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Cold weather and bass fishing are two things that, for the majority of bass anglers, don't fit together. We are all used to picture in our mind hot sunny days and giant bass, not miserable cold snowy days, frozen northern winds, ice on the shorelines or similar stuff. These aspects often represent what keep the bass fishermen away from the water during the coldest months of winter. Well, not all of them. Those like me enjoy fishing for the little green fish 12 months a year, experience, during the dead of winter, some of the best bass fishing action, and catch QUALITY bass too!
But it's not so easy: the weather conditions usually suggest that it's better to stay at home instead of freezing ourselves on the water. Anyway, I believe that "freezing ourselves", with the modern winter clothes technology and materials is a silly sentence. Nowadays we have Gore-tex, wind-stopper, Thinsulate and many other materials which keep us warm and comfortable in the the most extreme weather conditions, without forgetting the old, reliable wool. At this point, we could take "cold weather" just as any other fishing excuse.
I'm not afraid to say that the largemouth bass, specially the northern strain, can be caught even through the ice if we are willing to fish for it. I've caught bass, and lot of them in waters partially iced up! The key to be successful in winter is SLOWING DOWN, sometimes leaving our lure motionless on the bottom for seconds if not minutes. It's tough fishing, which requires lot of self-conditioning, an excellent mental preparation and full concentration on the job at hand. As for these latter aspects, I compare winter fishing to tournament fishing.
Winter fishing is, for several aspects, a mental game. First of all, we have to convince ourselves that the fish is there and has to eat to survive, even in the coldest months of the year. Surely it will eat a less amount of food but it has to nourish itself to not die by starvation. So, mr. Bass will probably bite one of our lure With that in mind, we'll have to consider that during spring, summer and fall we took particular care of two aspects to consistently catch fish: location and presentation. In winter it's exactly the same thing, maybe with some slight exceptions.
Another thing that plays to our favor in our mental game, is that winter bites, as I've already mentioned, are quality bites. There are also very good chances to catch those huge fish we have seen spawning last spring and which seemed disappeared for the rest of the year! Wonder why? For two reasons. First, because they're subject to almost no fishing pressure; second, when the opportunity of an easy big meal arise, the big female bass is the first one to take advantage of this in winter.
In the past I've written an article regarding fishing shallow water in winter. I'm still firmly convinced on the year-round productivity of shallow waters. This because THERE'RE ALWAYS BASS IN SHALLOW SPOTS. Consider that the less the luminosity, the shallower the fish. I consider "shallow", waters up to 12 ft. I usually find my shallow water bass in spots adjacent to deep water, specially if there is an abrupt change of depth. Added cover like some residual green weed or a submerged tree really help. Normally the fish is located on the deepest part of the cover although, in very scarce light conditions, we could find them in the upper portion. Sometimes, the change of depth correspond to the edge of the emerging cover: if you find a spot with such features, you have probably found a gold mine for what concern bass fishing of course!
Despite the most of anglers I've spoken with about winter fishing are convinced that sunny days are usually better, I'm not of the same opinion. I'm aware on how a prolonged period of sun affect bass behavior but in the dead of winter, sunny days often correspond to lower air temperatures while cloud cover means warmer weather that turns the fish a little more active and move them shallower. These are good ingredients for a productive winter trip. Over my years of extensive winter fishing, I've discovered that one of the best time to be on the water is when it's snowing. Snow seems to put some frenzy on the bass.
Since the days are shorter during winter, I've experienced some extra-time fishing in the dark, just because the bass were biting more aggressively than during the middle of the day! Just a thought, but sometimes winter fishing has big similarities with the hot summer fishing.
Fish normally moves slow and so it will accordingly feed on slow-moving baits. Presentation is one of the most mental aspect of winter bassin'. You need to retrieve your lures so slow that sometimes this results painfully, in the true sense of the word. It's even more hard in the beginning, after a wonderful fall season spent casting and retrieving spinnerbaits, topwaters and crankbaits.
When you think you're fishing slow, slow down again and again and again! Sounds strange but the most of the times it's that way you'll catch fish in winter. You have to condition yourself to believe that a big fish is always following your lure, watching it and wondering if it is the case to bite it or not. Often, this is true: there's a fish watching and following your lure. Your task is to keep its interest high and convince it to bite. Sometimes it will attack with vengeance and you'll see the line jumping and starting to run sideways like a rocket, but the most of the times you'll feel absolutely nothing.
With the experience, I developed a "sixth" sense, and well, I often set the hook on what this sixth sense tell me. When something is not right and you aren't able to feel your lure or this one is where it hasn't to be, reel in the slack line quickly and set the hook! Concentration plays a big role in winter presentation: you've to try to become one with your lure and be always aware on where it is and what it's doing.
Coming back to the bass watching and following our lure, I've found that shaking this one, brings a lot of interest from the fish. A good portion of the bites I get in winter comes while I'm shaking the lure. I feel or see the distinctive "thump" of the bass that all of sudden interrupts my shake. I usually add a shot of Kick'N Bass fish attractant to my lures. I believe this give me an advantage over the bass because this way I stimulate all its senses and in this season, every minimal aspect of our fishing is critical.
Here is how I normally execute a painfully slow retrieve. It takes lot of practice slowing your mind down but the way I keep the rod while fishing slow usually help me a lot on this task. You have to keep it very high so you won't be able to move it very much. Start your retrieve with the rod at the 11 o'clock position and end it at 12 o'clock position. When the rod is vertical over your shoulder, shake the lure using ONLY your wrist, rhythmically until you got a lot of slack in the line. Shake it a couple of times more then, keeping the rod high, just reel in very slowly as you shake and repeat the procedure. Remember that you have to shake and let your lure motionless for a certain amount of time between a shake and another: the slower the bite, the longer the pause. During this retrieve you have to keep your eyes GLUED to the line (that's why I normally use a high-visibility line like the Berkley Trilene) and be concentrated to understand what your lure is doing on the bottom. When the bass bites, put the rod tip down, reel in the slack on the line quickly and as soon as you feel the pressure of the fish to the other end set the hook!
TACKLE AND LURES
My winter tackle and lures selection, as I've already written in my past articles or notes, is somewhat simple. I normally don't have in my boat a huge tackle box during the "hottest" months, go figure in winter!
Sometimes three rods in the boat are enough in the coldest months of the year. It's very important to fish with rods able to transmit to our hand the slightest bite or tell us more on what our lure is doing underwater. Specially in winter. As for the rod brand, I love G.Loomis, just because of the extremely light weight and sensitivity of these rods. Normally, in my winter outings I use a 6' spinning with medium action for small splitshotted, T-rigged or leadheaded plastics and I spool on the reel a Berkley Trilene XT 8 pound test mono. Speaking on the jig & pig, spider jigs and hair jigs, I fish these lures on a 6' Baitcasting rod and 12 pound Trilene XT mono. I carry another baitcasting combo (6' w/15# test Berkley Big Game flipping line) to slow roll spinnerbaits.
Now a look to the lures which have produced very well for me on the weird winter weather. Light jigs like tube lures, grubs or 4" worms. Lately the 4" Mega Curl of Snakebite Lures, a Zipper-style worm, has caught lot of lethargic bass Texas rigged with a brass and glass. Excellent, mostly for the quality bass are the "Ultimate" Jig manufactured by S.O.B. Fishing Products with a big #1 Uncle Josh Jumbo Frog. This winter I'm having lot of success with the 4" spider jig rigged on a 3/8 oz. football head, dragged and shaken on the bottom very slowly (see the above paragraph on presentation). My average weight on this lure is slightly over three pounds that is an exceptionally good weight for Italian bass!
Normally I fish natural colors a lot in winter, due to the clear water, though I've found that chartreuse pepper is a great choice for tube jigs and spider jigs. Since our crawdads are normally dark with orange and purple hues, I fish black, black/brown, brown/orange or black/blue/purple jigs.
As for the crankbaits I prefer small, light, lures like the Rapala Shad Rap, on Shad and Silver patterns. Four-inch hard-jerkbaits like the Rapala Husky Jerk or the Bomber 14A catch fish when soft- plastics and jigs fail to produce.
Spinnerbaits represent the heavy-artillery, since I normally slow-roll ½ oz. to ¾ oz. single Colorado lures during winter. Sometimes, specially early and late in the season these baits have caught giant fish for me. I really like the S.O.B. Thumper-B because of its great emission of vibration which grant me an easier control of the lure. As for the color, in clear water I've designed a skirt color that S.O.B. called "Massimo Special" which strictly resembles a small preyfish. If water has a little color, I switch to a white/chartreuse. I normally add a 4" white grub to add bulkiness to the lure and offer to the fish a big meal.
Well, remember to keep the body warm in your winter outings and don't let all that cold discourage you on your mission as bass angler!
Massimo Zanneti is 32 years old (33 next September), married to Annalisa and happy dad of two daughters, Paola (6 years old next July) and Chiara (3 next September). He works as a programmer in a steel factory and, obviously loves to bass fish. Massimo fishes tournaments on a regular basis with good results and is a "versatile bassman." He regularly writes for a couple of club newsletters, and has written a few articles for a national fishing magazine in the past. Massimo speaks at bass fishing seminars. He is a field tester for Shimano Italia/Rapala and he's sponsored by KeepAlive Oxygen Infusors, S.O.B. Fishing Products, Snakebite Custom Fishing Tackle and Scientific Bass Products. His thoughts on fishing are that "when you master the fundamental you MUST care about the mental aspect of your fishing, be confident and always keep your concentration high."
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