think warmer water. Smaller coves, eddys or other sheltered areas should be your first target. Next look for exposed rocks, riprap or other large structures- these structures will absorb sinter sun’s heat and transfer it to surrounding water. Finally, those areas with clearer water should be placed above those with muddy water, again it is a matter of sun & heat penetration
Lure or Bait Selection
I always prefer natural bait harvested from the same area I will be fishing. However, winter months can mean lean picking for bait so lures may be your best bet. The biggest decision you face is size. Some anglers think smaller is better when fishing colder water. Others believe bigger is better, more bang for the buck if you will. I find myself squarely aligned with the latter. Winter bass are looking for meals that provide the most energy for the chase so it only makes sense to offer a large meal first. Then, if this doesn’t produce, you can try downsizing later. You also want to select lure designs which provide a lot of action with very little effort (more on this later).
Regardless of what you lure size the key to catching winter bass is the speed of your retrieve. You need to go much slower than you ever would during summer, probably as slow as you think you can and then a bit slower still. You basically want just enough speed to activate the lure’s action. Again, winter bass are not interested in chasing a meal more than necessary so you need to make it as easy as possible.
Good luck, good fishing!