Wintertime, and the bass fishing is easy. Well, it’s not quite winter yet and maybe not easy, but according to MLF pro Alton Jones Jr., the bite is pretty darn predictable when that water temperature dips below 55 degrees.
“During the winter, like fall, bass are very keyed in on shad in many lakes throughout the USA,” Jones says. “The shad are still quite nomadic; not as much as they can be in the fall, but they’re still nomadic in a sense, and become more predictable. Because of this, where you find bass becomes more predictable, too.”
Jones claims shad go from flats and creeks in fall to the first deep water locations they find as they transition into the winter season, essentially escaping the schools of shallower bass. This transition happens as the deeper water becomes warmer than the surface temperatures. But “deep water” isn’t the same everywhere you fish.
“Deeper holes, creek channel swings, essentially the first deeper structure you find from the shallow fall holding areas is where you want to start,” Jones says. “But deep is relative, deep could be 8 feet or 60 feet. Really knowing the body of water you are fishing helps you key in on correct depths.”
Besides moving deeper, water temperature is another important component for winter fishing.
“With winter fishing, it’s not as much a time of year thing, it’s more a water temp thing,” Jones says. “About 55 degrees – and maybe colder the further north you go than in the Deep South – is the key temperature to start looking for the deeper structure. Also, using your electronics, like my Garmin Livescope, is really important for finding bait and fish. The Livescope makes it so much easier, but if you don’t have one, you can still catch fish in the winter.”
As far as what to use for wintertime bass fishing, Jones generally uses three setups, and will vary as necessary to catch fish.
“I generally have three to five rods on deck during the winter,” Jones says. “Often, my first choice is an underspin of some sort, with a small swimbait on the back. The key is fishing the bait incredibly slow. Even fishing 20 feet deep I fish the 3/8-ounce size bait with a small blade. The focus is mimicking a threadfin shad, not the larger gizzard. By using the lighter bait, I can really fish it slowly.
Jones’ second choice is a deep-diving crankbait, which requires an opposite retrieve from an underspin.
“Higher speed and a stop-and-go retrieve,” he says. “If I locate a large number of fish, a deep-diving crankbait it’s my go-to bait. Something that dives 16 to 29 feet is ideal. Bass are still opportunistic and competitive, so that bait will trigger a reaction bite.
Jones’ final offering is a small white jigging spoon fished vertically.
“Use your electronics to locate the cover and fish and drop a 2.5- or 3-inch spoon on them,” he advises. “It’s an old-school technique, but it sure catches them in the winter. Especially anytime you’re fishing deeper than 18 feet. War Eagle makes a good spoon for this, but my favorite are some custom spoons I have from a guy who pours them in his garage near Table Rock Lake.
“Vertically fishing is one of my favorite ways to fish. That jig straight up catches them.”
There is no one perfect location to find the bass in winter according to Jones.
“Remember, the shad are still somewhat nomadic,” he says. “They’ll move, so not every spot you fish will produce. If I had the perfect spot to fish, it would be a clear water fishery with standing timber. The first bluff or bluff end coming out of the back of a creek is ideal. But that doesn’t exist everywhere.
“Adjust to your fishery and pinpoint and follow the bait. Bait is the key for unlocking where the bass are. From Thanksgiving to February, the bass fishing can be some of the best and most predictable fishing you can experience. If you don’t catch fish on your first location, don’t beat yourself up, keep your techniques simple and just move to the next spot to fish.”