Nothing slows bass down like cold water but bass still have to eat. Largemouth bass and especially Smallmouth Bass still feed daily. Some argue that bass go days without feeding in the winter but as an angler it seems there is always a good bass bite sometime throughout a day of wintertime bass fishing.
One great presentation for wintertime bass is the crankbait. During the winter bass primarily target dying shad and crawfish and crankbaits represent these well. Crankbaits are so versatile and can be fished slow or fast deep or shallow. You can pause a crankbait to not only allow the lethargic bass to catch the crankbait but it will also trigger a bite as bass know that the energy gained from the food it consumes must equal or surpass the energy expended to catch that prey.
Wintertime bass go deep. Fact or myth? Well again from an anglers perspective many would argue that lots of bass stay relatively shallow in the winter moving up to feed in even shallower water when it is time. Many would argue that once the water temps are stable bass pretty much resume a normal routine you might find in the spring or fall. Now it has been shown many times that bass go deep when water temps fall but there are still shallow bass to be caught. For those, like me, who are still patiently attempting to learn and gain confidence to pursue deep water bass and relinquish the shallow techniques for those deeper bass all is not lost and many anglers are proving that lots of bass still prowl the shallows in search of prey and can be caught even on fast moving crankbaits.
Whether a lipless or a conventional crankbait you can work shoreline cover and underwater structure with the same results in the winter as any other time. The feeding period will be much smaller and sometime after noon is often the best bite for as water temps rise. Even just 1 or 2 degrees can turn bass on and provide a flurry of fish in a short span of time.
Look for grass as this water will tend to be a bit warmer already and bass love to hang in there waiting for a shad or crawfish to swim by. You need to penetrate the weeds a little, ripping the crankbait through the grass. Even lethargic bass will be jolted with an energy boost by something ripping by them and you can cover lots of water this way in search of active bass.
Rocks and solid cover can be great places to search. Locate cover near deeper water say 12 to 15 feet and you have a great place. Crank fast and ricochet bait off the cover causing the crankbait to swim erratically. This will trigger the bass the same way as ripping through the grass. A good tip is to pause your crankbait after you feel it hit something and hang on as this is oftentimes when the bass will hit.
Wintertime bass fishing can be tough at times but there are plenty of bass still willing to cooperate in the winter if you just get out there and give a crankbait a try and experiment with the crankbait tips you read right here on RAMBLING ANGLER and you too can enjoy a longer season bass fishing and join many other anglers in dispelling the wintertime bass fishing myths.
To catch more bass, along the shoreline, flipping docks and brush piles works great. There are the obvious bass baits like the jig and pig or tube bait but do not overlook the crankbait, both lipless and conventional. I have had great success catching bass by flipping crankbaits along docks and heavy cover using short cast and pulling the bait, rather than reeling it, past likely looking cover. I choose a lipless crankbait like the Red Eye Shad or if I use a conventional crankbait I go with a deep running Rapala DT10. It is important to use a deep running crankbait in this situation as it will dive quickly on such a short line and allow you to search the cover more effeciently than a shallow running crankbait as it would not get deep enough on such a short retrieve.
Having said that everyone knows that there is always exceptions. I do flip a shallow running crankbait at times when the bass are so tight in the cover and refuse to leave it to chase a bait. I will throw a Rapala DT FAT 3 and work it carefully through the cover pausing it when it hits a limb or dock piling allowing it to float up and away from the cover then pulling it on through. Obviously this is a power fishing technique and will work best when there is a long continious stretch of good cover to flip to as you will fish this cover through quickly leaving you with nothing to fish hence hurting the effeciency of this power fishing technique. When you stick a bass with this method slow down and grab athat jig or tube and probe the bottom portions of the cover and maybe even returning later to catch more bass as there is a reason the first bass was there and the brush, more than likely, will replenish with more bass.
Dredging crankbaits across the bottom is a proven method for triggering reaction bites from prowling bass. Whether you are fishing muddy bottoms, rocky bottoms or stumps, dredging the bottom causes bass to react. The best way I have found to dredge the bottom with your crankbait is to use a crankbait that runs deeper than the water you are fishing. I also like a crankbait that has a lot of bouyancy as this allows the crankbait to float up and away from the cover you are fishing and keeps the crankbait from hanging up.
I prefer to pull the crankbait steadily through the cover as long as it does not hang up. With a steady retrieve crankbaits will deflect and dart over and around cover hanging up less than you might think. Manufacturers, like Rapala, have designed their crankbaits to do just this as they know that this is what the angler has asked for and it works. Different bills on a crankbait cause different reactions when dredging the bottom.
Rectangular bills displaces water equally to both sides of the crankbait which causes very little wiggle. The rectangular bill also will stick momentarily on the cover fished and then spring back as you pull it through the cover. This instant stop on the stump or rock is what the bass want. This is a great crankbait technique in cold water as the reactionary forces are there along with the pause needed to get cold water bass to bite.
Rounded bills displace water evenly but different amounts of water as it flows over the round bill causing more wobble and as a result more vibration. The round bill does not dive as deep but will eratically dart over cover causing reactionary bites and can be fished fast to cover more water.
Know your crankbait depth: To catch more bass with crankbaits you must know
exactly what depth your crankbaits run, especially if you are a
tournament angler and don't have the time to test the crankbait
during the tournament. A good way to acquire this valuable
information is to run your crankbaits yourself and write down the
results. Although there are many variables that effect the running
depth of a crankbait like water density and maybe even barometric
pressure the things you as an angler should know are a little less
scientific and will suffice for your crankbait depth chart. The items
listed below can not be determined by the depth rating on the box you
have to test it yourself. Keeping a chart in your boat with this
information can really help save some time when the bite is on. Of
course you will probably remember this information after a while if
you fish crankbaits often but if you are like me I fish plastics so
often that my chart does come in handy.
Line size and type can drastically
effect the depth your crankbait will run. Braided line allows the
angler to really feel the crankbaits action and come in handy when
this is needed but the lack of stretch of braided line can cause you
to rip the hooks from the bass's mouth on the hook set or when the
bass makes a last minute run at the boat. The stretch of monofilament
can give you a little more time to react to this run and possibly
save a lost bass.
Rod length can help you catch more bass on crankbaits. You can hold the rod tip down to get the crankbait to run a
little deeper or hold the rod tip high to bring it back up to
possibly clear some cover and keep the crankbait from hanging up
while keeping it close to the cover where the bass live lowering the
tip when the crankbait is clear and you can't feel the cover any
Speed of retrieveis an often
misunderstood method for crankbait depth. Many anglers believe that
the faster you retrieve the crankbait the deeper it will go. In fact
a steady slow to medium retrieve will allow the crankbait to perform
more efficiently and achieve maximum depth.
On the water testing is the best way to
understand your crankbaits performance. The reason it is best for
you, the angler, to perform your own test is that you know the types
of water you fish as well as the types of tackle you prefer. This
test will be ultimately catered to your fishing techniques and will
afford you the greatest information available to you and your fishing
Start by locatinga gradually sloping
bottom on your waters and apply these tips and write down the
results. Have your rods rigged with the line types, brands and
dimensions that you commonly use. If you like to use a swivel be sure
to include a swivel in your test as this will effect the outcome.
Cast your crankbait parallel to this chosen bottom to maintain a
consistent depth and record the depth that you begin to feel and what
line and rod type and position. You should use a medium retrieve for
the entire test to maintain consistency.