Winter bassing, despite the weather

Winter bassing, despite the weather
This lean 18-inch largemouth bass looks like he could have used a few meals over the winter. The fish clobbered a rattle bait close to shore on February 28th at a York County inpoundment. (Submitted photo)

OK, I know, the calendar says one thing but the weather says another.

Have you ever seen a week in the winter where we have gone from 25 degree nights to thunderstorms, to hail then 70-plus degrees, all in one week? It is a wonder that the fish, let alone the fishermen, are even keeping up with it all.


But I must gladly say that I have never caught as many fish, during the winter, as I have had this year during January and February. And somehow lost in it all are several days of excellent bass fishing.

Traditionally, I start bass fishing in local lakes and ponds around the second or third week of March, when any ice comes off and waters warm to 42 degrees. Well we are well past that in many venues with a high of 58 degrees during last week's string of 70-degree plus days. On Feb. 28, I took a 48-degree reading from a Pennsylvania lake after the cold front and hailstorm over the weekend. Even with that substantial drop in temperature, I managed a limit of 2 to 3 pound largemouths from a York County public lake.

In past years, my game plan for late winter/early spring bass would consist of tossing big, #5 Mepps spinners or Rat-L-Traps in the sun-warmed shallows of local lakes and ponds. I have received many glowing reports recently of quality bass to 6 pounds or more on a variety of lures, to include large swimbaits and even some plastics. With wildly fluctuating water temperatures, yesterdays "hot lure" may just as well draw a blank the next outing.

Recently, local catfish guru Alvie Sickle and I fished a local farmpond for high numbers of 1- to 2-pound class bass. I used rattle baits, including the Rapala Rattlin' Rap and he stuck with a ¼ ounce white chatterbait. The chatterbait seemed to put out more vibration and at a slower retrieve speed than my options. As a result, Alvie caught and released 9 of our 14 total bass on them.

Additionally, the chatterbait would plane higher in the water column, skimming over an already emerging growth of various types of pondweeds.

All this added up to a winning combination for those willing, late-winter bass.

Often, late winter bass show a preference for small ticket items like hair jigs, small swimbaits or even mini-stickworms in the 3 inch length. At a recent outing with Maryland DNR Officer Andrew Shifflett, we smashed bruiser farm pond bluegills, foot-long crappies and decent bass on a variety of plastic and hairjig offerings suspended at a variety of depths below a bobber. This simple "float and fly" tactic is time-honored and wildly successful for many species throughout North America. We used 1/64th-ounce black and brown jigs and needed no bait tipping to entice strikes. Most of our bass, again, 1 to 2 pounders, would be right in the mix of the big panfish.

We throw the rattle baits and the chatterbaits on 20-pound braid with a 3-foot length of 12 or 15 pound clear monofilament. You can use fluorocarbon if you like, but I have not found it necessary for this "cast and crank" method for the current season. For the little lures, we opt for ultralight spinning gear and 4-pound test lines like Gamma PolyFlex. Again, clear lines can help in cold, clear water conditions that you might encounter now.

Suspend hairjigs, twister tails, or any other small bait with the smallest bobbers you can cast with yet still read the bite.

Don't be afraid to throw rattle baits shallow, even if the water temperatures are below 50 degrees. My most recent outing was at a small public lake in York County, Pa., where depth didn't seem to matter. With shallow, woody structure and clear water, two to three pound bass would smash the lures right at the waters edge, making for exciting, cold water fishing.

These fish ran a little larger than some of this winters other venues. At two to three pounds (16-18 inches) they struck with authority and fought harder than their size would indicate.

Yes, I know that winter bass will be just that for only three more weeks, but I anticipate some more cold fronts and dropping water temperatures will occur. Slow, more deliberate presentations will be needed long before the true arrival of spring. Get out and give it a shot on some of these warm, late winter days.