The Top Lures and Retrieval Methods For Winter Bass Fishing

How you approach winter bass fishing depends a lot on where you live. The more northerly you are and the colder the winter gets, the less chances you have to do it and the more you may be inhibited by frozen conditions. The more southerly you are, the more chances you have to do it, given that air and water temperatures are relatively mild. If you live in-between geographically, you seldom have to fight frozen water, but you do have to deal with cold water temperatures and sometimes uncomfortable weather conditions.

As a rule, winter bass fishing action will likely be better where it’s warm and bass are more active, tougher and less predictable where it’s cold and bass are less active. It varies from tough to good in mid-geography locales, largely due to weather conditions. Late winter bass fishing prospects improve everywhere as waters warm.

Wherever you pursue winter bass fishing, there are certain lure types that stand out, and methods to use them. Here’s a succinct rundown of those, with a focus on artificial lures and fishing open water in mid-winter before the spawn.

Lipped Crankbaits

Shallow, mid-depth, and deep divers are all worth using depending on the type of water you’re fishing. The former two styles are especially useful in ponds and shallower areas of lakes. Models that don’t hang on wood and timber, and suspending versions, are especially productive. Retrieve slowly, and try making occasional pauses.

Lipless Crankbaits

These are best in open water. Some models suspend, which makes a pull-pause retrieve worthwhile. Others sink and should generally be fished on a slow retrieve in cold water, although at times a faster retrieve triggers a pure reaction strike. Also try a yo-yo retrieve over a clean bottom.

Jerkbaits

There are hard and soft jerkbaits. I favor the former - especially suspending or slow-rising models - for cold water, especially if water clarity is good. Be patient in working these, and avoid jerking them too much or too fast. Strikes are often subtle. Focus on the edges of brushy, woody cover, where the bank drops off quickly, and over submerged vegetation.

Spinnerbaits

Spinnerbaits are a prime spring bass lure but marginal for most winter fishing unless the water is warm. Try a spinnerbait with a big single Indiana blade for large fish and deeper water use. Also try spinnerbaits late in the day around shallow warm cover.

Rattling Bladed Jigs

Sort of a cross between a spinnerbait and a jig, this lure style creates a lot of vibration, which is especially good in dirty water. Depending on size and trailer it may be fished slower than a spinnerbait, and with a yo-yo retrieve. It’s generally a shallow to mid-depth lure but can be worked deep.

Jigs

A host of jigs styles catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, virtually year-round. Large-bodied versions with rubber and/or soft plastic bodies are good around stumps and other woody cover. Tube and creature-body jigs are good reservoir baits. Grub and curl-tail jigs are excellent for smaller fish and for smallmouths in particular. These are generally all worked on or close to the bottom, and with a slow retrieve.

Winter Bass Fishing Tips

  • Don’t waste time trying topwater plugs or buzzbaits, even on warm days, if the water is cold.
  • Try shallow and backwater areas late on calm and/or sunny days, because it’s likely to be several degrees warmer there.
  • Frontal systems often adversely impact winter bass fishing, so pick your times if you can.
  • Try to fish during and at the end of a warm stable weather period.
  • Bass are often sluggish and strike lightly in cold water. Retrieve slowly.
  • Use light (thin-diameter) line for unaggressive fish, especially if the water is clear.
  • Mid- to late winter is a prime time for catching large bass, especially in warmer southerly locations. This is a good time to focus on that.

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz

Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of ESPNoutdoors.com. He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar., and his writing has appeared on various websites for nearly two decades. His author website is kenschultz.com.