Fishing for bass during the late fall and winter months can be a daunting task. During the regular season there is identifiable structure to fish. Vegetation in bloom and shaded areas offered by the sun will produce fish during the heat of the day. Winter, however, does not give you any of those visible signs. So what do you do? Well, once again, you must turn to your understanding of bass and its lifestyle during these "lean months". When I use the word “lean,” I am referring to the food chain, which can be drastically reduced by the elements.
Exceptionally cold weather can kill smaller fish and aquatic life leaving bass only a limited diet for 3 or 4 months. You will often hear bass fishermen talk about the "big feed" prior to winter, when bass will eat anything and everything to carry them through till spring.
Bait selection at this time is critical. When in very cold water, bass will move only a minimal distance for food. The bait of choice has to be something that is equal to or greater than the bass’ energy expenditure. Compare this to your own lifestyle during the winter months. You store up food and fuel to avoid unnecessary trips to the store. Don’t you really hate clearing the driveway and brushing the snow off your vehicle if its not absolutely necessary? Well it's the same for a bass. Why should the fish dash around for small items of food if this will not compensate for the energy required to chase it down and catch it?
Large slow moving baits are the key. Don't be afraid to throw a 10" or 12" worm where you once threw a 4" offering. Slowly retrieve the larger bait along the bottom, inching it slowly back to shore. Large jigs tipped with either plastic or pork trailers moved in a similar fashion will also produce fish. You just have to be patient. During summer this same bait should be in and out of the water in 30 seconds. However with the winter’s climate changes, you may now have to leave the same bait in the water for 3 minutes! A good tip here is to keep your soft plastic baits warm. I place a few worms or crawfish imitations into a plastic bag and keep them in my pocket. This keeps the bait flexible enabling it to work well in frigid water temperatures. The same practice applies for live bait. I often put mealworms, night crawlers or maggots in a small container and keep them in a pocket near my body. This prevents them from freezing. Remember its small attention to detail that will separate you from other fishermen when it comes to catching fish during the winter.
The key to winter bass fishing is patience. That's not an easy thing for us New Yorkers! But give it a try. Bring some hot coffee and plenty of food for energy. Remember to dress in layers. Hypothermia is a very nasty condition which, from first hand experience, I do not recommend!