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Finding fish in winter…look for bait, structure or bass?


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I have watched several ”instructors” online lately and they seem to have different ways of going about finding fish. Just curious what you all do in the winter. I guess I’m mainly speaking to off shore guys. I have heard a couple say they go to main structure locations (main lake points, channel bends…) and look on ff for schools of bait. Then I heard another say they go to same locations and use 2D to look for bass sitting on the bottom. And then finally, I heard others that go around looking for cover and then only fish those. I know there’s always different ways of going about things…but just curious what you do.  I have been looking for balls of baitfish but just don’t see them like in the fall so wondering if I’m looking for the wrong thing. Thanks! 

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When you figure out how to catch those big deep fish a few feet off the bottom please let me know 😆

 

I listened to all these guys talk about deep and winter, tried to catch them for a month+, then decided to chase Shad like it was any other time of year, and everything changed.  

 

If you stay with the bait, you'll stay with the fish all year......I'm a simpleton but I've already figured that much out.    It might be in 20fow, but it could also be in 2ft fow like I was in yesterday.   

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16 minutes ago, AlabamaSpothunter said:

When you figure out how to catch those big deep fish a few feet off the bottom please let me know 😆

 

I listened to all these guys talk about deep and winter, tried to catch them for a month+, then decided to chase Shad like it was any other time of year, and everything changed.  

 

If you stay with the bait, you'll stay with the fish all year......I'm a simpleton but I've already figured that much out.    It might be in 20fow, but it could also be in 2ft fow like I was in yesterday.   

Thank you! Can you share your process of finding the bait? 

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16 minutes ago, AlabamaSpothunter said:

When you figure out how to catch those big deep fish a few feet off the bottom please let me know 😆

 

I listened to all these guys talk about deep and winter, tried to catch them for a month+, then decided to chase Shad like it was any other time of year, and everything changed.  

 

If you stay with the bait, you'll stay with the fish all year......I'm a simpleton but I've already figured that much out.    It might be in 20fow, but it could also be in 2ft fow like I was in yesterday.   

In bowhunting we say, “Looking for bucks? Look for the does”. Staying with bait makes sense to me. When they finally start to feed, you’re on the feed. 

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1 minute ago, clemsondds said:

Thank you! Can you share your process of finding the bait? 

Side scan sonar is a great tool for covering larger areas to find the schools, and then I'll drive over them to get a better idea of what's actually happening on those schools with down scan sonar.    When I drive over them with down scan I can get a pretty good idea of if active fish are them.   

 

I've started to use binoculars, and Blue Herons as much as anything, sounds crazy but I've found it to be almost like a cheat code when bait gets pushed shallow like it does so often I'm finding on warming trends in the winter.   

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All three strategies work, but I could see certain water bodies setting up better for a particular style or approach. For me, I’m a structure guy, so that’s what I look for and fish. Seeing baitfish around or bass on the screen just adds to my confidence level, but is secondary to me.

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If you’re finding the first two, the third shouldn’t be far away. Now there may be another bait/structure combo the bass prefer on a given day but no food and no habitat typically isn’t a winning combination.

 

That’s pretty consistent throughout the year, not just winter time.

 

1 hour ago, AlabamaSpothunter said:

I've started to use binoculars, and Blue Herons as much as anything, sounds crazy but I've found it to be almost like a cheat code when bait gets pushed shallow like it does so often I'm finding on warming trends in the winter.   


In the salt, particularly off shore, a lot of guys target birds more than anything else.

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5 minutes ago, bigbassin' said:

If you’re finding the first two, the third shouldn’t be far away. Now there may be another bait/structure combo the bass prefer on a given day but no food and no habitat typically isn’t a winning combination.

 

That’s pretty consistent throughout the year, not just winter time.

 


In the salt, particularly off shore, a lot of guys target birds more than anything else.

Exactly where I learned it from.   I deck handed down in Orange Beach during the summers when in school.  

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In your part of the country, you don't get water temps in the 30's like we do here, but I'm sure the same approach would work for you:  Look for the baitfish. The question you need to answer is where the main forage in your lake winters. That's where I'd start.

Unlike summer fishing when off shore fish will move to find forage, in winter, they'll be close to the food source. That could be shallow or deep, so don't limit yourself.

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The majority of the bass I catch year round I seldom see on my electronics. I don't particularly like running over the spots I plan on fishing. The GPS locations I have marked are not directly over the fish.

 

14 minutes ago, papajoe222 said:

The question you need to answer is where the main forage in your lake winters.

 

14 minutes ago, papajoe222 said:

Unlike summer fishing when off shore fish will move to find forage, in winter, they'll be close to the food source.

 

14 minutes ago, papajoe222 said:

That could be shallow or deep, so don't limit yourself.

 

C'est fini 😉

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All three are valid. Fish are where they are for three reasons. Comfort, food,  spawn. Sometimes it’s a combination. The colder water just makes fish eat less because they don’t digest as fast. The windows are shorter so it’s harder to find the feeding/active fish. Don’t over think it. 

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I have a different strategy for each body of water I fish.  This is my first winter with live sonar and that has made it easier to see fish and baitfish so I’m looking for them more than I used to.

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Our lakes have Threadfin shad as “bait fish” so targeting bass feeding on baitfish schools it’s as simple as locating Western and Piedbill Grebes feeding on the same shad. I used my sonar to determine what depth to target,  that it’s as simple as selecting structure spoons, tail spinners or ice jigs to catch those bass.

I love to fish jigs year around so fishing known structure that hold big bass without driving over the area with sonar and check it when you leave.

Tom

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On 1/22/2023 at 3:48 PM, papajoe222 said:

In your part of the country, you don't get water temps in the 30's like we do here, but I'm sure the same approach would work for you:  Look for the baitfish. The question you need to answer is where the main forage in your lake winters. That's where I'd start.

Unlike summer fishing when off shore fish will move to find forage, in winter, they'll be close to the food source. That could be shallow or deep, so don't limit yourself.

Thank you! Yes this seems to be the right way to go about it...

I guess I just didn't know if bait (shad) act differently in winter than other seasons.  I was on my boat the other day and definitely didn't see near as much as I did in the Fall. 

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On 1/22/2023 at 4:58 PM, Tennessee Boy said:

I have a different strategy for each body of water I fish.  This is my first winter with live sonar and that has made it easier to see fish and baitfish so I’m looking for them more than I used to.

I agree. But what are you looking for to stop and use ffs?  Just like to hear other’s process. 

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2 hours ago, clemsondds said:

I agree. But what are you looking for to stop and use ffs?  Just like to hear other’s process. 

Baitfish on downscan or sidescan.   Then stop and scope.   

 

If I had a scope, I'd do exactly what I currently do and motor around with down and sidescan sonar trying to find bait with active predator returns mixed in.     This is as far as I can go without FFS, but if I had it, I would scope the bait, predators, and my presentation and then start dialing in it based on the real time activity and response of the predators on the scope.   

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I don't fish when it's this cold but my brother in law does. He's been out on Çandlwood lake in Conn. Yesterday water temps were 35. They caught fish in 30 feet with Damiki rigs.

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