Bass Fishing Tips For Fishing Cold, Muddy Water

Keep Warm and Safe While Fishing This Winter

Wearing the right gear can keep you warm and safe even on frosty mornings.
The right gear can keep you warm and safe even on frosty mornings.

I was talking to an old fishing buddy, an Arizona ex-pat living in Minnesota. He told me they have trailers with wheels that ratchet up so you can pull them out on the ice and fish from your recliner while watching television. Wow. Compare that to those of us who fish for bass and run down the not-quite-frozen lake at 70 MPH. I have fished tournaments where it was so cold that the water from the line was icing up on my guides as I reeled. Once or twice, we got snowed on. And that’s in Arizona!

My face, ears, and hands are the most susceptible to freezing weather. When you’re going fast in winter, that cold wind feels like it snatches the breath out of your nose, and an icy wind will make your eyes water so much that it’s downright dangerous – it’s like driving blind. Once you stop at a spot, your hands are so cold you can barely fish. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to stay warm and safe on the water these days.

Safety First

First, let me say that if you have never fallen overboard in the winter, consider yourself blessed. Hitting that cold water knocks the wind out of you and may cause involuntary inhalation, which is terrible if your head is underwater. Coldwater can even cause you to have a heart attack. After about ten minutes, you probably won’t be able to do anything to help yourself because your body will be shutting off blood flow to your non-essential muscles. All this is to say that wearing your life jacket in the winter is essential. Not only will it keep you from drowning, but it will also help keep you warmer.

At a January tournament at Roosevelt Lake one year, a buddy’s wife was tossed overboard when a big wake hit their boat. He told me that he was almost unable to get her back aboard the boat because all the bulky clothes she was wearing to keep warm were now soaking wet and weighed a ton. She couldn’t help him much because her hands were so cold she couldn’t hold on. He finally managed to get her back in the boat, and fortunately, they had a camper in the parking lot where he could get her changed into dry clothes and warmed up. Coldwater is no joke.

Face and Head

Save Phace makes a face shield that will keep the icy wind off your face, but I’ve heard varying reviews. Some guys love them, and some say they fog up too much. However, the Save Phace website states that the lens WILL NOT fog up (emphasis theirs). The SUM version, Sport Utility Mask, is made for OHVs, boats, etc.  They are pricey, at around $70, but they’ll keep wind, rain, and bugs out of your face. I got hit by a bee once – wish I’d been wearing one then. Some guys I know wear motorcycle helmets – the full-face kind. Many will tell you not to wear the chin strap, though, as cold hands can make them nearly impossible to undo if you go overboard.

One thing is for sure – eyeglasses are no protection from the icy wind at 60 mph. The wind whips around them and into your eyes. Ditto the windshield on most bass boats. So if you don’t wear a mask, you should invest in a great set of goggles. We bought ours in the off-road department at our local Cabelas, and they have both tinted, and clear lenses, plus they fit over your glasses. I suggest you try them on over your glasses before buying them. A nice pair will probably run you around forty bucks.

Goggles protect your eyes but leave your nose, ears, and cheeks out in the cold. Those UV masks that make you look like a skull or whatever are fine for sun protection, but they aren’t very warm. I have a fleece neck warmer about a foot wide so I can pull it up over my face and clear it up to my goggles, and it works well as long as it isn’t raining. It came with a matching headband that goes over my ears. Nice. Pull a thick knitted cap over that, making a run bearable, especially if your jacket has a standing collar.


We got snowed on during a tournament at Apache Lake one year, and by the time we got to our spot, my hands were so cold I couldn’t fish. And that was even though I was a non-boater and had sat on my hands the whole time. I now carry two pairs of gloves with me in the winter – one pair of neoprene fishing gloves for fishing and one pair of bulky ski gloves for running down the lake. The fishing gloves have fingertips that fold back so you can use your fingers without taking the gloves off. I’ve also seen some that have no fingertips at all.       

If it warms up in the afternoon, layers can be shed so you’re always comfortable.
Layers can be shed if it warms up in the afternoon, so you’re always comfortable.

Another great thing to have is one of Zippo’s 12-hour hand warmers. They use lighter fluid and provide heat for 6 – 12 hours once they are turned on. You can get one for under $17 on Amazon. You can also get disposable hand warmers from HotHands – around $6.50 for five pairs on Amazon. No matter what hand warmer you choose, they are excellent in your pockets so that you can warm up quickly at any time.

Everything Else

I always buy my shoes a bit large, so I can wear nice cushy socks all year long, and in the winter, those cushy socks are also nice and warm. You can even get neoprene socks. The key for outerwear is layers because you never know if it will warm up later in the day. Make sure you have along with a light rain-proof layer – those also really help cut the wind chill factor down. Since bundling up makes it hard to fish, keep your layers lightweight. Many guys I know always keep a pair of overalls and a rain jacket in the boat. You can get into some pretty pricey items when searching for warm, lightweight winter wear, but you can use their hunting, off-roading, outdoor games, etc. If you spend the money and get some good, lightweight things, they’ll last you for years. Cabelas Guidewear jackets are highly rated, and the bibs are fantastic.

I don’t usually wear long johns when fishing because, in Arizona, you can be freezing and sweating in the afternoon. I want to keep my layers removable without risking arrest for indecent exposure. But if you live in a place where winter means it’s cold all day, by all means, get some good comfortable long johns.

Bottom Line

Your main goal is to have a good time, catch fish, and be safe. The proper clothing, gloves, and headgear can help, and adding that life jacket will not only possibly save your life but also really helps keep you warmer in winter. I fish with mine on when it’s cold. Invest in a good one, and you’ll hardly notice it’s there – they don’t have to be bulky to be effective. Investing in the right gear will make fishing in the winter a lot more enjoyable for years to come.


I can’t resist telling this story here. I didn’t mention those suspender life vests, but I know a lot of guys who wear them. Years ago, the owner of a boat store here in AZ was wearing one of those self-inflating life vests at a tournament, and while we were all floating around waiting for our trailers to hit the ramp, it started to rain really hard. Suddenly, the guy’s life vest inflated, and since he was such a big man, the vest swelled up against the console and he was wedged into the boat and couldn’t move. He ended up using his pocket knife to deflate the darn thing and escape. We were all dying laughing watching him stab that thing, cussing the whole time.