As the brilliant leaves of fall spiral to the ground, only one thing can happen. Winter will begin to curl its hand around our lives as everything on the landscape will turn to gray. An occasional evergreen tree will dot the landscape with some color. It will be one of the few reminders that the gentle colors of spring will return. Does this mean fishing is over until warmer days?
For the group of anglers that do not have the hunting disease, fishing will still go on into the winter. Less crowded boat ramps and parking lots will be the regular scene until spring. Most of the boat trailers will be from waterfowl hunters. There will be a few of the diehard anglers on the water until the turn of the calendar. Crappie, sauger, and striped bass become the most active in the cooling water. Bass are still active in select locations.
Northern fronts begin to dip down in to the United States from Canada. These weather movements bring with them the arctic cold and wind. Wind will give the angler the distinct advantage when fishing for bass. When the front begins to move through an area, wind and clouds always precede the cooler temperatures. Barometric pressures begin to fall. This signals the predatory bass that feeding conditions are right. Low light levels allow the bass to roam away from cover. Wind will break up the surface and move the water. Bass position in the best ambush points to utilize these factors to their advantage. Late season bass will move vertically in the water column. Small flats with deep water access are the perfect locations for the bass to position in order to take advantage of the daily conditions. Thinking shallow under these conditions will pay off handsomely. Shallow is a relative term. These ambush points near deep water will have bass moving up in the water to get an easy meal. As the front passes, the bass will move down in the water column to escape from the bright postfrontal high skies. They won't travel far from that ambush point.
The Strike King Pro Model spinnerbait (Above) is a late season lunker hunter. The Series 3 (below) is a great choice for cranking rods.
The fish's willingness to feed is on the rise, even though the cold-blooded bass don't move as fast in the winter during the fronts. Reaction baits are effective. Start with baits in the upper part of the water column. A ¾ oz Premier Pro Model Strike King Spinnerbait is a great choice for covering water. Willow leaf blades are very effective now. The flash from a willow blade will look like that of a shad. At this time, large bass will be focusing on larger gizzard shad. Changing the blade size to #6 or #7 willow blades, will catch the eye of a lunker. Sexy Shad and white skirts mimic the shad in color. Tackle choices for this heavy bait are very basic. A 7' med/hvy Power Tackle casting rod with a nice tip will insure accuracy. A 5.4:1 ratio Lew's Tournament MG reel with a deep spool will hold the 17lb line for these big bass. The slower gear ratio will force the angler to slow the speed of their retrieve in the cooling water.
The second choice for these weather activated bass is a crankbait. A Strike King Series 3 will run a maximum of 8 feet deep. This crankbait has a rounded lip for deflecting off of rock. Rocky ambush points are winter time hot spots. White based colors are very good shad imitators. Gizzard Shad, Oyster, and Chartreuse Shad all are great colors. Choose a spinning combo for this type of cranking. A Lew's Laser Spinning reel paired with a 7' medium rod will allow for long parallel casts with 8lb line. A reel with a smooth drag will help tire the crankbait fish on a long cast. A spinning reel will pull the bait back to the boat in a different fashion than casting gear. Cold water bass seem to react extremely well to crankbaits with this retrieve.
The third bait for winter bass is a Sexy Spoon. The bass that were active before the front will position along the first drop of the ambush point. A spoon will give the angler the ability to place the bait directly in front of the bass. Anglers will be able to position directly above using their electronics to see the bass beneath the boat. The identical tackle used for the spinnerbait is a great choice for spooning. To avoid line twist from the spoon, always add a barrel swivel on the split ring of the Sexy Spoon. Neon Shad, Sexy Shad and Green Gizzard shad spoon will provide lots of flash to activate these deep fish. Have additional spoon rods available. Once the angler gets the school active, extra rods will allow for more instant hookups.
A final flight plan is always a good idea for cold water fishing. Carry an extra set of dry clothes in the boat. Several spare sets of gloves and warm hats can save the day. Tell a loved one of the area that is intended to be fished in case of trouble. As an extra precaution, store a portable cell phone charging cord in the boat in order to keep the phone battery topped off. This will make it easy to check in with family or authorities if needed. With the right gear, presentations, and preparation a gray day may be the best fishing trip of the year!
Mark Menendez is a Bassmaster Elite Series angler. He may be followed at Facebook, Twitter, and at www.Markmenendez.com