Unraveling The Basics Of Winter Bass Fishing

Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
Species: Bass

Generic Bass Image

The water temperature was 47 degrees. A light bone-chilling breeze pushed wispy fog over the surface of the water. The fish were scatter over a broad hard bottomed flat 35 feet below the boat.

I lightly pinned a frisky night crawler on the No. 8 hook, lowered the rig to the bottom and cranked it up a bit. With the water temperature so low I didn’t know what to expect. According to the article I’d read in In Fisherman Magazine the tactic I was using was perfect for hooking winter bass. I hoped it would work, but I wasn’t confident. Heck I wasn’t after trout I was after bass and they are a “warm water” fish, right?

As I was about to learn black bass may be called warm water fish, but they aren’t opposed to stepping into the chow line when the water temperature is downright chilly.

It was early in the first drift, when the tip on my rod pumped lightly a couple times and then loaded up. I reeled the line tight and jabbed the hook home. At first the bass didn’t react and I was able to reel it up toward the boat, but it soon woke up with a drag spinning burst for the bottom.

After its initial crash dive, the bass put my light spinning rod to the test. As I held the spotted bass extracting the hook from its jaw, I estimated it to weight be around 3 pounds, not a huge fish by Folsom Lake standards, but definitely respectable!

For the rest of the morning I caught bass steadily. A few were dinks, but most of then weighed 2 to 3.5 pounds.

Fall has arrived in the foothills and snow has already fallen in the mountains. It won’t be long before the temperature in our foothill lakes drops down into the lower 50’s and upper 40. A lot of would be bassers think that these low temperatures signal the end of bass fishing until spring, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Anglers that are willing to tweak their approach to match the temperament of the fish can enjoy very exciting wintertime action.

The first and largest challenge facing the cold water basser is finding the bass and all lakes fish differently to a certain extent. The majority of bass residing in lakes and reservoirs, retreat into deep water when the going gets cold, but what does deep mean?

At Folsom, it seems to mean from 25 to 40 feet deep. Yet at nearby Lake Oroville, you’ll often find its bass stacked up in water that is 50 to 100 feet deep.

I’m not certain what accounts for the varied depth preference of the fish at two lakes seem quite similar. All I know is that I can find the fish with my sonar no matter how deep they are holding. Winter bass are often drawn to structure that feature an abrupt depth change. Places like submerged creek channels and submerged bluffs are classic locations to start your search.

At Folsom Lake and at other foothill reservoirs, I’ve had very good luck targeting submerged clay bottomed flats. I have no idea why the bass would be drawn to the clay, but I’ve had too much success fishing adjacent to red clay shorelines to write the presence of clay off as a mere coincidence.

Once you located a feature that holds fish you can employ a number of different approaches to catch them, but they all have one quality in common. To be successful, you’ve got to keep your offering very close to the bottom.

The simplest method is drifting with live minnows, crawfish or night crawlers. Take a medium light fast action spinning rig spooled with 8 pound line attach a No. 8 hook to the end of the line, pinch a split buckshot on the line 20 inches above the bait, pin on one of the afore mentioned baits and you’re ready to start catching bass using the same approach as I described at the beginning of this article.

If the breeze is blowing and your drift is too fast, you can anchor and mooch your live baits just off the bottom. Typically the breeze will make the boat swing. The result is that you are methodically working a small area of the bottom. This is just the ticket for hooking lethargic fish.

If live baits aren’t your bag, you can rack up some pretty hefty dividends with jigs and spoons. The best jigs for use in frigid water are standard dark colored latex skirt type jigs. Instead of tipping them with a plastic trailer, tip them with pork rind slathered with crawfish Pro-Cure Super Gel. The smell of the Pro-Cure triggers strikes, while the saltiness of the pork causes the bass that strike to hold on.

When working a jig and pig in deep water you don’t cast and retrieve the bait. Instead you drop it to the bottom and allow it to “drag” along the as the boat drifts. A strike is typically signaled by the sensation of “rubbery pressure”.

Spooning is the funniest approach for catching winter bass. When the water gets really cold baitfish die. As the twitching half alive minnows fall to the bottom they become easy meals for the bass. A well present spoon does a great job of imitating these doomed baitfish.

There are a number of great spoons on the market. Hopkins Spoons are great bass catchers as are Duh Spoons produced by BladeRunner tackle.

Regardless of the spoons you choose the presentation is the same. Drop the spoon to the bottom, tighten your line, jerk the spoon upward with a snap of the wrist, allow it to sink on a semi slack line and repeat the process. When a bass clamps onto the lure, you’ll know it!

Cold water bassing has yet to kick off in the Norcal foothills. While you wait for the cold water fishing to heat up, why don’t you consider paying the folks at the Jackson Rancheria Hotel and Casino a visit. The gaming is fun, the accommodations are beautiful and the food is top notch!

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