Winter Bass Fishing Techniques

Bass Fishing

Winter Bass Fishing Techniques
Winter Bass Fishing with Crankbaits Ken McBroom

Winter Bass Fishing

The fall bite is over and the water is cold. It’s time for some winter bass fishing, but the lake seems void of life and the bass gear is reluctantly put away for a long winter’s nap. There is football to watch on the weekends, but wouldn’t it be great to get out there and catch some of the bass you know reside in those cold waters. Well you can and should get out there. I hope this article will entice you to do so this winter and extend your bass season and eventually you won’t even winterize your boat.

It’s no secret that bass slow down in the winter and often move to deep water. Fortunately for us bass has to eat all winter, albeit less than during warmer times but eat they must. Bass will move shallow, especially on those nice warm sunny winter days when it is also pleasant for the angler. Bass are searching for one of two things, or both, on these warm winter days. The warming rays of sunlight and dying shad.

Many shad die off each winter due to cold water. These shad struggle to swim and become easy prey. When the water is cold an easy meal is a must and hungry bass lay in wait for one of these dying shad. The reason the reaction strike is so important in the winter is because the cold blooded bass are sluggish and a crankbait in shallow water is a great reaction strike presentation and can help you catch bass that are feeding as well as bass that are not.

Best Color For Winter Bass

Water clarity will determine the color of your crankbait. Muddy water calls for bright colors. yellow, red and chartreuse. When the water is clear you should go with more natural colors. Monofilament is usually the go to line for crankbaits because of its stretch which helps prevent ripping the treble hooks out of the bass’ mouth.  Eight pound test is probably the lightest you should go just by virtue of the presentation itself being hard on your line. Fluorocarbon works great for this technique as it is more abrasion resistant than monofilament and allows for a better feel for what your crankbait is doing. When using  fluorocarbon be careful not to pull the hooks out of the bass’ mouth. Once the bass is hooked up, keep tension on the line and reel in slowly.

I don’t even set the hook with a crankbait especially when relying on reaction strikes as most times the bass are barely hooked as they just nip at the bait as it knocks and bangs across the bottom. A six and a half foot or seven foot medium action rod with a smooth baitcasting reel for long casts, to cover more water, rounds out the gear for this technique. I prefer a six and a half foot rod for pinpoint accuracy and a seven footer when paralleling the shoreline or casting into open water.

Winter Bass Fishing with Crankbaits
Nice winter bass fishing with a squarebill crankbait. Ken McBroom

Squarebill Crankbait

A square bill crankbait is a great presentation when fishing 2 to 4 feet of water. Bass will get shallow in the winter. They love that slightly warmer water up around rocks and logs. Look for dark banks as they will absorb more warmth from the sum. The square bill crankbait has an erratic action built in and can cause that reaction strike on its own, but glancing it off the rocks and cover will usually get you more bites. When the water is a little deeper use a deep running crankbait to maintain contact with the bottom.

Deep Crankbait

When using a deep running crankbait in shallow water you want it to hit the bottom as quick as possible on the retrieve. A crankbait that runs ten to twelve feet will hit bottom soon after the first turns of the reel handle in four feet of water. The purpose of this presentation is to get the crankbait down and dig into and hit the cover on the bottom. Once you feel the crankbait hit bottom begin a slow retrieve, rod tip down and stop reeling when the crankbait sticks to an object and let it float up and above the object so you can continue reeling. Be ready as it is at these points of contacts that cause the bass to strike the crankbait.

Reaction Strike

The whole purpose of this presentation is to get a reaction strike from bass that are not necessarily feeding and the more you can get your crankbait to hit something the more chances you have to get a strike. The reason for the deep runner in such shallow water is the ease in which to maintain contact with the bottom. The angle of these deep runners is important as well as it helps to keep the hooks back and away from the cover you are contacting allowing for fewer hang-ups. The power in which the crankbait hits is also created by the steep angle and quick dive of these deep running crankbaits and it is these contacts that create reaction strikes. You can almost always create a reaction bite even when the bass has lock-jaw so get out there and enjoy some great days on the water.

Lipless Crankbait

The lipless crankbait has been a go to cold water bass bait for many years. The lipless crankbait as it is commonly known as today was once only referred to as the Rat-L-Trap. Lipless crankbaits work great in enticing cold water bass into striking. Sometimes they are trying to eat the lipless crankbait and other times it is just reacting to the intrusiveness created by the tight wobble and the obnoxious rattle.

One tip when using the Rat-L-Trap or lipless crankbait. When the bass are striking out of reaction they will more times than not be hooked outside the mouth. You might also feel the bass run into the baits pushing it. You can feel the lipless crankbait vibrating through the water as you retrieve it. When you feel that vibration go away and return a second later it was probably a bass running into it. This disrupts the action and you can feel it. A bass don’t even have to hit the bait to cause this. It can just swim to it and turn quickly which disrupts its tracking therefore the feel in your rod. Pay attention to this and you can do things to catch more bass.

When bass are eating any hook will do. They eat the bait and the hooks do their job. However, when the bass are striking because they don’t like the bait in their domain they don’t open their mouth but will hit the bait in an attempt to get it out of their area. When this is happening there is a hook that will help you catch more bass. These are the original round bend treble hooks. This goes for crankbaits and other lures that use treble hooks.

Check this article about lipless crankbait hooks

Many lures now come with the triple grip treble hooks or you might have them on your bait. Triple grips are great for increasing hook up ratios when the bass are eating the bait. However, when they are striking out of reaction then the common round bend hooks are a better choice and could be the answer to missed strikes. The round bend hooks will penetrate the outside of the bass’ mouth better than the triple grip hooks which are great for staying hooked up when the bass are biting. Some anglers will even slightly bend the round bend hooks out so the point can easily stick the bass.

A little Rat-L-Trap history from the Rat-L-Trap website:  

Bill Lewis, a decorated WWII bomber pilot, grew up in Laurel, MS. Bill was an interesting man. He was a salesman, artist, as well as a fierce competitor. Bill was selling minnows on the streets of his home town as a kid. Bill was also a highly sought after football recruit. However, Bill decided to go to war for his country before ever seeing any time on the college football field.

After flying over 30 missions in WWII, Bill returned to Laurel and went to art school in Chicago. Thereafter he worked as a commercial artist in

Jackson, MS and Dallas, TX. During that time Bill’s passion for fishing and his entrepreneurial spirit directed him into designing and selling lures.

Bill took great risks in starting his fishing lure business.  It took Bill many attempts before making it big. When most people would have called it quits and gone for a safer career, Bill pressed on. He always found a way to continue pursuing his dream. In the 1960’s Bill developed a true champion of the fishing tackle world. He invented the legendary Rat-L-Trap®. 

When he heard the Rat-L-Trap coming through the water Bill knew he was onto something. Then watching his buddies catching fish like never before Bill knew he had something super special. Bill also knew he needed a great name for this bait. Driving home one day in his old Ford station wagon, it hit him. He would name the lure after his car and the name RattleTrap or Rat-L-Trap was born. It was noisy, but very dependable. A bass lure like no other.

Cranking Cold Water Winter Bass Fishing Tips

Bass slow down when the water gets cold, but they still need to eat. Being cold blooded bass don’t need to feed as much when the water gets cold. This means that bites can be hard to come by when the water dips below 50 degrees but there is one presentation that can help you get more bites. The square bill crankbait has helped bass anglers catch more bass in many different situations and cold water is no exception. You won’t get as many bites in cold water but the square bill crankbait can increase bites by creating reactionary bites. This is needed to trigger bites from bass that are not feeding. Here is a few winter bass fishing tips for you to try.

Erratic Action

The beauty of the square bill is its erratic action. The flow of water over the bill is not uniform causing a turbulence resulting in a darting action as the bait is constantly searching for its center, this is commonly referred to as hunting. This erratic action triggers an internal response within the bass that makes them lash out at the bait. You will know that your presentation triggered a reactionary bite by the hooks either barely hooking the bass or the bass being hooked outside its mouth.

The erratic or hunting nature of the square bill is enough to get a reaction bite but there is one more tactic that just might get even more and that is the deflection of the crankbait off of whatever cover you are fishing. The square bill has long been used to trigger reaction strikes from lethargic bass. The most successful anglers learned long ago to throw the bait into thick cover where bass like to ambush their prey. The square bill helps the crankbait to move through this cover without hanging up as it causes the bait to stick to the cover and then pop off deflecting one way or the other. It is this deflection that causes a seemingly uncontrollable reaction in the bass that puts another bass in the boat that otherwise may never have struck your bait.

Keep Tight To Cover

When the bass have their nose shoved into the cover the square bill crankbait is perfect for hugging the cover and coming right into the tiny strike zone of cold water bass which expend little energy in chasing prey. This not only offers the bass an easy meal but it also creates a reactionary response as the bait suddenly appears in front of the bass. Reaction strikes are important in cold water and can mean many more strikes over the course of a day of fishing.

Tackle For Fishing With Crankbaits

The equipment needed for square bill crankbaits is important to be successful in cold water or anytime reaction strikes are prevalent. A moderate action rod is crucial to put more bass in the boat when your strikes are primarily reactionary. Fiberglass has been the material of choice for crankbait fishing but in the last couple years, I’ve been introduced to the St Croix Avid Series crankbait rod.

This rod is made of graphite with a moderate action. This combination makes the perfect crankbait rod. Fiberglass is too limber for me. I feel it limits the ability to set the hooks effectively. You still want to be careful to prevent the hooks from ripping out. With the stiffer rod the hooks automatically penetrate deeper. The graphite is much more sensitive than glass as well and with practice you can even feel when a bass swipes at your bait.

The Rod

Moderate action means that more of the rod bends under pressure creating a deep bend in the rod when the bass strikes. This action offers the angler two advantages. First it takes longer to load up which gives lethargic bass time to engulf the bait. An important aspect of a moderate action rod is its ability to play the bass without ripping the treble hooks out of its its mouth. Other times they’re on the outside of the mouth. The moderate action rod will help you land more bass in these situations.

The Reel

The best reel for cold water cranking is a matter of choice. You might use a fast-speed reel for every technique and I know many anglers that do. It is critical, most of the time, that you slow your retrieve drastically when fishing a crankbait in cold water. This is very possible even with a high speed reel by adjusting the speed in which you turn the handle. I decided long ago to take that part out of the equation.  It was because I was cranking too fast for the conditions. I usually realize that I am cranking way too fast when I start wondering why I’m not getting anymore bites.

I now use a Lew’s reel with 5.4:1 gear ratio. The Lew’s is the smoothest reel I have ever cranked and they will cast a crankbait a mile. The slower speed reel helps me slow down without having to focus on how fast I’m turning the reel handle because no matter how fast I turn the handle the bait remains within an acceptable speed for the situation if that situation requires a slow retrieve. The Lew’s 5.4 is perfect for this presentation.

Best Line For Crankbaits

There are so many lines on the market today that it can make your head swim. I am currently in the process of narrowing my personal choices just so I can make a selection quicker when needed. I love cold water cranking and line selection is simple, monofilament. Monofilament works great with the moderate action rod and provides some stretch. This stretch only adds to the whole set up and the importance of doing everything possible to keep those trebles where they belong. Line stretch along with a moderate action rod increases not only hook up ratio but more importantly the number of bass you put in the boat.

More Winter Bass Fishing Tips

Slow Down

Bass slowdown in the winter, that’s no secret. They will move to deeper water and can be a challenge to catch. Fortunately, bass must eat during the winter and will move to shallow water seeking the warming rays of sunlight. They also are searching for dying shad. Shad will begin to struggle as the water temps fall. Bass know that during this time shad become an easy meal. This is a great time for throwing a suspending jerkbait over main lake points where bass like to suspend within the water column but throwing deep running crankbaits like the Strike King Pro Model or the Rapala DT series in shallow water is a great wintertime presentation for catching more bass when the water is cold. The great thing about this presentation is it triggers reaction strikes from bass that aren’t seeking a meal.

Deep Running Crankbaits In Shallow Water

Using a deep-running crankbait in shallow water may seem a little backwards. However, it is a great way to catch cold water bass during winter and early spring. You want the crankbait to hit the bottom as quickly as possible on the retrieve and a crankbait that runs ten feet will hit the bottom soon after the first turns of the reel handle in four feet of water. Pulling the crankbait down with a long sweeping motion works great too, and allows for a pause as you reel in the slack line. These pauses are important but not as important as maintaining bottom contact with your crankbait.

It is important to get your crankbait down quickly, digging into and hitting the structure and cover on the bottom. Long slow pulls provide a built-in pause to retrieve the slack line. It also helps you feel the bottom. When the crankbait sticks to a rock or stump stop the pull or retrieve. These pauses allow your bait to float up and above the object so you can continue your retrieve. It is the contact, with the objects below, that cause the bass to react and strike at the crankbait and many times the bass will be hooked on the outside of its mouth. This is how you know you are causing the bass to react to your presentation and they are probably not feeding. This will also let you know that you have the right combination to catch a few cold water bass.

Slow Dragging a Jig When the Temps Drop

Many anglers hang up their rods in the winter. The bite can slow down, but bass can still be caught in cold water. There are times when the cold water bite can be just as dramatic as any other time of year, but, you have to be on the water to take advantage of these times. Many of the same presentations you use throughout the season will also work in cold water. 

When the water temps fall, bass fishing can get tough. It’s true that bass slow down, but you can still catch a few with the right presentation. There are definitely windows of prime feeding times in the winter, but you can catch cold water bass throughout the day. You must put in fishing time to learn the winter season just like all the others. Catching cold water bass can be a challenge, but with the right information and time on the water you can enjoy catching a few bass when the water temps drop.

wintertime bass

A great presentation for cold water bass and one of my favorites is a jig. Slowly dragging a jig in the winter can trigger bites even in shallow water. Most bass may move to deeper haunts in the winter, but there are always a few up shallow. Jig fishing is always good for targeting big bass in the winter, but learning the technique can be challenging. When winter bass fishing bites can be few and far between, but the ones that do bite are oftentimes big.

Fish Around Heavy Cover To Catch More Winter Bass 

Winter bass are usually positioned around heavy cover. Docks, rocks and wood are a great place to start. Look for this cover near main lake creek channels, especially those channels that swing up next to the shore. These channels let bass move back and forth from deep water to shallow water to search for sluggish crawdads that live there. that are hiding in the cover in around 4-6 feet of water. When fishing jigs in the winter, slowly drag it, then let it sit on the bottom for a few seconds. Try to target big pieces of cover near these deep to shallow transitions. Big bass like big meals and find a jig very appealing.

Bass are cold blooded, so they won’t chase their food when the water temps are low. They prefer big, slow moving baits for this reason. A jig like the The BOOYAH Boo Jig. The BOOYAH Boo Jig is designed for working thick cover and the rattle helps convince winter bass that it’s really a crawdad.

In the winter, bass prefers slow moving baits with very little action. This most accurately mimics the prey they seek. The only time you will find a jig tied to my line without a trailer is in the winter. Sometimes the bass just wants a compact profile and removing the trailer accomplishes this during those times. I will say, that during the winter jig I’ll use a trailer ninety percent of the time. Trailers can serve a couple purposes for anglers, one is confidence the other is to add some realistic features to their jig presentation. 

During winter bass fishing, a trailer that imparts little action is the best for your jig. The YUM Crawbug ® is the perfect jig trailer for those sluggish, cold water bass. It has a realistic feel and stunning 3-D details that will entice even the pickiest winter weary bass. Its hollow body helps it compress on the hook shank exposing more of its gap thus increased hook-ups are realized.

Crawfish Color Is Important For Bass Fishing

There is often much debate on the color crawfish trailer and jig to use during certain times of the year. You can study the crawfish in your area and come up with the best color combination. This will help increase your odds of catching more wintertime bass. I stick with two colors almost exclusively. It’s a good idea to keep various colors handy. Just in case you see a crawfish or one is spit up in the livewell. You might be surprised at some of the various colors that a crawfish will display during certain times and in certain locations, even on the same body of water.

If the bass are keying on that color it would be best to try and match it. Two go to colors are black/blue and green pumpkin/red or orange. Black and blue is for when the water is the least bit stained or muddy. The green pumpkin and red is for clear water. Especially during late winter or early spring bass fishing. This is when the first females of the year move shallow to feed up for an early spawn. 

Video for Winter Bass Fishing Tips : Everything You Need To Know To Catch Fish Now

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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