Understanding Winter Bass
It is important to understand that fish change with the seasons and that this can make them a challenge to pursue during the colder months. This is certainly true of winter bass fishing. There are many different changes to be noted and the first is the spawn.
As I have stated in a previous article, bass will begin spawning usually when water climbs to 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher so activities related to reproduction will be lessened in the winter months.
One thing that I learned about most fish in the winter is that it can be difficult to determine what food sources they are utilizing. Consider keeping a few and opening the stomach to see its contents. Often you can determine what they are eating and can tailor your tactics accordingly.
There are different phases of fall and winter weather that you should consider and each of them offers different ways to fish for bass. The two things that I consider are water clarity and temperature.
In this article, I would like to share a few different tactics and techniques that will make you a better bass fisherman in the colder months as well as a few ways I enjoy eating them in the winter, as a bonus.
Water Clarity and Lure/Line Selection
One of the most important things to consider when fishing for bass or any species in the winter is their ability to see your bait or tackle. There is typically a little less sun and UV light throughout the winter, and this may force you to change a few things.
Have you ever gone fishing at a lake in the summer and saw that the water was blooming with green algae? It makes it hard for you, and the fish to see what you are fishing with. In the winter, typically, the colder the weather, the less of a problem this is.
Because of this, winter water is typically clear in standing water environments when thawed. Running water and iced over water tends to be dark, however, and may need to be fished with glow and or scented lures.
In a previous article, I touched on a few good ways to fish with a glow lure and the best one in my opinion is the “flashlight trick” as my father called it. Take any glow lure and hit it hard with a flashlight. It will glow very brightly and be something of a statement in the water.
In standing, clear, winter water, I try to use a good mono line that is the same color as the lake in general. Here in Montana, water comes in the brown variety so brown mono is my go-to but choose whichever color fits where you fish the most.
Take Advantage of Bass Behavior
Bass are tenacious predators that hit hard and fast and that makes winter bass fishing fun. I have legitimately been startled a few times when they hit because they hit hard. They also like to hit from beneath as well and this is a trait of many species of fish because fish are opportunistic predators.
Because they like to strike from beneath, I try not to run the lake bottom when fishing for them. I try to have some sort of elevation even if it is only 3 or 4 feet from the bottom.
If you are fishing open water that has not frozen, you can still use surface spinners and Rapala lures effectively. Open water may be a permanent thing where you live, but here in Montana, open water has a season.
Taking advantage of this tenacity in the bass is simple enough by understanding what they are eating. The nice thing about bass is that their aggression is similar wherever you are, but they will still be picky to a certain degree.
Also, try to give yourself some options. I have found that their depth is extremely variable in the winter. Because of this, I try to fish areas that have a variety of depths to fish with different techniques. Nothing too aggressive, but a gentle transition to deeper water is a nice place to fish for winter bass.
I always check with local shops and fishing reports to see what is working and what is not. Look for the nearest convenience store to where you are planning to fish. Chances are they sell gear and are in the know about what fish are biting on.
Winter Bass Fishing Gear
I love winter fishing for any species, but bass are the fish that I love catching because they fight tenaciously no matter the season. Because of this, the gear you use is especially important.
I have a few favorites that I consider to be the best winter bass fishing gear but depending on where you live, it could be any gear you like. Speaking to the fact that they hit hard, there is a product that I use that is terrific for bass fishing through the ice.
We call them a “tip-up” which I never really understood, they are more of a pop up really. But they look like a bucket lid and sit over your hole. They have a spring-loaded flag that is triggered to the fishing line and the flag is released when you have a strike.
Now, the reason I absolutely love these devices is that if you ice fish you probably can have multiple poles in use at a time. At one point when I was a kid, we could use six per person. Having a flag at each hole was essential.
Now today, maybe you do not have that many poles through the ice, but I still find these especially useful on my trips. They are generally very reasonably priced and there is someone who makes his own as well, a good option for the handyman angler.
In terms of poles for winter bass, I have always enjoyed using a medium action fishing pole in open water. I have a few Ugly Stiks that I use for general fishing that serve well for bass.
Through the ice, I use a few Fenwick ice rods that are on the stiff side. The reason for the stiffness is simply because I use the tip-ups and they react more accurately with a stiff rod. I can tell you that if I did not use tip-ups, I would use a medium action ice rod by hand.
Fish in Direct Sunlight and Watch for Upticks in Temperature
Now temperature for many species of fish tends to be two sides of a coin. In the heat of summer, they will run away from the sun to stay cool and in the winter, I have found, they can follow the sun from time to time.
Now, this can be a difficult thing to pay attention to depending on how you are fishing but I try to make sure that the water I am fishing is in direct sunlight during winter months. This means no trees or hills obstructing the sun.
I feel that this works for me and it fits the biology of the bass itself. Fishing like this through the ice can be a chore, however. Be aware of the sun’s path through the sky and pick a spot that will offer the most direct sunlight throughout the day.
Temperature spikes are good times to fish as well. Remember that bass will start to spawn at 60-degree water and higher.
It happens often here where I live. I have seen weather in the 20’s turn to almost 50-degrees before and that is when you see me out my door to fish, not just because it is warm, but because the fish are changing behavior.
Fish here can become nearly dormant because of the colder weather (which I have seen drop to 40-degrees below zero for several days) But I promise you that those warmer upticks make for some good bass fishing.
Eating Winter Bass – Tastes So Good!
Bass flesh tends to be white and it is even more so in the winter which makes it easier to cook in my opinion. Winter bass also tend to be less fishy tasting in the winter than in the summer which is good for folks who are a little sensitive to this flavor.
My favorite way to eat bass of any season is flour, butter, and my cast iron skillet. The white meat of bass is remarkably like perch and will fry up very well. I also like citrus with my fish and to include it in a fish fry I use a lemon pepper spice in my flour.
Winter bass will have a good layer of fat as well which is why I recommend filleting with the skin on to keep the fat. It is a preference of course, but I like the flavor and all the “goodness” that is in the gray fat layer.
Dry smoking physics has taught me that the fat line determines how well the meat separates from the skin. Because of this, in my opinion, a winter bass is a better smoking candidate than a summer bass.
When smoking bass in winter, try using alder chips that are thicker than usual. Thicker chips burn longer meaning fewer trips through the snow to fill more chips and tend to the smoker and more heat to cook in the cold.
Here’s Why I Love Fishing for Winter Bass
Winter caught bass are extremely aggressive predators even in colder temperatures making them a un catch year-round. The tactics required for winter bass are mostly temperature and light-based which are accommodated easily enough.
I also just love winter fishing in general. Typically, there are not as many people out fishing and it is easier to get a good spot. Often, when I am backpacking in the winter, I do not see anyone throughout the whole trip which I enjoy.
Winter bass are just fun, and a specific example is with an ice hut. When my son was little, we ice fished with an ice shack and the light was reflected inside that shack making the lake under the ice visible. I remember my son laughing watching bass, perch, and trout twist and fight under the ice.
Other than pike and ling, which are a form of a super predator where I fish, the bass was by far the most energetic and spirited fight of any of the fish we were catching.
Most of all just have fun with it. I have found myself exploring new fishing areas in the winter because there are typically not as many people out fishing.
If you live and fish in lower elevations try heading to higher elevations to see the bass behavior change more and more drastically and when you do that, do not be afraid to stop and the little spots as well. Bass are very versatile, and you will be surprised where you find them.
I hope that this has been of some use to you in helping you enjoy fishing for winter bass better and to better enjoy what you love. Winter Bass fishing is a favorite of mine and it should be for you as well. Enjoy the fun.