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.

SA Bass - - Tactics - >> Di­van Coet­zee

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

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