“Autumn / Winter... Where Did All The Bass Go?”
Where Did All The Bass Go?
We are at that time of year again, the dreaded autumn and winter fishing – Gary Peter
We are at that time of year again, the dreaded autumn and winter fishing. As anglers, we all get down as after an awesome spring and summer filled with great catches in both size and numbers we are now faced with spending hours fishing for hardly any fish and with most of our catches being small. We all have asked the questions; Where did all the fish go? Where have all the big fish gone?
I’ve heard the “switch” theory, as I’m sure you all have when your fishing buddy turns to you and says...” someone must have turned the switch off”. I’ve even heard a theory that every dam has a lid at the bottom and come winter they open the lid and all the big fish go underground for winter.
The question we should be asking is; What changes do I need to make to find the fish and catch the big ones? The bass are still there, yes they are more lethargic and a lot less active but bass still need to eat, the winter is long they have to sustain themselves. Where they go and how they hunt is what changes and if we can understand why then we can begin to outsmart those green sneaky scoundrels and get them back on our lures and into our boats.
Okay that being said; let’s look at the bass itself. They are cold blooded and when the water is warmer so is their blood and warm blood means warm muscles which in turn
mean they can swim fast and accelerate from standstill in a flash. They can attack prey more “aggressively”.
Come winter the water is colder therefore, so is their blood and muscles. This means they move slower and accelerate a lot slower from standstill. It now takes way more calories for them to get their muscles and blood warmer from swimming. When we are cold we can’t just start sprinting, we will hurt ourselves, we need to stretch and jump around to get the warm blood flowing first. We humans are warm blooded, meaning our blood is at a constant balmy temperature, unlike poor Mr. Bass. His blood is cold and stays cold so there is no jumping around for him. So basically Mr. Bass in winter hunts way slower and uses the ambush tactics in winter. He can’t swim fast so instead he hides behind or in structure and waits for his food to come to him.
Also, the mornings and evenings in winter produce huge drops in temperature. The surface of the water can drop to as much as ten degrees in winter at night. Mr. Bass has cold muscles so he won’t be moving around near as much looking for warmer or colder water. They hate changes in temperature. So for winter they prefer to move deeper where the water temperatures are not affected by temperature changes at nigh like it does in the shallows.
So having learned that; What does that tell us about where to find the fish and what type of prey they will be eating? With our new understanding it is kind of clear, they will be looking for slower moving baits in deeper water and tight on structure! So it is now a case of watching our finders looking for rock piles, trees and even channel drops.
Try fishing a lot slower and even “dead sticking” your plastics. Cold bass prefer still prey that uses less energy to catch. Deep water rigs like a Carolina rig, drop-shot and even a heavier Texas rig work very well fishing deep water structure. The winter theory is “if you think you are fishing too slow then slow down even more”. I’m a believer in using dips like garlic when fishing deep in winter or try using a glass bead below your sinker to create small tic-tic noises mimicking crabs legs over rocks.
Will there still be bass in shallows?
Yes, those that haven’t had their full in the deeper water will move up into the shallows on those warmer days when the water does warm up in the shallows. Usually around 11am they move up into the shallows to warm their blood a little so they can feed more actively. (Note; more actively, not aggressively.) So even when targeting shallower water in the late mornings you still need to move that bait slower. Swim your spinnerbaits and cranks much slower, pausing them every few seconds can produce a reaction bite so don’t be afraid to try that, you will be surprised at how many fish I’ve caught by simply stopping my retrieve on cranks and spinners. Fish your plastics really slow and pause every now and again as a prey standing still is a lot easier for a bass to eat in the cold winter.
By changing where you fish and how you fish you will be truly surprised how you will catch those bigger fish again and catch more fish than you normally do in winter. Look, winter fishing is harder and it takes patience and discipline to fish real slow all day, but it is well worth it. Another good thing to keep in mind is most big bass in winter feel small on the line at first, but once their muscles get warmer from the fight they tend to get a turbo like boost half way to the boat and catch you by complete surprise so play every fish as if it is a giant.
At the time of writing this article I’ve been fishing deep water already as its cold in May and the bass have already started moving deep. I’ve had some good success in 18 to 30ft already and have caught some solid pigs deep as you see in the attached pictures. Personally I like to fish a lot of heavy Texas rigs in winter. It gets the bait down fast and one can really feel direct contact with the structure below. I also use Carolina rigs on those windy days when you can’t feel the Texas as good as in calmer water. Also remember, even when fishing shallower in the late warmer mornings, fish tight against the structure, again bass are hiding in an ambush pattern so don’t be afraid to pitch deep into the reeds and structure. A really slow rolled (reeled real slow) spinnerbait with pauses can be deadly. When cranking, use deeper cranks than the water you fishing. By digging the bill into the bottom, it allows you to retrieve the crank way slower and it imitates a bait fish foraging on the bottom. So next time your buddy says “someone turned the switch off” you can say “maybe, but I know where to find that switch and DAMN I’m gonna be turning it on!”
Like the saying goes slowly-slowly catch a monkey, slowly-slowly catch a donkey!
So get out there and smash those cold water swamp donkeys .... reeeeeeeeal slow! May you all get bent and go