Warming Cold Waters

As hunting seasons end, many sportsmen wait for waters to warm before fishing, but if they wait too long, they might miss some of the best bass action all year.

Anglers typically catch the biggest bass of the year in early spring when females swell with roe before spawning. In late winter, bass gather near lake humps, deep ledges or drop offs to wait for water to warm sufficiently before moving shallow to spawn. Water one or two degrees warmer than the rest might attract bass and spark more activity. “In late winter, I look for areas that warm first,” said Kevin VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champion from Kalamazoo, Mich. “Bass move into their pre-spawn patterns in the shallow, dirty upper end of a lake before they do down at the deeper end. Sunshine is the key. Direct sunshine, even on cold days, helps pull fish up toward the surface and make bass more aggressive. Even in cold water, bass position themselves to soak up sunshine.”

Winds also influence water temperatures. Usually, north winds push chilly water toward the southern part of a lake. Warmer south winds stack water against northern banks. Intense afternoon sunshine strikes eastern shorelines. Therefore, the northeast part of a lake usually warms quickest.

In addition, dark colors absorb heat while bright colors reflect heat. A hard, dark object may soak up heat and radiate solar energy into the water. Concrete blocks, rocky riprap, metal pilings and wood all heat surrounding waters. Rocks and blocks retain more heat than soggy wood. Bass may actually rub against hard objects so drop baits close to cover.

“Rocks are my favorite choice for cold weather fishing,” VanDam said. “My second choice is wood. If the water is clear, I fish a suspending jerkbait close to rocks. In stained water, I fish a jig or a crankbait. If there’s a stump or rock sitting in sunshine, bass swim right up to it because it radiates heat.”

Like dark objects, stained waters warm more quickly than clear waters. Muddy water reduces light penetration. Opaque waters full of suspended particles absorb and hold solar energy while sunlight might pass through clear water. Suspended sand or silt retains heat, serving as minute natural space heaters. Dark, muddy bottoms absorb more sunshine and warm much more quickly than white sandy bottoms, which reflect sunlight.

Just because water measures a couple degrees warmer than surrounding areas doesn’t necessarily guarantee fish. Bass go where they can find the best combination of food, oxygen, comfortable conditions and cover. For instance, a long shallow bay might hold water several degrees warmer than the main lake, but may not hold many fish if it doesn’t contain adequate cover, food or oxygen. Bass probably won’t swim half a mile up a creek to find slightly warmer water. Instead, bass in late winter rise and descend vertically to find comfortable conditions. For this reason, fish over sloping points or drop-off edges.

Around any type of cover, lethargic bass in cold water typically won’t burn many calories chasing baits far or fast. They usually stick close to cover. Sometimes, anglers almost need to hit bass on the head to make them bite. Slow presentations down and keep lures in the strike zone next to cover longer. Also, use smaller, more realistic baits since bass with lowered metabolisms don’t need to feed as often or as much.

In many waters, crawfish emerge from the mud as water begins to warm. Therefore, craw worms or jig and pig combinations worked slowly around hard structure might entice bites. Use reds, greens and browns to mimic crawfish. Toss these baits right up against the rocks and let them sink. Slowly work them out toward deep water then let them fall over the drop-offs.

Spinnerbaits slow-rolled over the bottom also might work. Run these parallel to shorelines, drops or other hard cover. Use large Colorado-bladed spinners and reel them as slowly as possible, barely enough to turn the blades. Occasionally, pause to let them sink to the bottom, creating a slight disturbance or a mud trail that resembles a baitfish or crawfish feeding.

“In colder water, work a spinnerbait more slowly and let it drop more deeply with a yo-yo- type retrieve,” said Denny Brauer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion from Camdenton, Mo. “When a spinnerbait lifts off the bottom, stop the retrieve and let it flutter back down to the bottom. Let it make contact with the vegetation or the bottom and start the retrieve again.”

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