By Marc Marcantonio
What kind of fool leaves the comfort of home to brave bone-chilling winter weather? Face it, to most sane people winter bass fishing means catching reruns of Bill Dance on cable. Even the few, the proud, and the brave venture out only once or twice before retreating to a forced-air furnace and plate of steaming spaghetti.
Nobody likes pasta better than I, and some may believe the Chianti explains why I spend much of wintertime on the water. Personally, I believe TIVO and VCR’s were invented so guys like me can go fishing even when the “catching” is questionable.
If you can’t enjoy an outing unless you “limit by nine” in the morning, then your winter bass fishing should entail a trip south of the border. On the other hand, if you enjoy solitude, and like to learn even when not catching bass, then read on. Winter fishing rewards are small and big at the same time. Fishing is frequently tough, but has its good points too. You don’t need to get up prior to the crack of dawn, and there are no annoying crowds at the ramp, or on the water. No PWC’s or skiers to dodge. Chances are good you and I will be the only fools in sight.
Take advantage of the lack of prying eyes to carefully study all of the fishing spots where you did well earlier in the year. Analyze the terrain, structure and cover. Look for clues why those locations attracted bass in the first place. Study the bottom composition, the shape of its features, and any other indication why this spot is different than all the others that didn’t hold bass throughout the year. Many lakes have low water levels in the winter, in preparation for the spring rains. This is a golden opportunity to check out structure that you should be fishing the rest of the year. I always bring a handheld Lowrance Expedition C GPS, and my camera.
After visiting multiple locations that produced bass for you in the past, you will likely see a pattern develop. The pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together when you notice that a three-foot high mound of rocks in eight-feet of water on a sandy point produced bass in three locations in the same lake. Once you notice common traits about the good spots, continue searching throughout the winter to find as many similar spots as you can. Record these GPS coordinates in your Lowrance. These will be your hot spots next season! You will be surprised at what you can learn, and lessons learned this way will teach you how to be a better fisherman in years to come.
There is no better time to learn how your electronics work than during the winter. Since you don’t want to generate wind chill by running all over the lake in your high-speed bass boat, this is the perfect opportunity to sit in one spot and actually read your sonar manual. Today’s electronics like my Lowrance LCX38cHD sonar and GPS unit allow anyone to operate them right out of the box with no instruction, but if you read the manual and practice changing settings on the water, you will learn skills that put bass in your livewell over and over. This is a great time to learn how to put overlay data on each screen, such as water temperature, battery voltage, and local time. Use sonar in conjunction with an underwater camera, and really learn what the image on the sonar screen is showing. Practice following the steps in the manual for marking the rock pile you found and save its location with your GPS. It works much better than putting an X on the side of your boat when you are over the spot.
Winter fishing is the only time of the year that I prefer NOT taking a beginner with me. Many come unprepared for the weather, which results in a shortened day. Worst yet, when they aren’t catching bass they can make it tough on both anglers. The hardest thing to teach anyone is how to feel a bite. In the summer this key skill is easy to teach because aggressive bass freight-train the lure and practically rip the rod out of a beginner’s hand. In the winter just the opposite is true. I’m convinced that most anglers, including myself, don’t catch as many bass in the winter because we don’t feel the bite, so we never set the hook. Lethargic cold-blooded bass don’t move far or fast to inhale a lure, so if you have the slightest slack in your line you may never detect a winter bite. This is why vertical presentations excel during the winter. Dropshotting, Shakey Heads, Spooning, and Doodling are all tools that get the job done when the bite is difficult to detect. My single best tip for winter bass fishing is to focus on keeping your line straight from your rod tip to your lure. This is the only way you can feel the lightest of bites. If the wind is moving your boat, or you move your boat with your electric motor, you create bends in your line that absorb the feel of a light bite. Even if your sinker or lure snakes its way to the bottom instead of dropping perfectly straight, you will not catch as many bass. Fluorocarbon line like Sugoi or low-stretch copolymer McCoy also help to feel the bite.
Winter anglers compound their ability to detect light bites by not preparing for nasty weather. If you are shivering, hungry, and miserable, how can you possibly expect to feel Mama Pesce holding your plastic worm in 60 feet of water? Even a high-modulus Lamiglas rod can’t help you when you are questioning your sanity instead of focusing on the bite. Layer your clothing, starting with silk or polypropylene long johns, and then wool clothing topped off with a down vest or insulated bib overalls. Wear waterproof pants and parka to protect from rain and wind, and bring several pairs of gloves including wool fingerless and neoprene gloves.
Extra hand towels come in handy to dry your hands and gear, and chemical hand warmers are inexpensive and easy to store for the really cold days. For some reason food always tastes better on a winter fishing day, so bring plenty. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to prepare and store, are satisfyingly filling, and produce high energy. My favorite snacks are XS Energy bars that I get from www.wilcoxmarketing.com. Hot soup, cocoa, or coffee are luxuries that you will be glad you didn’t forget to pack.
Winter fishing demands extra preparation for the sake of safety. Hypothermia and shock can be fatal. In addition to a first aid kit and signal flares, be sure to have an extra set of warm dry clothes stored in a waterproof bag in your boat. If you fall overboard and manage to get yourself back into your boat, those towels and extra clothes will save your life. Naturally a cell phone is important to have to call for help when needed, either for yourself or someone you may come upon that needs help.
Speaking of falling overboard, you increase your risk when you are wearing bulky clothing that restricts your mobility. As difficult as it is to move around on your boat, imagine how hard it is to move when you are overboard and all that clothing is heavy with water. Never go out on the water during the winter without wearing a quality Personal Floatation Device (PFD), aka Lifejacket.
A ladder is worth its weight in gold if you do fall out of your boat. The problem has been that many ladders seriously detract from the looks of a bassboat, and they are often in the way. My Ranger is equipped from the factory with the new E-Ladder, which attaches to the jackplate. Here it is out of the way but always ready when you need it. If your current rig doesn’t have a ladder, consider installing one. Should you find yourself in the water without a ladder, grab the side of your boat and work your way to the engine. Then stand on the cavitation plate, and press the trim and tilt button on the engine to raise yourself out of the water. It is easy then to climb into onto the transom.
Yes, the weather can be brutal when bass fishing in the winter. Some days you wake and look out the window and decide to crawl back under the sheets. But every winter I enjoy some of my best days of the year, and learn the most. The weather may be miserable, but I’m not working and I have the entire lake to myself. Ciao. You can reach me at [email protected]
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Reproduced from Bass Angler Magazine