Bass in the Big Chill

Brrr, it's cold. But that won't keep bass from biting

Outdoor Life Online Editor

If you have to use a snowmobile to get across your favorite lake in winter instead of a boat, chances are you're not too keen on fishing it for bass then. Yet in some parts of the country -- the South, the Southwest and California in particular -- the coldest part of the year means anything but a temporary end to casting and winding a lure. Where it's never so frigid that lakes freeze over, anglers who consider chilly temperatures a minor annoyance rather than a major obstacle catch some big bass and heavy stringers.

Granted, bass fishing in cold weather poses a different set of problems. You might look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy's kid brother with all the clothes you'll have to wear. And those layers still won't seem like enough when you're zipping across a lake at 50 miles an hour or so. Your line guides might clog up with ice after a few casts and you'll have to clean them occasionally. Most bass won't make a big effort to take your lures, so you may have to slow your retrieves to a point slightly above dead still.

On the plus side, bass are less pressured and you won't have to wait in line to fish a promising location. Many anglers forsake their fishing tackle for hunting gear this time of year. Some fishermen just won't go out when it's cold enough to put a skim of ice on the water in a livewell.

That just means more bass for you. If you're fortunate enough to live in an area where fishing can be a year-round proposition, or plan to travel there soon, keep your tackle handy. Here are some proven techniques to try when you get to the water.

** Beat the Banks **
A couple of years ago, during a bass tournament on Lake the Ozarks in Missouri, the air temperature never made it out of the 30s and it snowed through much of the event. Yet the most productive fishing pattern involved retrieving buzzbaits along banks lined with dark chunk rock.

"The harder it snowed, the better the bass hit," remembers Scott Rook, a professional bass fisherman from Little Rock, Ark., who participated in the event. Rook admits that working a buzzbait across the surface of a lake in cold weather is a bit off the wall, but it worked in this instance. What was more important than the lure was the circumstance. The best stringers were caught from along banks where a feeder creek channel meandered fairly close to the main lake's rocky shoreline.

"Most largemouths don't go as deep as people think in cold weather," notes Rook. "They're liable to be in water two feet deep when the water temperatures are in the 40s. They will go where they have to for food.

"A second thing to remember is that largemouths will move out to main-lake creek channels in the winter, but they like to hold where a creek swings in toward the bank so they don't have to travel far to get from deeper water to shallower water to feed."

When he's trying to establish a wintertime largemouth pattern in a big Southern impoundment, Rook looks for places where a narrow flat separates a creek channel from a shoreline that's covered with riprap or chunk rock. His go-to lures are small, deep-running crankbaits or jigs with a pork trailer.

"I like Rapala Shad Raps (No. 7 or 8) or Storm Wiggle Warts in crayfish patterns when I can get the fish to hit a crankbait," says Rook. "I'll get them down to the bottom and just work them fast enough to keep them there. Bass may be at the edge of the creek, somewhere on the flat or next to the bank -- I cover it all."

If bass are too lethargic to chase down a crankbait, Rook switches to jigs with pork-frog trailers. Black and blue are his favorite colors for stained water, while pumpkinseed is his top choice for clear water.

Rook's methods are repeatable in any large impoundment. Using a topographic map, find the areas where feeder creeks meander along the impoundment's bottom in large bays and coves. Then make note of the places where the creeks creep in toward the bank. Fish these areas first.

** Spotted Bass Down Low**
While largemouths may be holding in virtually any depth of water during the winter, spotted bass are easier to locate in Southern impoundments. Start looking for them along channel drop-offs, adjacent to deep points with cover and near submerged trees that once grew on the edges of the creeks and rivers covered by the lake.

Standing timber was the ticket for Mickey Bruce of Buford, Ga., in a December tournament at Lake Lanier near Atlanta in 1994. Fishing ok. "I'll get them down to the bottom and just work them fast enough to keep them there. Bass may be at the edge of the creek, somewhere on the flat or next to the bank -- I cover it all."

If bass are too lethargic to chase down a crankbait, Rook switches to jigs with pork-frog trailers. Black and blue are his favorite colors for stained water, while pumpkinseed is his top choice for clear water.

Rook's methods are repeatable in any large impoundment. Using a topographic map, find the areas where feeder creeks meander along the impoundment's bottom in large bays and coves. Then make note of the places where the creeks creep in toward the bank. Fish these areas first.

** Spotted Bass Down Low**
While largemouths may be holding in virtually any depth of water during the winter, spotted bass are easier to locate in Southern impoundments. Start looking for them along channel drop-offs, adjacent to deep points with cover and near submerged trees that once grew on the edges of the creeks and rivers covered by the lake.

Standing timber was the ticket for Mickey Bruce of Buford, Ga., in a December tournament at Lake Lanier near Atlanta in 1994. Fishing