It’s that time of year again. The leaves have fallen, the air is crisp, and the coffee is hot. But wait, hold on a second – don’t unload your rods and lures from the trunk just yet. There’s still plenty of fishing to enjoy!
I’ve compiled this list of winter bass fishing tips based on more than two decades of experience fishing northern Pennsylvania waters where the wind blowing off the Great Lakes is enough to send Jack Frost packing.
Winter Bass Fishing Tips
Let’s dive right into our cold water bass fishing tips. While some anglers are ready to hang up their rods until next year, we’re teaching you how to fish in winter for bass so you can capitalize while other anglers are sipping hot cocoa.
Choose Best Winter Bass Baits
The first thing you’ll need to think about is the best winter bass fishing lures. You can’t use the same strategy you use when the water is warm, no matter what way you look at it. Winter fishing techniques require finesse, but they also require a bit of preparation. Fast-moving lures and excessively noisy ones won’t work when the water temperatures drop.
We end up with bottom feeders and slower moving lures like jigs, spoons, and blades. One of my favorite choices for winter bass lures is football head jigs. These work great when the water is cold because you can slowly drag them along the bottom and coerce the lazy bass into biting. These lures imitate crawfish.
I’d stay away from lipless crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and other fast moving lures during the winter months.
You can also use hair jigs if you prefer to mimic the appearance of smaller baitfish like shad and minnows in the shallow water. Always go as natural as possible with the color and try to imitate the fish’s color in the water you’re fishing.
Personally, I think metal baits like spoons and blades are the best choices for winter bass fishing. The hard metal holds up well in the cold water, and they help offer the appearance of a dying baitfish, which is important during the winter.
When the water is cold, you don’t want to present a challenge to the bass. Instead, you want to make it look like they’ll get an easy meal, and imitating a dying fish is the best way to do that.
I highly recommend using spoons and blades on days when the sun is shining. In many areas of the country, the sun shines bright in the winter, and when light reflects off the blades, it creates a powerful presentation that can work as a double-edged sword.
You don’t want to generate too much attention because the bass might feel overwhelmed, but you want to aggravate them enough to get them to strike. Give it a try and see what works.
If you’re trying to fish the bottom, you might want to go with a drop-shot or split-shot. I’d suggest fishing a drop shot rig because you can fish them slow and determine exactly how far you want your lure to swim off the ground.
I would pair my drop-shot with a soft plastic worm and troll the shoreline in a boat or fish from the shore if you have no other choice. Soft plastics are a great choice for cold front bass fishing.
Best Time to Catch Bass During Winter
As previously mentioned, you need to change your mindset when it comes to fishing in the winter. When the water temperatures are warm, we know that the best times to fish are first thing in the morning and right at dusk.
When you’re fishing in the winter, you’ll want to fish the middle of the day more because you need to wait for the water to warm up. Once the sun has hit the water for a while, the baitfish will start to move around, and this is when you stand the best chance of catching more bass.
While that’s the case 99% of the time, some expert bass anglers actually recommend fishing early in the morning for smallmouth bass. They suggest getting on the water right as the sun is coming up, which is interesting because it contradicts anything I’ve ever learned.
If you want to give this strategy a try, I would recommend fishing the bottom near some of the lake’s deep water. Bass tend to hide in schools during the winter, and they look for little drop-offs and holes where baitfish and other food might hang out.
Finding Bass From The Shore
One of the most important winter bass fishing tactics to learn revolves around two main points:
You need to understand these two points and why they’re critical for winter fishing. So, baitfish tend to hug the shores near rivers because this is where the most oxygen is in the water, and the temperature tends to be a bit warmer. As we all should know, bass follow the baitfish, so this is where you’re likely to find more bass.
If you’re fishing from the shore, this makes catching bass easy because you can cast parallel with the shoreline and clean up all day long. I find it more enjoyable to fish from the shore during the winter because it’s a little easier to stay warm, and if I’m fishing alone, it just makes me feel more comfortable.
Winter Time Bass Fishing Water Temperatures
An often overlooked winter bass fishing tip is understanding water temperature and how a five or ten-degree difference can impact your fishing strategies. You need to know what the temperature is to understand how deep you need to fish and what type of presentation you should use.
Under 40 Degrees
If you’re fishing this water temperature, you’re in for a challenge. Right now, the bass are incredibly inactive, and their metabolism is super slow, so they’re not feeding much, and they’re preserving all their energy by taking on the simplest of meals.
For you to have success fishing during this time, you need to throw your lure right in their face and present it slow enough for them to get it.
This temperature range is prime fishing in the North so expect to find bass in this temperature range most frequently during late winter in the months of January and February.
Bass in this temp will slow down quite a bit, but they’ll still have feeding periods each day, and this is when you need to capitalize by using the right lures and offering a slow but calculated presentation.
Here we have prime fishing temperatures where bass are highly active, but you would only likely experience these types of temperatures in the winter in the Southern states, so this doesn’t help everyone North of the Mason-Dickson.
Where you might find temperatures like this is when the seasons are changing from fall to winter and winter to spring. Expect to slow down and size down your presentation a little, but big bass will still be active during the morning, midday, and evening.
How to Catch Bass in the Winter: Where to Look
The best tip someone ever told me about finding bass in the winter is to add 10-20 feet of water to where you would normally fish. Of course, you can’t know this without fish finders and depth checkers, but you can estimate it even if you don’t have electronics.
So, for example, if you tend to fish 30 feet away from the shoreline during the summer, you’ll want to add 20 feet to that in the winter because bass prefer deeper waters when the temperature is cold. I’m not saying go to the deepest part of the water but simply add a little depth, and you can increase your chances of catching more bass.
Water clarity is also a huge factor in the winter. If the water is murky, the baitfish will run deeper. If you have clear water, the baitfish will come closer to shore. Pay attention to run-off and snowfall. If you recently experienced a heavy snowfall that hasn’t melted yet, chances are the water is clear, so you’ll want to head closer to shore.
If you’re dealing with a lot of snow melting due to increasing temperatures, the run-off is probably causing the water clarity to decrease, so you’ll want to take your fishing further away from the shore.
Cold Water Bass Fishing Tips
By this point, you’ve received some great cold weather bass fishing tips, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Let’s see if we can really drive home your success this winter.
So, the best way to fish in the winter is with some assistance from electronics. You want to have the best bass fish finder on your side whenever possible because it will help you pick up on water depths, temperatures, and obviously – bass.
You need to get much closer to the bass during the winter because they’re not going to chase your lure all over the lake; the best strategy is to vertically jig right in their face, so they have no choice but t21o strike it. It’ll take some practice and preparation, but it’s well worth it.
Slow it Down
You need to slow down your presentation when the water temperatures drop. Winter largemouth bass fishing requires you to think like a fish. The water is cold, their metabolism is slow, and they’re not feeding much, so they will never chase a fast-moving topwater spinnerbait halfway across the pond; it won’t work.
You need to drop something right in front of their face, make the bass think it’s almost dead, and move it slowly and erratically, so they think they’ve got an easy meal on their hand. Once you do that, you’ll have no problem retrieving them because they won’t put up much of a fight.
Size it Down
In addition to presenting slower, you’ll also want to present a smaller lure. Small baitfish are a great live choice but if you don’t have a means of keeping them alive, go with a small football head jig or spoon with some red on it.
The bottom line is, your strategy needs to stay congruent with the weather. If it’s cold and the water temperature is near freezing, use the smallest jig head you can find with a small Senko or swimbait.
Doing so will present less of a threat to the bass, and they’ll think they stumbled upon an easy opportunity for a meal.
Color is also an important factor in the winter. If you can find baitfish in the water, see what color they are, and mimic them. If not, go neutral whenever possible. In the winter, you’ll want to use brown, green, white, grey, and black. Again, the idea here is to present as little of a threat as possible, and bright neon colors look intimidating, so the bass will leave it alone.
Keep it Simple
You don’t need to overcomplicate these winter bass fishing tips, but the most important one to remember is to stay calm and remain patient because winter bass fishing is not easy, but it’s not impossible. It will take some time for you to learn, and that can get frustrating but don’t give up.
You won’t get as many nibbles as you do during the summer and spring, but chances are you’ll get more interested bass if you follow all the tips outlined in this guide. Have a good amount of patience and be sure to present every lure slowly but erratically when time in between each jerk.
Bring the Right Gear
Before we wrap this up, I wanted to talk briefly about safety and gear. Depending on your location, fishing in the winter can be dangerous because of frigid temperatures and dangerously cold water. You need to make sure you have enough layers to keep yourself warm and plenty of backup gear in case you fall in or get wet.
I recommend wearing as many layers as possible in the car on the way to the water and keep the heat on so you can build up some warmth before getting out. Wear multiple layers with socks, waterproof boots, and fingerless gloves so you can maintain full movement of your fingers.
The most important tip is to make sure someone knows where you are. Even if you live alone, tell a parent, friend, or neighbor that you’re going fishing, and you’ll be back at a certain time. You never know what can happen, and you need to make sure someone is looking out for you.
I hope all these winter bass fishing tips have opened the door to a few more months of fishing. You don’t need to feel like fishing season ends when the leaves start falling, there are plenty more months of great fishing if you understand how to change your strategy and give the bass what they need.
Remember to choose a slower, bottom trolling lure and present it in a way that makes it impossible for the bass to refuse. If you can nail this, you’ll impress your buddies when they see how successful you are, no matter how cold it is outside.