10 SA BASS
“Winter Patterns” Looking at the annual national tournament calendar it is evident that winter is no longer considered a time of year when bass cannot be efficiently caught. During winter there are a few advantages the angler can arm himself or herself with for more consistent results – Martin de Kock
Looking at the annual national tournament calendar it is evident that winter is no longer consi-dered a time of year when bass cannot be efficiently caught. During winter there are a few advantages the angler can arm himself or herself with for more consistent results.
Generally South Africa has a very moderate climate, especially when compared to the USA where of course bass originate from. In certain parts of the country the water temperature does not dip below the 60 degree Fahrenheit level. During January 2007, when I fished the Federation Nation Championship in Alabama, the water temperature was 49 degrees and the bass were still busting baitfish on the surface! Therefore my conclusion is that in bass fishing cold water becomes a relative term. Obviously fish acclimatize to local conditions, but being a cold blooded creature their metabolism still runs in close conjunction with water temperature.
During the last decade we have become more experienced in targeting cold water bass. Readily available bass fishing literature and the internet has made knowledge regarding the topic more accessible. Lures and terminal tackle are continuously developed and refined for specialist circumstances such as cold water fishing. Fish finders have developed considerably in the
last few years, making identification of structure and pinpointing fish much more accurate, while GPS systems (often in combination with fish finders) have made re-location of offshore hotspots much quicker and efficient. If you are not using it by now you must be living in a cave!
In addition by watching bass tournaments in the USA on cable TV anglers can learn and copy new techniques locally.
Due to water temperature being colder in winter bass’ metabolism does slow down and they are more lethargic than during other times of the year. Deliberate and well presented baits will however entice a bite from these fish.
Some of my favourite lures and winter techniques are as follows:
During winter I try and fish with the longest leader I can; I also use the smallest hook I can get away with to make the bait react more naturally. Adjusting the sinker size to the related circumstances is also advisable. A general rule of thumb is to use a lighter sinker in the 1/4oz range in heavy cover, and a heavier weight up to 3/4oz on more barren areas.
The lighter sinker will reduce hangups and on the other hand the heavier model will assist in sensitivity and making pinpointing isolated structure more effective. Of late it has become popular to use tungsten weights for Carolina rigging. The heavier, more compact composite of the tungsten improves the sensitivity of rig to the angler. If used with the combination of fluorocarbon with experience you should be able to determine even subtle changes in bottom composition. Considering that bites are generally lighter during winter extra sensitivity does help in placing more fish in the live well. Personally I believe plastics with less action draw more strikes during cold water, with the only exception being the plastic lizard. Other Carolina winter favourites in my tackle box are fluke type baits, 4” senko’s and 4” finesse worms. Colours can be your same favourites as during warmer months.
This is an effective tool in “mopping up” a few more fish out of an area after locating fish and structure with the Carolina rig. My bait choices are the same as with the Carolina rig. Generally the W2 to W0 weight range work well depending on depth and structure type. Downsizing line will also get more bites, and 10lb fluorocarbon has served me well.
This old, often ignored technique can be deadly in the colder months. During winter bass can be very tight to cover and the Texas rig provides penetration into their hideouts. Yoyoing a Texas rigged plastic in offshore trees and brushpiles has caught me buckets full of bass in winter.
Of late jigs have made a very strong appearance on the SA bass tournament scene. They can be dragged like the Carolina rig or fished the same as a Texas rigged plastic. Football jigs in particular have become very popular tools in fooling winter bass, with the 1/2oz size being the most favourite choice. It is sensible to add a plastic trailer like a double tail grub or a chunk.
Shaky Head Worms
Fished on light line this is a finesse alternative to the Texas rig. It will draw strikes when other alternatives fail. The thin line can however cause trauma around heavy cover winter bass hangouts.
This is another finesse technique that is good in catching some fish during tough conditions when other standbys fail. A finesse worm does well on this rig.
Deep Running Crankbaits
Making repeated casts and deflecting crankbaits of offshore structure has been very effective for me during winter. Suspending models give lethargic fish more time to zone into the bait. The Rapala DT range offers natural “slow” buoyancy due to them being made from balsa wood and is my favourite. The Bluegill pattern in particular has caught some of my largest winter bass.
Slowly fishing these on cliff faces during late winter can be deadly. At Inanda Dam in KZN this is very efficient during July.
Locating the bass
Locating the bass during winter can be tedious, but when you pinpoint them you can be rewarded with some of the best catches of the year. As mentioned earlier using your sonar (fishfinder) and GPS to their full capacity will make life much easier.
Bluff banks and cliff faces are good areas to find bass during winter especially if a river channel passes close to it. It is easy for bass to move from deep water to shallow areas to feed on steep banks.
Offshore humps close to drop offs also remain one of the most reliable areas to find bass during the colder parts of the year. If it contains some timber or rock it will make it even more attractive for bass.
Old submerged riverbeds in the 12 – 20ft depth range also hold winter bass, especially where there is a
swing in the channel.
Water clarity is important in winter as cold dirty water is some of the toughest bass fishing conditions you will ever find. Generally slightly stained to clear water will provide more consistent fishing action than stained water.
Using fish attractants during winter makes a lot of sense as fish tend to look longer at baits before committing to eat it. Rapala VMC provided me with some prototype spray called Trigger X. It contains pheromones that encourage fish to feed actively. It definitely appears to draw strikes during tough conditions and this winter I ill be using it.
As an aside, the 2009 SABAA nationals are being staged during the first week of August at Albert Falls, and this should be interesting as at that time of year the fish at Alberts are definitely still relating to winter fishing patterns.
Figuring out winter bass is an exciting part of the sport, simply because one of the challenges is to make them bite during the coldest part of the year.