After it gets cold and stays that way for a while, savvy bass fishermen switch to more vertical presentations in deep water. As the temperature descends, so do bass, retreating to their winter haunts to wait until warming water beckons them toward the shoreline and spawning beds in early spring.
Deep fishing calls for tackle and tactics that cover all depths and types of contours with lures totally different from those customarily used for overhead casting, flipping or pitching techniques. Now is the time for the “ups and downs” of bass angling.
Way Down There
Erase all thoughts of shorelines and visible cover. In areas of the country where winter gets really cold, we’re talking about fishing way down there in double-digit depths. The most successful winter bass fishermen are those who rely on fish-finding flashers or graphs to reveal that mysterious netherworld far beneath their boats.
A fish finder will show the places that winter bass frequent, such as deepwater ledges, shelves or steps, creek channels, vertical bluffs and submerged islands. If you don’t have electronics, bounce baits off points, along bluffs and creek mouths and around islands. Let lures settle until slack line denotes bottom, then raise the rod tip and try the tactics that follow.
Tie One On
The most popular lures for fishing deep water are metallic and compactly weighted to get down to the desired depth quickly. Some options:
Slab-style jigging spoons have a single treble hook. Rather than wobble along a horizontal plane, as casting spoons do, jigging spoons flutter like a dying baitfish on a slack line and dart up when the rod tip is raised.
Blade-type spoons are thinner than slab spoons and shaped more like a shad-usually with a weighted belly.
Weighted tailspinners get to the bottom quickly and are jigged erratically to imitate stunned shad. Fish heavier safety-pin spinnerbaits the same way.
Leadhead jigs, 1/4-ounce or heavier, can be rigged with a curly-tail grub to give extra action. These won’t fall as quickly as slab spoons but are worth trying when bass have their minds set on crayfish rather than minnows.
I like to set up three rigs, each with a different lure. I prefer 61/2- to 7-foot rods with a responsive tip for lure feel and muscular butt for hooksets and battles. A bait-casting reel works best for a variety of lure manipulations.
If the bottom is solid, rocky or hardpan, use the lures described above and work them with varied animations. Slow-crawl a jig or slow-roll a spinnerbait over bottom structures, too. When you run across a shoreline that stair-steps downward into deep water, fish it three ways: Make perpendicular casts and retrieve baits down the steps from shallow to deep; make parallel casts and work lures across the steps; and fish spoons or tailspinners vertically, with lures directly below the rod tip. The bass will let you know which approach works best.