OUTDOOR CORNER: Winter ideal for catching big bass because of eating habits and lack of competition

Lyle Johnson
Lyle Johnson is shown with a lunker caught using a deep water method – jigging a spoon fishing with Kelly Jordan in Lake Fork in December.

Wow, we’re having a real winter aren’t we? Lot’s of rain with big-time cold fronts that are accompanied with sometimes frigid weather. Heck, we’ve already had some snow. Fishing has taken a hit with all this rain but if an angler wants an opportunity to catch a really big bass, now’s the time.

Although most people associate winter and cold with hunting, and rightly so, this is actually the best time of year to catch a really big bass or some hefty stringers. It’s actually my favorite time of the year to bass fish.

One of the reasons it’s really good this time of year is the lack of folks participating. The cold weather cuts down on the number of people willing to brave frigid temperatures at 60 mph or so and the rest of the gang is hunting. So if fighting the crowds gets under your skin, this just may be your time to go.

Alright, pick of the spots and lack of competition is one reason so your percentages of success go way up. Another reason is the weather change also makes the bass change their feeding habits and their metabolism changes as well.

All fish are cold blooded which means outside temperatures as well as barometric pressure affect the way they live. In the summertime, everything is wide open. The forage they feed on (shad, perch, crawfish, etc.) swim really fast so the bass have to exert more effort to catch them. The energy expended vs. the calories taken in is not very high so they eat a lot but most of the calories taken in are burnt up with activity.

In the winter time everything slows down so the energy expended vs. the caloric intake favors the bass and they put on lots of weight. Instinct kicks in making the females eat even more so they can face the rigors of the spawn (laying of eggs) in the spring. I guarantee from now until the end of February we’ll see some pictures and hear some stories of big bass caught over eight pounds, some topping 10 pounds.

Ok, no crowds, giving the angler a great chance and the fish are eating like pigs and putting on weight. So what’s the key to cashing in on this weight bonanza? Slow down. The forage slows down and the bass do as well so the lures we use must “match the hatch” not only in appearance but action as well.

Spinner baits are a good choice in early winter. “Slow rolling” is the way to go. Willow leaf blades work very well and are very popular but they are not conducive to working your lure effectively when working the bait slowly so a single Colorado or Indiana blade is just what’s needed. In clear water a # 2 or 3 is needed and as the water gets more stained the #4 thru 6 gives off much more vibration and works much better. Casting to wood or other cover is best but the focus should be on a very slow retrieve.

The crank bait is my favorite selection for this time of year. The words often related to this lure are “burning it fast” but you need to forget those words in cold weather. Pick out a lure for the depth that is desired but remember we will be pulling the bait slowly so it won’t dive quite as deep. Sometimes a slim crank bait with a narrow bill that produces a tight wobble will work better than a fat one - try them both.

Next on the list is the lure that probably produces more big fish than any one bait; the jig. Back in the day it was called the “jig and pig” because the trailers mostly used were colored pork rinds, Uncle Josh being the favorite. Although heavy in weight, the bulky skirts and plastic trailers used today cause the jig to fall very slowly making it very attractive for a big bass looking for an easy meal.

Patience is an ugly word for most of us in this fast paced world we live in but it is a required element to be effective in our attempts to catch fish in cold weather. The bite is sometimes subtle and hard to detect. While retrieving the spinner bait and the spinner stops vibrating - set the hook.

You need to retrieve the crank bait so slow that you can feel each wobble. The same applies here. If the bait stops its wobble, set the hook. It might be a swing and a miss and you might hang up on a branch, but one time it’s gonna be that hawg you dream about.

The jig takes the most concentration as the bite is seldom felt like fishing a plastic worm. Watching your string is tantamount as sometimes just a small movement of the line lets you know something’s up on the other end.

All three lures require much more focus this time of year. In warm weather you can “feel” the bite and can look at the scenery and even look for the place you’ll cast next. Missed strikes and lost fish will be your lot in life if you don’t focus on every cast in the winter. “Slow” is the word for cold weather. Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you.