Cold Tailrace Bass

While many sportsmen spend their days pursuing deer, ducks and other game during the winter, a few hardy souls chase monsters of a different sort on the coldest days of the year.

In the winter, before females swollen with roe drop their precious cargo, bass reach their maximum weights for the year. In fact, record book bass frequently hit the scales between November and March in many states.

“Winter is one of my favorite times to fish,” said Randall Tharp, an Alabama bass pro. “No matter how cold it gets, bass still need to feed. I like the fact that so many people are hunting because I get the lakes to myself when it’s really cold.”

In the winter, many anglers like to tempt bass with football head jigs. A football head jig combines the motion of a deep-running crankbait with the snagless attributes of a Texas-rigged worm. Instead of a sliding sinker, it incorporates a weight attached directly to the hook. Anglers can rig it with the hook exposed or weedless with the hook inserted into a soft-plastic trailer. A shaky head resembles a football head jig, only smaller and makes more of a finesse presentation. Usually smaller, it may come with a round, pointed or flattened head.

“A jighead worm or football head jig is one of my main tools that I use for bass all across the United States,” said Dean Rojas, an Arizona bass pro. “A football head is more for fishing main lake points or chunk rock when fish are really aggressive. When fishing gets tough, and fish require more of a finesse presentation, the shaky head is the way to go. Normally, I throw a shaky head on a spinning rod with 8- to 10-pound test line. Just throw it out in deep water off points or along grass edges and let it fall naturally. Shake the rod tip to apply action to the bait while keeping it on the bottom. It’s a great winter technique.”

Football head or shaky head jigs also work especially well in heavy current. Many river tailraces below dams impounding major reservoirs offer outstanding winter bass action. Current stirs up bait and sparks feeding activity. Bass hide behind rocks or other current breaks to wait for food to flow toward them. When they see something they like, they swoosh out into the current to slurp it before retreating back into their eddy lair.

“In the winter, I love to fish tailraces,” Tharp proclaimed. “Below the dams, I throw a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce football head jig into the current and drag it back down with the current. I do the same thing with a 3/4- or 1-ounce spinnerbait and bump it along the bottom. Quite often, fish stack up in places where they can get out of the current. Someone might fish for a long time before getting a strike, but then all of a sudden catch fish on 10 or 15 successive casts.”

In many tailraces, boulders and chunk rock form the dominant cover. These rocks can retain heat. A rock or other hard object soaking up the sunshine can radiate a bit of that solar energy into the adjacent water column and create a slightly warmer pocket of water around it. Fallen trees, stumps, pilings and other solid objects can also radiate solar heat, but in general, metal, rock and concrete objects retain more heat than soggy wood.

Fish tight to cover. In cold water, bass may gather as close to rocks as possible. Even a temperature difference of one or two degrees could make a big difference to a cold-blooded bass on a frosty day.

“Rocks are my favorite choice for cold weather fishing,” VanDam advised. “My second choice would be wood. I like a place with deep water and good structure, but with nearby shallow water so bass can swim just a short distance to find conditions they like without expending much energy. I’ll fish riprap, rocky channel swing banks, fallen trees and other dark objects. My favorite technique for fishing around riprap on a cold day is with a jig or a crankbait. In clear water, I like to fish a suspending jerkbait close to rocks. In stained water, I fish a jig or a crankbait.”

On the coldest days, anglers may find the hottest fishing all year. They may also find themselves alone on their favorite honey holes as gunfire echoes in the distance. This winter, bundle up for the best bass action.

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