Finding Where the Bass Have Gone
Many anglers I know struggle to achieve results during winter and they all have one thing in common: they tend to be one dimensional in their approach and rely heavily on the margins (shoreline) to get some fish in the boat.
his is all good and well if the fish are shallow, but the reality of the matter is that they aren’t at this time of year. Relying on shoreline cover at this stage of the season would not be recommended unless there is sufficient depth. With the margins not producing, many anglers battle to adjust. Instead of leaving their comfort zone, and finding where the fish have gone, they prefer to make lure adjustments which serves no purpose if you can’t locate fish. Offering the convenient excuse that the fish just weren’t biting today isn’t good enough. I’ve fished enough tournaments to know that someone always catches them, regardless of how tough you think the fishing is. I would rather confess to not having found fish on the day, than say that they simply weren’t biting.
How to find fish
With all that said, let’s look at how to find fish in winter. Every impoundment is unique and has its own nuances so I’ll keep to the basics. In early winter, fish will leave shallow water areas as soon as the water temperature becomes unfavourable. Shallow bays and flats tend to cool down quicker than the water around it so fish will leave these areas and retreat to the first break they find: a drop off, river channel, even water grass. Grass retains heat quite well and is often a few degrees warmer than the surrounding water. Look for banks that have a 45 to 90 degree slope. Fish would rather move vertically through the water column to get shallow as opposed to horizontally, it saves vital energy. Fish will return to the shallows periodically to feed, but the majority of the time they will remain deep. The key here is to find a pathway, a route that links the bass with the feeding area. Bass relate to specific areas for a reason, find out what the drawing card is and exploit it. What I’m suggesting is: go to an area that you traditionally do well in, and just back off slightly into deeper water until you find the first break, the fish are likely to stack up in that area. If the slope is too gradual, and you have to cover a 100m just to gain 5ft in depth, the fish are likely to suspend. Avoid such banks and stick to the steeper stuff. Preferably main lake points and the old river channel. In particular where a channel swings close to a main lake point.
The common trend during winter is to downscale on lure and line, this is sound advice but for me personally,
this is the time to target big fish. The big females will start to gather in anticipation of the spawn, and big fish prefer big baits in my opinion. This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t throw a drop-shot or shakey head, I do, but rather the magnum versions. If I wanted to target quantity instead of quality, then I would downscale to finesse type baits.
Bass typically relate to the bottom at this time of year, some fish do suspend offshore, but they are difficult to target effectively without top notch electronics. Basic sonar will do fine when looking for drop offs and ledges. Getting the bait down and keeping it there is vital. Any presentation that makes a sufficient amount of bottom contact will do – Carolina rigs, jigs, deep diving crank baits, drop-shot, shakey heads, flutter spoons, you name it. Slowing down your approach will benefit you greatly, it is winter after all and bass tend to be lethargic until the water reaches about 16ºC.
Don’t get disheartened if you initially don’t achieve results, it took me about two seasons to fully understand fish movement according to seasonal stages, once you figure it out winter becomes a wonderland of opportunity.
A selection of my preferred drop-shot baits. Note that they share a common characteristic - a realistic eye
A selection of spinnerbaits in various sizes and colour combinations
Swimbaits (top) rank among my favourite big bass baits. I like to swing for the fences. Various deep diving cranks - a must have for winter