3 Winter Bass Fishing Tactics

To consistently catch fish in winter, you need to understand a little about Limnology, which is, in part, the study of how fresh water behaves in a lake. The Three basic things you need to know is that (a) Water is most dense at 39 degrees F., (b) Ice is less dense than liquid water, and (c) The water in a lake is made up of three layers: The epilimnion, which is heavily oxygenated, warm and goes down to around 20′ in some deeper lakes. The thermocline, which is the middle layer of cooler water, is very thin, usually 1 or 2′ thick, and seperates the upper and lower layers, and the hypolimnion, which is the lower, cold layer of dense water with a low oxygen level, and high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, and other sulphuric gases from organic waste and decay.

Now that you now this, it is easy to see what happens in winter. As the epilimnion cools, the water becomes more dense as it approaches 39 degrees, and sinks. When this water sinks, it has to be replaced by the water from the hypolimnion, which is now less dense than the surface water. So this water rises, allowing the gasses to evaporate, and the water now becomes more oxygenated. This is called the lake ‘turn-over’. SInce it is powered mainly by wind-created water circulation, then in winter, you would wind the warmest and most oxygenated water on the windward side of a lake in winter. In areas where the water freezes, since ice is less dense than liquid water, it forms a protective, insulating layer on top of the lake, allowing the water to remain at livable temperatures for the inhabitants, preserving the ecosystem.

So, logically, we would find winter fish, bass specifically, on the windward-side of the lake, at or near the thermocline level (where oxygen levels would be the highest, near structure. This would be their winter holding areas.

Now, also in winter, the fish, being cold-blooded, with experience a change in metabolism. Their systems will operate much slower, with the goal of conserving as much energy as possible. They will expend as few calories as possible to get a meal, so instead of being a roving predator, they will now hover near structure, at a comfortable temperature and oxygen level, and let food come to them. They will not move very far, or fast to eat.

So, with this in mind, here is what you should do to catch bass in winter, in any lake.
1. Expect bass to be holding in 10′-15′ of water, near structure.
2. Your retrieve must be so slow that you can hardly stand it. And placement must be virtually on top of the bass. Slow jigging is very effective at this time of year.
3. Your baits must be small, and drab colored. Small soft plastic baits are great, especially ‘Do-Nothing’ type worms. The key is Keep It Small and Slow (KISS). This applies to all winter fishing.

Winter White Bass and Striped Bass are different propositions. They are much more tolerant of cold water, and require less oxygen than their perceived relatives (Actually, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are not really bass. They are panfish, more closely related to sunfish and crappie, than to the true basses: White, Striped, Hybrid and Yellow basses). The same techniques hold true for all true basses. They are remarkably consistent in their behavior from species to species. In the wintertime, stripers and white bass remain active, and pursue schools of baitfish, mainly shad.

As the waters get cooler, their metabolism slows down a bit, too, just like other fish, but to a much lesser extent. They will still actively feed. They just don’t roam around as much. They will hold in large schools, usually around 20′ deep, over sandy, or rocky bottoms, along rip-raps, below dam tailraces, off of points and shoals, and along channels, hence their nickname: Sand Bass.. They will seldom be found near structure. One of the best bets for finding them is to look for shad, or large schools of other baitfish. Where you find shad, you will find white bass. They will actively hit smaller leadhead jigs, lures, crank-baits, and live bait. Just slow the retrieve down somewhat. They will usually be near the bottom in winter, so a live minnow fished on a dropper line above a split-shot on the bottom, in a suitable area, will almost always produce white bass.

Just because the weather is cold and dreary is no reason to hang up your fishing rods. As long as you take the proper precautions for cold-weather survival, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy fishing all year long. So bundle up, gear up, and have a great time.

Happy fishing.

Dan Eggertsen is a fellow bass fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on bass fishing since 2004.

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