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With air temperature at 32 degrees and water at 40, I still managed to coax a few late winter bass to strike a lipless crankbait in less than favorable conditions.
With air temperature at 32 degrees and water at 40, I still managed to coax a few late winter bass to strike a lipless crankbait in less than favorable conditions. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Officially, it's still winter.

Recently we had snow and temperatures in the low 20s, characteristics of winter weather, not spring time warmth. Water temperatures locally were up and then down, from 47 dropping to 40 degrees. Traditionally, that paints an ugly picture for a fish-starved, cabin fever guy like me.

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Despite the conditions, I decided to give it a shot at a few local ponds where I had success in early March during previous years.

I hit four different ponds and found all but one of them to be very muddy. Traditionally, I had taken bass on lipless crankbaits in water as cold as 44 degrees, but that was usually in clearer environs. My favorite lures during the "ice-out" conditions were large Mepps Spinners (#4 and #5's ) and ¼-ounce rattle baits suchas the Rapala Rattlin' Rap and the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. I found out long ago that bass would smack a fast moving bait in cold water, although this theology defies traditional logic for lethargic, late winter largemouth bass.

Still, I just had to get out and at least make an attempt at fishing.

Conditions were windy and about 55 degrees with strong gusts. Despite relative warmth, I still bundled up like an Eskimo due to a number of medical conditions. I chose the Rattlin Rap because it was heavier and I could make longer casts into the wind. During late winter/early spring southerly winds tend to push warmer surface water into areas where a thermal bank displays water temperatures as much as 5-7 degrees warmer than the rest of the lake or pond.

This warmer condition attracts panfish, baitfish and bass. With the wind directly in my face, I began casting and retrieving at a brisk clip.

Initially, action was not fast. I fished about 45 minutes until I had my first strike, and then I missed it. But as the afternoon warmed up and the wind continued I found that the bass became active and were actually striking with authority. Even in the muddy water bass were able to "hone in" on the vibrating lure. Most strikes were solid with good hookups. But some were tentative ... just a bump at the rod's end. Most of them were spunky 13- to 15-inchers. Several bass, however, ran from 17-19 inches.

To my dismay, most of the larger bass appeared to be thin, even gaunt, with proportionally larger heads for their body length. My hope is that as the spring progresses these fish with attain body weight and dynamics as they feed on abundant bluegill forage in the lake. Still, it was and excellent trip.

The next two mornings a cold front crashed through and morning temperatures were around the 20-degree mark. When I returned to the scene of the crime a few days later the water had dropped to 40 degrees, a temperature that many feel is just too cold for decent bass fishing. But I gave it a shot anyway and eventually caught fish on a ¼-ounce floating Rat-L-Trap.

I would make a long cast, crank the lure down quickly to get it below the surface, then continue with a slow but steady pace back to the shoreline. Most of these strikes came as soft, almost mushy sensations at the rod tip. Not really active but still feeding, the bass were "just there" often mouthing the bait just as it was within sight. Perhaps they were following the lure for a distance before deciding to commit.

These trips occurred on the first and third days of March, making them the earliest dates that I have ever caught bass in open water in our Mason-Dixon regions. In the two outings a total of 26 bass were caught, with nine of them exceeding the 17-inch mark.

If you have a hankerin' to plug for late winter largemouths I would suggest medium spinning or baitcasting gear with 20-pound braid to assist in strike detection. Depending on the activity level of the fish, strikes can be thunderous jolts or soft taps. Set hooks quickly and don't keep fish out of water too long on those windy days as they can get "dry" in a hurry, causing skin damage with loss of protective slime. Take the photos and get them back in the drink quickly.

By the time you read this we will have experienced our first real warm spell for the new year and hopefully I will have had at least one outing on the Eastern Shore for bass, pickerel, and panfish.

Additionally, there will be cold fronts invading our area and there may well be an extended period of unseasonably cold weather in our future. All this can put the skids on spring fishing ... big time! But if you see the weather man calling for three or four days of 60-degree plus weather with southerly winds, well, you might just want to "call in fish" or "sick," whatever the case may be.

Stock up on lipless crankbaits, head to your favorite bass lake and get the wind in your face. You might just have some of the best bass fishing of the entire season.

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