Bradley Roy recently hosted a tournament on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, and competitors were pleasantly surprised by the weights for a December event. Roy says that the weights were higher than they had been during an event on the same lake during the previous spring.
Winter may not normally be synonymous with big-time bites, but Roy thinks it may be time for that narrative to change.
“The wintertime is a great time to fish in my opinion,” Roy said. “People may think that it’s a tough time to fish but it’s really no different than the spring, summer or fall. You can still catch big fish in the winter, and I have a few baits I like to use to do it.”
Crankbaits are a great way to get bit in the colder months of the year, but with so many options to choose from, the Kentucky pro really likes to narrow down his arsenal.
“I like to go with something that’s going to trigger a reaction bite or something that doesn’t wobble much at all,” Roy explained. “An old-style Storm Wiggle Wart or SPRO RkCrawler are big-wobbling baits that I like. A Rapala DT6 or Shad Rap are two that I like for a tight wobble.”
Matching the color of your bait with a lake’s forage is a common rule, so when temperatures drop, Roy says to start thinking of crustaceans. The focus in the fall may be on shad, but in the winter – at least, winter in Kentucky – that means crawfish.
“I really focus more on crawfish colors than shad colors for my crankbaits,” Roy said. “I like to cover a lot of water with it and even will throw it when the water gets below 45 degrees. The fish are going to be more shallow than you think they are, so I try to range my depth from 6 to 12 feet.”
Roy prefers a 7-foot or 7-foot-6 medium rod, a 6:1 reel spooled with 12-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon for his winter cranking.
If fish aren’t biting a crankbait, Roy says that a jig is another good option.
“If the fish aren’t reacting to a crankbait or they’re out a little deeper, I love using a jig,” Roy said. “You can fish a jig from the bank to all the way out into 30 feet of water. I use a 1/4-ounce D&L Tackle jig in the winter because that slower fall seems to get more bites.”
A jig may sometimes only be as good as its trailer, but instead of reaching for a big crawfish or bug, Roy recommends that simpler is always better come winter.
“I try to get away from trailers that move a lot of water,” Roy detailed. “I don’t want to use something that’s going to kick up a lot of water so something simple is probably best. An old pork-style chunk is the way I like to go.”
Roy prefers to slightly downsize his line when he’s fishing a jig in the winter.
“If you can get by with a lighter line, it seems to get you more bites,” Roy tipped. “I’m not entirely sure why but it has always worked for me. I usually cast a jig on 17-pound fluorocarbon, but in the winter I always drop it down to 15-pound. Pair that with a 7-foot-2 heavy rod and a 7:1 reel and that’s a perfect setup.”
The final bait on Roy’s list of winter must-haves is a small swimbait. While he’s looking for a reaction bite with his crankbaits, Roy prefers to work the swimbait much slower as he searches the bottom.
“I usually try to downsize my swimbait to like a 3.3-inch or a 3.8-inch on an Owner 3/8-ounce Ultrahead,” Roy said. “I’m going to fish that on the bottom near a point or something like that. Fish often use the bottom of the lake for warmth since the ground temperature is usually higher than the water, so that’s why the bottom is a good place to fish.”
A light line and a slow-retrieve reel are two necessities for winter swimbait success.
“I like to use 10-pound fluorocarbon spooled on a 6:1 reel because I really want to work it slowly along the bottom,” Roy said. “I’ll use a medium or medium-heavy rod because you don’t want to overpower the fish. That light line also tends to get me a few more bites in the winter.”