Choosing Winter Lures
By Joseph Raines
(Setup story) Winter has its icy grips on the country. You and your buddy are out on the lake, at about 7:00 a.m. You tighten up the cord on your jacket as a chilling breeze blows by. As you crank the outboard on, you wonder what the bass will be hitting today. There are two spots you want to start off fishing - a nice cove filled with dead hydrilla, and a point that drops into 15 feet of water about 50 yards from the cove.
You caught some nice three and four pounders in these areas last week by slow rolling spinnerbait in and around the hydrilla, and occasionally bouncing the bait up and down off the bottom. You worked the spinnerbaits where you could just barely see it from the drop-off. Today, you repeat the same technique.
After about an hour and half you and your friend get only two strikes. But something's wrong here. Last week the bass came up and ripped your bait to pieces so bad, you had to buy a new skirt for your spinnerbait. But now they barely seem to peck at it. It almost seems like they're merely mouthing your bait like a child does spinach. A couple more casts in the hydrilla only bring back a wet lure. Time to switch to plan B.
Snip, snip. Off with the spinnerbait and on with a jig-n-pig. Your buddy, after some more casts in vein, ties on a very small, greenish colored shallow diving crankbait. You laugh to yourself at the sight of this lure. It goes against your rules of winter lures. He casts parallel to the weed line.
About a minute later, just before your second cast, you notice a fish bust the surface to your left. Then almost simultaneously, your buddy shouts, "There he is!" After an exciting battle, your friend pulls up a chunky three pounder. Your jaw drops. How could this be? He casts again. He twitches his rod a few times. BANG!! Water flies everywhere. You hear line stripping off his reel. You forget about how cold it is as he pulls up a thick chunky bass.
This is not making sense to you. But it makes all the sense in the world to your partner. At the end of the day you pull up to the launch, beaten, confused, and humbled.
First, just because it is winter doesn't mean only a select few lures will work. I've caught bass on a Zara Spook in the dead of winter. Second, last week is not this week and yesterday is not today. This means that weather can change, which can change the mood and activity level of bass. In the story, last week the water visibility was probably poor. You both realized when a bass's vision is limited, he relies more heavily on sounds he hears and vibrations he feels to detect and find prey. This made you both choose to use a larger lure that made lots of vibration, a spinnerbait.
But this week, your buddy noticed that the water had cleared up. But you stuck to lures that had been working in the past. Not to say that past experiences don't work. You just have to be willing to look at the conditions and problems, and adjust. He figured out that since the water was much clearer, the bass would be going back to more sight hunting. So he adjusted and scored. A small crankbait tapped and slowly reeled will imitate an injured minnow trying to get away. This is an easy meal that won't cost the bass a lot of energy to chase.
In cold clear water conditions, smaller lures will sometimes work better. Some good lures for situations like these are mini spinnerbaits, small rattletraps, and four-inch weightless plastic worms. You might want to use spinning gear for some of these lures. I recommend using 8-pound line for these lures and baitcasting gear isn't as effective with light line and light lures as spinning gear.
Each lure is like a tool. It has certain abilities for certain jobs. You wouldn't use a hammer every time you needed to tighten bolt would you? Then you won't need to use a jig or spinnerbait all winter long. Don't get me wrong now. These two lures can be very effective. I caught my biggest bass on a jig (it was 10 pounds). But lost the biggest bass I had ever seen in my life and my friend's life (Greg) last fall on a shad rap (I'm not joking, it was at least 20 lbs.! I haven't forgiven myself yet.).
I hope you share the story and the information with your fellow bass fisherman. Stay warm, be prepared, and have fun!