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Cold Water Bass Lures and Techniques

As a Minnesota-based angler, cold water can be an understatement. Almost half the year our lakes turn into frozen prairies. Small fishing communities begin to form on the frozen surface in search of the fish that lay beneath the ice. Although ice fishing is a great sport and can provide for lots of action, it is not what we are going to be focusing on today. Since the bass fishing season in our region is greatly shortened by winter, fisherman need to take advantage of every chance to hit the water. I do a lot of fishing in water that is from the mid 30's to low 50's degree range in the spring and fall. The period just before ice forms or just after ice-out inspires many of my co-anglers resort to hunting or other forms of outdoor recreation. It is true that this can be a difficult time to fish but with a little additional effort and knowledge, one can locate and catch some trophy largemouth bass.

The number one thing people ask me when it comes to catching fish in cold water is where to fish. The traditional areas you would typically fish in the summer will rarely produce fish in the cold months. If you take a few minutes to look at a good topography map for the lake you plan on fishing it will greatly reduce your time locating the fish. First the fish will usually be near their winter hang outs in feeding areas such as rock flats in 10-20 feet of water and steep banks. One of the first place's I look on when fishing lakes and rivers is steep drop offs or bluffs with a 40-degree or more drop off that has access to deep water. I also take note on how fast that area may warm over the day from the sun. Bass will migrate to these warmer areas later in the day looking for a quick serving from an area of bunched up baitfish. Other places I will search are at the deepest parts of points and jetties. Transition areas are also another great place to locate winter bass. Transition areas can be defined as an area where the bottom structure changes from soft to hard or maybe a rock flat to a steep drop off. If I am not finding bass deep in a natural lake, I will try and locate some oxygen producing green vegetation in shallower water in hopes of finding holding bass. For river fishing I tend to gravitate to some of the same types of areas I would look for on lakes, but also focus on eddies, break dams, large wood lay- downs, and boulders. On occasion, a warm area around a dam or hydroelectric power plant is another good spot to look for cold-water bass. A good warm water outflow can offer near year-round angling success. Just remember to slow down your search and use your electronics to locate the fish. Typically the fish will be bunched up and somewhat more difficult to locate than summer bass. Don't let this discourage you. With a little persistence and a keen eye on your electronics, a well-earned catch can be put together.

In early spring the best time to fish is often during warm fronts when the air and water temperature have been rising and the sun is shining. The bass will usually move up a little and get more active. The schooled baitfish they may have been feeding on all winter have been somewhat depleted and the fish need to start looking for other sources of food. In the very late fall or winter months, I tend to favor cloudy days with a lower barometric pressure. Try fishing different times of the day but from my experience, the latter part of the day will be most productive followed closely by early mornings.

Once I have determined the spots I want to try fishing, I usually rig my rods with the same 4 types of proven lures. My number one lure choice for largemouth bass when the water is stained or muddy is a rubber skirted jig and trailer. My personal favorite is the new the Strike King Hack Attack Jig in 3/8 oz size and a baby craw trailer. I tend to scale down the weed guard and make the bait a little more compact by trimming the skirt. We fish this set up with Vicious fluorocarbon line in a medium or heavy weight on a bait casting reel and med to med heavy rod. My preferred colors are black blue, green pumpkin craw and texas craw. I can't stress how important it is to slowly bounce this bait off the bottom, giving an little twitch when encountering cover. The next weapon in my cold-water arsenal is the hair jig or bucktail jig in 1/4 oz or 3/8 oz sizes . If smallmouth bass are present in your home waters, don't leave home without this bait. It is an extremely effective way to turn on smallmouth bass due to its compact size. The small size and slow presentation match the bass's lowered metabolism. We base our color choice on the forage for the lake and typically try to mimic a crawfish or minnow. Generally we fish this bait in waters 10-15 feet deep and in water around 50 degrees. At times this technique can be effective in depths up to 30' and in water temps as low as 40 degrees . I like a stiff 6'-6" spinning rod with 6-8 lb test monofilament line for the smaller jigs and often go to a small bait cast reel with a medium to medium heavy rod with 12 lb test line for the heaver jigs in stained water. If I find the fish are holding in a more suspended pattern and the lake is clear or slightly stained, I sometimes fish a suspending jerkbait. I like the Strike King Kevin Van Dam Wild Shiner in a chrome sexy shad pattern or chrome and black. This lure is ideal for catching slow moving winter bass. The properties of this bait allow it to sit motionless in the water column right in front of a reluctant fish, resulting in an instinct driven strike. A medium action spinning rod and medium-sized spinning reel rigged with 8lb test line is a good all-purpose outfit for fishing a suspending jerkbait. Again, fish this bait slow and pause for 5-6 seconds in between short 3 to 4 foot retrieves. I know this sounds like a long pause but it gives the fish time to react to the presentation. Last of all, I never leave home without a large grub-style bait on a 1/4 oz jig head for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. This bait will sometimes produce when no other bait or lures will work. Its simple design replicates a minnow and can be slowly bounced off the bottom or cover. Always use your rod tip to move the bait instead of a reeling action. And as you can you guess, a slow presentation is often the key to success. We use colors resembling the baitfish the bass tend to be feeding on in that particular body of water. If the water is stained pumpkin colors are a good choice. A medium spinning gear with 6-8 lb test monofilament line is a solid set-up for this type of fishing.

By combining these tips with a little patience, your chances of becoming a better coldwater fisherman will greatly improve. Don't forget appropriate cold weather gear and proper boating safety devices. When fishing in coldwater conditions always wear a life jackets or other suitable PFD. Today's compact inflatable automatic life vests like the ones we use from Mustang, are very comfortable and do not impair one's ability to effectively fish. Be sure to dress warm and dry start to enjoy these often forgotten fishing days. Extend your productive fishing season by a few extra weeks or even months with a few simple tips.

Good luck

Dan Mueller Pro Staff