I read every article I can find regarding bass fishing, Lots and lots of articles on fishing for Bass in the winter. But virtually all of them are written by Guys that fish Deep-water lakes, they have lots to say about fishing in 20 to 50 feet of water. Here in the South a lot of our lakes (especially Cypress tree lakes) don’t have water much deeper than 10 ft. over most of the lake.
Lets see if we can discover together some of the things we need to do in shallow water lakes to find some Bass in winter.
Everyone says that you have to find deep-water structure, they say look for them on the points and humps, look for deep-water creeks and find the bends that form underwater points, and they are correct for the most part. What we need to do is establish just what they do in 3 to 10 feet of water. First off we know that Bass slow down their metabolism in water below about 55 to 60 degrees, because they do this they do not feed as often or as aggressively as during warmer times, but they do eat. Bass will take a bait that is properly presented in cold water, but usually it has to be right in their face.
I look for structure that has access to the deepest water in the area that may be only 7 to 8 feet deep. In these conditions they simply have to hunker down in cover, that could be the roots of a Cypress tree, brush tops, a washed out hole on a steep bank, or under old mats of grass. One of there favorites seems to be the stems left over from Lily pads. On lakes that have vast fields of Lily pads this can be the major form of Cover in the deep winter. It is said that the rays from the sun will warm the stems up and cause a radiating effect in the stem fields. Now I do not know if that is true but Bass will certainly be in the stems on the coldest days of the winter. Often they will be back in the fields on little shallow humps in the middle of the day, it seems as though they are trying to get the warming rays. If you get several warm days in a row they will really gather at the edge of the fields and feed. A good way to fish these fields is to take a dark colored Zoom super fluke, toss it out and let it sit for about one minute, then just twitch it ever so slightly, sometimes it will just keep moving as a Bass has inhaled it.
Creeks are a very good place to find Bass in cold water, as you know creeks usually run through a flat. Flats can be any water that is relatively flat over an area from one to hundreds of acres, and it can be deep or shallow it just needs to be fairly stable as to the depth it is in. If we go back to the theory that Bass go deep in winter we can see why Creeks would be important, if the flat is an average of 4 to 6 feet a Creek that is 7 to 10 feet deep is deep water, at least the deepest water that is available to them so they tend to stay on or near the creek most of the time. In periods of stable weather especially if it has warmed up a little they will be on the flats in cover related to the Creek and these fish are usually at least slightly active. Under worse conditions these same fish will suspend over the Creek in the deeper water and they can be hard to catch. Do not overlook any little sloughs that you run into as they are a little deeper and can and will hold bass.
A point works the same way as a Creek on a flat; it is an avenue from shallower water to deeper water. Again on stable days they tend to be up on the point around cover and under less stable conditions they will drop back to the end of the point. If you can find a point that reaches out to a Creek channel and drops off into the Creek chances are you will find a concentration of Bass susceptible to being caught on a Jig or maybe a spoon. My Theory is to start on the bank and work out slowly hitting any cover you can as you work your way out to the end of the point, at some depth on the point if there are any active Bass they will mostly be at the same depth, and of course they should be at the same depth on the next point along the line as you go deeper into the cove. I will usually throw a Jig as I am looking for fish but a slow rolled spinnerbait can be a good choice also, if you do have a little deeper water say 15 feet a jigging spoon may be your best choice.
One of the things we do know is that during periods of stable and warming trends, they will feed regardless of the depth of your lake. The first area to warm up will be in the Northwest corner of the area you are in. The Northwest corner of any lake given suitable conditions will be the first place to find spawning bass in the spring. The reason for this is that the combination of the suns angle and the fact that this area is protected from the Cold northeast winds better than any area of the lake. So it follows that this is where you will want to look first as often a rise of only a few degrees in temperature will cause them to feed. This does not have to be the Northwest corner of the entire lake but can just as easily be that corner of a Cove or Bay.
Take the Lake that you are fishing look at a map and pick out these spots. Flats that have Creeks running through them, Points, steep banks, areas with lots of Lily pad stems and areas on the Northwest bank with lots of cover and you will have a good chance to find Bass in a shallow lake. They will feed at some point on most days, especially if the weather is stable. The one factor that will keep me home is muddy water, if the water is below 50 degrees and muddy light a fire in your fireplace and spend the day with your wife and kids.
There are several baits that are successful in cold water; my personal favorite is the Jig and Pig. I use Pork exclusively in water under 50 degrees because I think it is more subtle than plastic and I believe they will hold pork longer than plastic. I always use the lightest jig I can in cold water so as to slow the fall rate. Now I feel certain you have heard this before but when you think you are fishing a jig slow enough, slow down some more. (you simply cannot fish a jig too slow in water 45 degrees or colder)
Of course the venerable old Spinnerbait is a very good bait in cold water, especially on those warming trend days with more stable temps. Just slow roll the bait as slow as you can and still have the blades turning, and it is not a bad idea to just stop it and let it sit for a while either.
A tube Jig can be just as effective as a jig on some days, you may just have to try both and see if one will get bit when the other will not.
Other baits that are worth mentioning are the Black straight tail worm and the crankbait. both have a place in your winter arsenal and can be effective at times.
One other bait I want to mention is the large swim bait. At the first signs of spring what I call pre pre-spawn all the way to full blown spawn a big swimbait is my go to when I am serious about a big Bass. Just like the others fish it slow just like a slow rolled Spinnerbait. as the water warms just a little, say above 50 fish it with twitches and little hops to make it look like an injured bait fish and I think you may be pleasantly surprised. My favorite is the 5-inch saltwater model by Storm.
I hope I have helped a little, remember, slow down and look for the structure and cover we have talked about and you should have some good cold weather trips this winter.
Papa (Earnie Cella)