In the winter, the water is the clearest it’s been all year and bass are deep and sluggish. Cold fronts followed by bluebird sky days with frigid, calm weather cause bass to suspend over winter sanctuaries and wait for a warming trend to start feeding again.
These winter conditions make bass fishing extremely tough, but you can still catch fish by downsizing presentations with lighter line and smaller lures. During a normal winter, the lakes around my home are clear so I rely on 8- to 10-pound test line for my suspending stickbait tactics and I know of some anglers who will drop down to 6-pound line for fishing plastic grubs and hair or feather jigs. Bass are usually hanging out in deep open water and have less fight in them during the winter so you can use lighter line without worrying about a big fish breaking off if you have your reel’s drag set right.
Here’s a look at five bass fishing lures you can downsize for catching lethargic wintertime bass.
I throw a 4 1/2 or 5-inch suspending stickbait on baitcasting gear most of the time to catch bass suspended over their deep winter haunts. However I will downsize to a 3-inch model if bass continue to ignore the larger lures or on those sunny, calm days after the passage of a cold front.
I tie the small stickbait on 8-pound test line and use spinning tackle to cast the lightweight lure easier. Even though the lure has a short body it has a long bill that helps it dive to the same depths as the larger stickbaits.
After casting the stickbait, I crank the lure down to reach its maximum depth and then pause it. Then I employ either a three twitch-and-pause retrieve for more aggressive fish or slowly sweep the lure and pause it for the most inactive bass.
Downsizing a bass jig can be done by either using a lighter weight jig or changing the profile of the lure.
One way to scale down on a jig is to switch to a smaller trailer. Rather than use a magnum-size plastic chunk on your jig, replace it with a regular or small chunk to create a smaller profile. If you use a plastic craw trailer, you can downsize the bait by pinching off part of the craw’s tail section so the jig’s hook comes out of the craw’s nose. This will prevent the short strikes since the craw’s pincers are closer to the jig’s hook.
Shortening the skirt of a jig is another trick to shrink the lure’s profile. You can downsize the jig by trimming the skirt with a rainbow-shaped cut about one-half inch behind the hook bend. Removing strands from the jig’s skirt is another way to downsize a jig.
Matching a jig with a spinner on the lower part of its head and a large swimbait has become a popular lure for catching wintertime bass in recent years. However when the water turns extremely cold, shrewd anglers downsize to a 1/8- or 1/16-ounce Roadrunner or other horsehead jig imitation to trick inactive wintertime bass. They use either a curly-tail plastic grub, 2- to 3-inch swimbait or a marabou body with the horsehead jig.
Fish the horsehead jig on a spinning rod with a fast action tip and reel filled with 8- to 12-pound line.
Main lake bluffs with rock slides are ideal spots to try the horsehead jig for bass holding 10 to 25 feet deep. Cast the lure to the rock wall and count down to a certain depth as the lure falls. Then reel in the jig in a slow, steady fashion.
When baitfish move close to the surface and wintertime bass move up into the tops of standing timber, a 3-inch tube bait attached to a 1/4-ounce ballhead jig is a great finesse lure to try. Cast to the baitfish, count the lure down to the same depth as the forage and slowly reel the lure back to the boat.
For spotted bass suspended along bluff walls, try a 2-inch white tube bait on a 1/8-ounce jighead set about 4 to 5 feet below a bobber. Cast the bobber-and-tube to the bluff and let it sit close to the rock wall as long as possible. A slight ripple on the water will create enough action on the tube to trigger strikes.
Umbrella rigs adorned with 4- or 5-inch swimbaits have tricked plenty of big bass in recent winters, but the fish are starting to shy away from the big rigs. Some lure manufacturers are now designing finesse Alabama rigs with shorter arms and smaller spinners for coaxing finicky bass into biting. Try these smaller rigs with 2- to 3-inch swimbaits for the best results.