Winter Bass Tricks
When the mercury drops, bass go deep. To catch more lunkers down low, tie on a metal bait
Jigging spoons, blade baits and tailspinner jigs are among the deadliest bass lures to use in cold weather…which doesn’t help explain why most of us never fish them.
Maybe it’s because they’re fairly expensive and easy to lose. And you can’t just chuck them out and wind them in and expect to catch bass the way you can with crankbaits or spinnerbaits. They’re supposed to look like minnows in trouble and require a good deal of angler skill to achieve the proper action. Most bass fishermen haven’t got a clue how to fish them.
Which is where OUTDOOR LIFE comes in. We want to put heavy metal where it belongs, in the top drawer of your tackle box. These lures can be awesome in troublesome situations in which other baits can’t cut the mustard, such as when bass are suspended 40 feet deep in 40-degree water, or bunched up in pre-spawn on a snaggy river-channel drop-off, or cruising a ledge in a gin-clear reservoir. Pick up a few jigging spoons, blade baits and tailspinners. Practice the retrieves we recommend, and then go catch a bunch of bass.
When you’re bird-dogging widely scattered bass in deep water, nothing works better than a blade bait. These flat-sided metal lures can be fished much faster than a jig or grub and far deeper than most lipped crankbaits. Popular blades include the Bullet, Cicada, Sonar and Silver Buddy.
Blade baits have a thin, fish-shaped body stamped out of sheet metal. You can cast them a long way even on raw, windy days. Chuck a blade to the end of a deep point and it sinks like a rock, making you wonder why a bass would ever hit it. But its magic becomes evident when you pull back on your rod. The blade strobe-flashes like a shad on amphetamines and darn near vibrates your fillings loose.
Blades are perfect when bass are holding tight to deep structures where there is a minimum of snaggy cover, such as gravel points or rock ledges. The lures excel in deep, clear highland reservoirs where big smallmouth and spotted bass cruise channel drop-offs, slick clay points and 45-degree rock banks. These metal baits work best in clear to slightly stained water. On sunny days, a plain silver or gold blade creates maximum bass-attracting flash. Under cloud cover, use a painted lure. A 1/2-ounce blade is recommended for probing structures down to around 30 feet; for deeper applications, or when casting in gale-force winds, try a 3/4-ounce blade. This lure should always be fished with a wire snap or split-ring. A 6- to 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy bait-casting or spinning rod and 10- to 14-pound-test mono are recommended.
Dancing a Jigging Spoon
Weighted metal spoons will catch bass in open water and around wood cover. In the dead of winter, bass in highland reservoirs bunch up in “hollows” (deep V-shaped tributary arms) where they suspend around baitfish schools in the 20- to 40-foot zone. Locate these fish on your graph, then drop a spoon on their heads. Jigging spoons aren’t just for cold weather. In summer, bass in lowland and river-run reservoirs gravitate to channel drop-offs, usually 15 to 25 feet deep. A jigging spoon can load the boat in no time.
As noted, a jigging spoon has no built-in action, so it’s totally up to the angler to make it perform correctly. To do so, you must maintain contact with the lure while fishing it; otherwise you’ll miss strikes or stay hung up in brush. Avoid lightweight spoons; use one weighing 1/2 to 1 ounce, depending on the depth of the fish and the strength of the water current. Use a 6-foot medium-heavy bait-casting rod and 14- to 20-pound-test monofilament. Popular jigging spoons include the Hopkins Shorty, Lazer Eye Minnow, Mann-O-Lure and Strata Spoon.
Among bass lures, the jigging spoon is the all-time depth champ. Anglers on Lake Lanier in Georgia have reported catching spotted bass 100 feet deep on spoons. When jigging a school of suspended bass, keep a felt-tip marker in your shirt pocket. After a strike, but before reeling in the fish, mark the line at the rod tip. That way, you can lower the spoon again to the exact depth where the bass are.
Taking a Tailspin
The most compact of all metal baits, tailspinners generally have a teardrop-shaped body with a spinner blade revolving on a wire shaft protruding from the tail. Most tailspinners have one treble hook, making them less likely to hang up in brushy cover than blade baits. A tailspinner helicopters as it drops, creating flash and vibration–powerful mojo in murky water.
Tailspinners gained prominence in the late ’60s when lure designer and bass pro Tom Mann of Eufaula, Ala., logged staggering catches of lunker largemouths on a Little George, a tailspinner he designed and named after Alabama’s former governor George Wallace. Other popular tailspinners include the Little Sparky and the Whipper Snapper. These lures are well suited to both rocky and brushy reservoirs. Because of their intense vibration, they work better than other metal baits in murky water. A tailspinner variation favored by trophy smallmouth hunters in deep, clear lakes is equipped with a triangular metal head, elongated tail wire and rear hook dressed with feathers or bucktail. This style, typified by the Fish-Tec Whoop ‘n’ Hook, is designed to be retrieved slowly and steadily just off bottom, as opposed to presented vertically. Sometimes a stop-and-go retrieve, in which the tailspinner is allowed to settle to the bottom periodically, is effective.
Most tailspinners are made of lead or a nonreflective metal alloy and are painted. Try white in clear water and chartreuse in dingy water. Tailspinners weighing 3/8 to 1/2 ounce are the most popular. Because they’re intended to be fished around snaggy cover where big bass lurk, use a 7-foot medium-heavy bait-casting rod and reel loaded with 15- to 20-pound-test abrasion-resistant monofilament.
A few modifications will help you fish a metal bait more efficiently.
–When jigging a spoon around wood cover, replace the nickel-plated hook with a softer bronze hook. If the lure hangs up in deep water, apply pressure and the hook will straighten enough to free the lure. Or add an Ultimate LureSaver titanium split-ring (866-587-3728) between the lure and the hook. When you pull on the line you’ll lose the hook but save the lure.
–In muddy water, add a 3-inch chartreuse swimming-tail grub to a spoon’s hook as an attractor.
–Stick a piece of prism tape on a spoon or blade bait for more flash.
–If the bite is slow, press in the center of the Little George’s spinner slightly to give it a bit more “cup.” This will change its vibrations and might trigger more strikes.
–Bend the tail of a blade bait so that it has a slight curve when viewed from above. This will make the lure fall and hop more erratically.
Parallel Blade Bait Retrieve
In fall and winter, bass often suspend around baitfish schools off 45-degree banks and rock bluffs. Retrieving a blade bait parallel to these structures keeps the lure in the strike zone at the right depth.
1. Idle the boat slowly along the bank or bluff, noting depth of baitfish schools or suspending bass on a fish finder.
2. Make a long cast parallel to the structure. Keep the rod tip at 10 o’clock as the bait drops.
3. Count the lure down to the depth of the bait or suspending bass. A 1/2-ounce blade will drop about 1 foot per second on 12-pound-test mono.
4. When the lure reaches the target depth, either hop it with repeated sharp upward strokes of the rod tip or reel it steadily back to the boat with a fairly fast retrieve.
Ledge-Hopping a Blade
A blade bait is the ultimate ledge-hopping lure. Many rocky reservoirs have limestone or shale banks that stair-step from shallow to deep water. As long as baitfish are plentiful in the area, bass hold on these steps or ledges–20 to 40 feet is common. A blade can be fished down these ledges.
1. Make a long cast to the bank. Keep the rod tip at 10 o’clock while the blade sinks on a tight line.
2. When the lure hits bottom, immediately reel up slack line while dropping the rod tip to 9 o’clock.
3. Raise the rod tip sharply to 11 o’clock. This causes the blade to hop off the bottom, flashing and vibrating as it moves.
4. “Feel” the bait back to the bottom by following the falling lure down with the rod tip, back to 9 o’clock. If the line jumps or stops on the fall, set the hook.
5. Repeat steps 2 through 4, reeling up line as necessary until the blade is directly under the boat.
6. Before bringing in the lure, jig it up and down a couple of times near the surface to trigger a strike from a following fish.
Jigging Spoon Technique
Bass often suspend on channel structure or hold around wood cover at the bottom.
1. Position the boat over the target area. A bow-mounted graph with the transducer attached to the trolling motor is an essential tool for accurate vertical presentations.
2. With the rod tip at 9 o’clock, drop the spoon to the bottom. Or, if bass are suspended, strip line off the reel in 2-foot increments, counting until the spoon has dropped to the level of the fish.
3. Engage the reel spoon and pop the rod tip sharply to 11 o’clock so the spoon jumps.
4. As the spoon drops, lower the rod back to 9 o’clock, just fast enough to keep a slight bow in the line. This will make the spoon flutter down like a dying shad. Bass often strike a falling spoon, so set the hook if the line stops short.
5. Repeat steps 2 through 4.
A tailspinner works great on main-lake reservoir structures: channel drop-offs lined with stumps, standing timber or brush, and submerged humps and points.
1. Use marker buoys to define the parameters of the structure. Position the boat on the deep side of the target area.
2. Cast the tailspinner to the top of the structure, keeping the rod tip at 10 o’clock as the lure falls.
3. When the lure hits bottom, lower the rod tip to 9 o’clock while reeling up slack.
4. Once the line is tight, raise the rod sharply to 11 o’clock and reel in quickly. This causes the lure to hop violently while the spinner creates intense vibrations.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4, hopping and dropping the lure.
6. Because tailspinners are relatively small, bass often inhale them completely. Set the hook if your line hops during free fall or if you feel a weight on your line.