For tempting cold-water bucketmouths, generally fish slower and deeper with considerable patience. Finding winter lunkers almost resembles hunting more than fishing. Search deep holes or creek channels. Before the spawn, big females often follow creek channels from deep water to the flats. They also stage near humps, especially those with grass or other cover.
“Once I locate bass, I can figure out how to catch them,” said Tanya Kreuzer, a professional bass angler from Mesa, Ariz. “I look for fish on the graph and drop a bait right on them. Bass always like to hang near humps, ledges, logs or rock piles in deep water. I look for anything different on the bottom contour. Creek channels and the deep ends of points or where a channel hits the main lake are always good places to look for winter bass.”
When Kreuzer finds a hump with fish, she probes it thoroughly. Since cold water often makes bass lethargic, winter fishing frequently involves a painfully slow, methodical approach. Non-aggressive bass might not chase fast prey, but they may slurp something passing within easy striking range. Dragging a Texas-rigged worm or a jig and pork combination slowly over a hump could bring results. Pause frequently. Pull it over drop-off edges and let it fall.
“In the winter, when fish are typically more lethargic, bass don’t want baits that move too much,” Kreuzer said. “Many anglers put too much movement on the bait. People don’t realize that just a tiny bit of rod movement can move the bait quite a bit. When the bite gets tough, I often dead-stick a bait. Leaving the rod as still as possible, I hold the line really taut and twitch it every once in a while. Occasionally, I pick it off the bottom and hold it there for a few seconds before letting it drop to the bottom again. If the fish are biting really finicky, I’ll switch to a drop shot.”
A drop shot simply consists of a hook attached to the line 12 to 36 inches above a weight. Sweeten the hook with a small grub, worm or other soft-plastic temptation. With the sinker on bottom, shake the line so that the worm stays in the strike zone and vibrates in a bass’s face.
Around humps or creek channels, anglers can also work deep-diving crankbaits or slow-roll spinnerbaits. Anglers can also “helicopter” a spinnerbait by pulling it up and letting it flutter down or “worm” it by letting it fall to the bottom and periodically lifting it like fishing a Texas-rigged plastic worm.
“A good technique for the winter is to slow roll a big spinnerbait just off the bottom,” said Mike Wurm, a bass pro from Hot Springs, Ark. “The colder the water gets, the slower the bait needs to go. I just want to barely feel the blade moving. Keep it right near the bottom. Move it too fast and it comes to the surface.”
Thick hyacinths can also hold bass in the winter because they retain heat after the sun beats down on them all day. Bass may suspend beneath the hyacinths. Although many people consider “punching” vegetation a summer technique, it also works in the winter. To punch through thick hyacinths, flip heavy jigs, perhaps a 1- to 1.5-ounce chunk of tungsten attached to a brush hog, craw worm or similar “creature” bait. For yanking bass from thick cover, use a 7.5-foot rod and a reel filled with quality braided line such as Power Pro.
“Pay attention to the line,” Wurm said. “Keep in contact with the bait as it falls. Let it fall slowly. Most of the time, bass hit on the fall. Once you figure out the depth of the fish, go to that depth and keep it there. Start at the bottom and jig it up a little. If that doesn’t work, move the bait higher in the water column and jig it up and down a bit. If that doesn’t produce a bite, bang it against the underside of the mat. Sometimes, the bass are right under the mat.”
On cold days, anglers might also find themselves alone on popular lakes. They can fish in peace with little interference from other boaters and might just land the lunker of the year – or may a lifetime!