Trigger Winter Bass With Jerkbaits
Cold north winds are beginning to blow. Across the north, lakes are skimming over with ice, and storage yards are filling up with shrink-wrapped boats. Further south, leaves are falling from the trees, while throngs of outdoors enthusiasts flock to the fields in pursuit of winged or four-legged game. Back on the water, surface temperatures are falling toward their annual lows, causing predictable movements of bait and bass. Even though rain, sleet and snow might fill the air, one simple fact remains: no matter how cold it gets, the fish we love to chase in the summer still gotta eat!
In the winter, several factors tilt the bass-catching table in our favor. First, as the water cools, there is less forage available to bass, as summer’s abundant yearling panfish and shad have either been consumed or grown to the point that they no longer offer an easy meal. At the same time, bass need a steady stream of calories to promote maturation of their reproductive tissues, so they’re ripe and ready to go once the spawn rolls into town. Second, cooling waters tend to concentrate bass in predictable locations, whether you’re chasing them in a river, lake, or reservoir. Rather than being spread out over miles of shorelines and bays, bass will frequently congregate in large schools near deep water structure. Find one, and you will likely have found a bunch.
There are two general schools of thought when it comes to winter bassin’: slow and steady, giving the bass plenty of time to study a lure before committing, or fast and erratic, with the intent of triggering an impulsive reaction strike. This article will cover the first, and be sure to catch our blade bait article on PointClickFish.com to learn about the second!
Cold winter jerkbait fishing
Tempting winter bass with suspending jerkbaits is a well-established presentation that is effective anywhere in the bass’ range – as long as the water’s surface isn’t frozen solid! The essence of fishing a jerkbait in winter is to crank the bait down to a reasonable depth, and then blend a series of short hops and twitches with long pauses. How long should you wait between movements of the bait? Well, pause as long as you possibly can, and then force yourself to wait a little longer. The vast majority of your strikes will come as the bait suspends in the water column. Although most anglers perceive that their bait is sitting motionless while the retrieve is paused, in reality, the lure is most likely gently rolling from side to side and perhaps rocking from front to back. These very subtle motions can be enhanced by a little breeze, gentle waves, or current, and cold-water bass just love ‘em.
My favorite winter jerkbait for bass is probably the classic Smithwick Suspending Rattling Rogue, especially when fishing water than is less than 20 feet deep. A #10 Rapala X-rap is also a good choice in this depth range, as is a #12 Rapala Husky Jerk. In winter’s cold, clear water, bass will frequently suspend and aren’t afraid to feed up, striking lures presented above them in the water column. That’s the beauty of a jerkbait that is just hanging nearly motionless above those bass – it gives these visual predators a long time to get convinced that vulnerable prey is nearby, and worth the calories that must be burned during the attack.
There are many advantages to working a winter jerkbait with a contemporary moderate action fiberglass rod. Chief among these is the fact that the rod itself will act as a shock absorber when a big cold-water bass fights boatside or charges back toward the depths. My favorite glass rod for crankin’ and jerkin’ bass is the 7’2” Mojo Bass Glass casting rod from St. Croix Rod, paired with a Shimano Curado 150 DC reel. Spool up with 12-15 lb test Seaguar InvixX, a supple, castable 100% fluorocarbon main line that features outstanding knot strength and abrasion resistance, and is nearly invisible underwater.
Winter bass are typically found in deep water, which provides them with a measure of thermal stability. Main lake points are a great place to start your hunt, especially if they project out toward the lake’s main basin or the primary river channel in a reservoir. Position your boat in deep water and cast toward the point, working your bait slowly from shallow to deep. Vertical bluffs that plunge into deep water are another high-percentage winter bass hangout, especially if they are on the north or east shore. These bluffs catch the winter sun’s energy and radiate it into the water as the day progresses, stimulating nearby suspended bass to feed. When fishing bluffs, position the boat near the shore and cast parallel to the bluff, working your way slowly along the vertical structure. Small projections or prominent ledges along the bluff can be hotspots for season-long bass activity.
Cold weather is no reason to leave the bass tackle in the garage. Load up the boat, arm yourself with a few jerkbaits, and head to your favorite lake for some great winter bass action!