Don’t Put Your Bass Fishing On IceDon’t Put Your Bass Fishing On Ice Are snowbanks and ice keeping you from bass fishing? Here are 10 ways to improve your game while waiting for the spring thaw.
By Pete Anderson
I will admit it. I moved from New York to North Carolina about 10 years ago to fish more. Yes, New York has fantastic fishing, but it is limited. From about mid-October until late March every year, my boat was parked inside, hibernating while the cold winds blew and the lakes and rivers were covered with ice.
I’ve never stored my boat since I became a Tar Heel. In fact, I fished my first tournament here in December and the second one in January. I fish year-round now, through frozen rod lockers and blazing sun and high humidity. That’s great, but there are days when I miss fishing up north. The smallmouth fisheries there are unmatched, it seems every lake has grass, and those months of unmolested life under the ice encourages bass to keep biting all summer and straight through fall.
But even with all those pluses, you still have to deal with one giant minus — making your way through the long winter. It’s a struggle faced by bass anglers across the northern stretches of the country. Ice fishing can bring some distraction, but I don’t know too many bass anglers who fully embrace it. So what do you do if ice and snow keep you off your favorite bass lakes for a few months? Luckily, there are many ways to stay on top of your fishing game and prepare for the upcoming season. Here are 10 of them:
Map study is still important today, when GPS unites grace the deck and console of almost every boat. So on a snowy Saturday, pour yourself a second cup of coffee and spread maps of your favorite lakes across the kitchen or dining room table. Paper maps give you perspective. Instead of zeroing in on one small spot — or zooming out and leaving detail behind — on your GPS, paper maps let you see entire sections of the lake with the same level of detail. You’ll see how shallow spawning flats intersect with deep wintering areas, or how river channels intersect and twist to form flats that may be a little deeper than you usually fish.
Try looking at paper maps from different directions. They are designed so north is at the top, and that’s the way most anglers look at them. Try spinning it 180 degrees, looking from north to south. You’ll see what looks like an entirely different lake, and structure that your eyes have become numb to will appear. If the wind almost always blows from the northwest on your lake, for example, turn the map so that direction is pointing away from you. You might find some sheltered spots, or better yet ones that receive the wind, that you haven’t fished before.
Another trick is highlighting specific contours with a marker. If they are on your map, try the 10-foot and 30-foot lines. The shallower line will show spring spawning flats and other shallow-water structure. This will make underwater flats and points jump off the map. The deeper line will eliminate a lot of water, because, for the most part, you’ll rarely fish deeper than that. You can do the same for river and creek channels, if you fish a reservoir.
Rebuild your reels
Yes there are many parts inside your reels, but with some patience and planning, you can take them apart, lube them and put them back together — with no parts left over. Your reels will last longer and perform better with regular maintenance. That can be a simple disassembly, when you remove the cover, put a drop or two of oil on the bearings and maybe wipe a bit of grease on the gears and level-wind drive. Or it can be a total rebuild, when you disassemble the entire reel, clean the bearings in parts wash and then reassemble with fresh grease and oil.
The first thing you’ll need — unless you have a photographic memory — is the parts schematic for the reel. It’s no problem if you don’t have the copy that came with the reel. Google the make and model, and you’ll find one to print or pull up on your smartphone or tablet. It also will give you part numbers, in case you need to replace one.
You’ll need a few tools: some small screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers and a box-end wrench to remove the handle nut. Cotton swabs are great for removing old grease from nooks. An old toothbrush will clean gear teeth, and you can use paper towels to wipe clean other parts. As you disassemble a reel, lay out the parts in the order they are removed. That will help with reassembly. Keep an eye out for thin washers that are used as spacers. Not much thicker than a piece of paper, they are easily lost while cleaning another part. There seems to be more of them in spinning reels. It also is better to work over a hard floor, because carpet swallows small parts.
Wash the bearings with parts cleaner in an old ceramic coffee mug. After they are clean, use a can of compressed air, such as what is used to clean computers and electronics, to blow out any residual wash. Once all the parts are clean, you can start the reassembly process. Choose quality grease and oil designed for fishing reels. If you want to go a step further with your tune-up, invest in some high-end lubricants and super-tuned bearings. They’ll help your reels cast farther.
Don’t forget your rods
Unless they are broken in two, rods typically don’t receive much attention. But they do a lot of work during a season and need a checkup. Run a cotton swab around the inside of the guides. Any nicks that could cut your line will catch the cotton. Make sure the tip eye is securely attached. If it isn’t, use a touch of heat-sensitive glue to reattach it. Furniture polish will help keep the blank looking new. Are the cork handles dirty? Run them under some warm water while scrubbing with the abrasive side of a kitchen sponge loaded with dishwashing soap. If handles feel rough, run some fine sandpaper over them.
When I was young, I made many Bassmaster Classic winning pitches in my driveway from a snowbank. Or at least I thought that’s what they were. The time I spent there translated to better casting and pitching accuracy at greater distances when I finally found open water. Set up a target outside and start practicing with your favorite combo or maybe the one that you received as a holiday gift. The best lure to practice with is either a jig or spinnerbait with the hook cut off. Hookless crankbaits aren’t a bad choice, either. Set targets at different distances and angles. Overhanging tree limbs add difficulty. The practice will be even more effective if you’re standing at the same height above the ground that you’re above the water while on your boat.
Before you hit the water, be sure to change the line. Nothing will nick it up faster than being dragged across your driveway or yard. And, after all that practice, you don’t want it to give out when you make that perfect pitch and feel a bass strike.
Watch fishing shows
Snow-bound anglers have been passing time with fishing shows since they first aired. I used to record them and watch them again — and again — during the week. Fishing shows bring bad and good. Edited to maximize fish catches, they can add to the frustration felt by anglers desperate to feel a bite. But in between the hook sets, take note of the subtle lessons. They can include how a boat or a lure is rigged. For example, take the way “In-Fisherman” Editor in Chief Doug Stange rigs his swimbaits. Instead of vertically, driving the hook through the narrow side, he rigs them so the hook comes through the wider side. I’ve watched him do this for a couple seasons and explain that it adds more action. I’m giving that a try.
Thanks to today’s high-tech world, you’ll find more fishing shows and how-to videos online, including here at Bassresource.com. Anglers from around the world post videos to share tactics and techniques in full detail. You also can find early Bassmaster tournaments and even tours of lakes and rivers. That’s a great way to get a jump on the new lake you plan to fish this season. Best of all, they are on demand.
Attend an outdoor show
Outdoor shows are held in cities across the country. They are where manufacturers, guides and tackle shops display their goods and services for anglers to check out and purchase. It’s a great place to drool over a new bass boat, even if it isn’t in your budget, and commiserate with other anglers. Often local experts and national touring professionals give seminars, sharing bass-catching tips. And if you have a really bad case of the winter blues, most shows have a trout pool where you — err, children — can wet a line.
During the winter, you have plenty of time to organize and tune your lures. After a full season of use, many old lures need a refreshing and new ones need to be made water ready. Jigs fall into that second category. You can trim their skirts — the shorter you go the more they flair in the water — and trim weedguards — thinning them and then splitting them into a V-shape. That keeps the snag protection and gives the hook a clean shot. You also can give your spinnerbaits some attention, swapping blades or the skirt. Leave plastic trailers off till you’re on the water. They have a tendency to gum up skirts and blades when rigged and stored for any length of time.
You can’t tune crankbaits when you don’t have open water, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on them. Some might need a coat of paint, and use clear nail polish to cover any exposed spots. That will keep them from becoming water logged. You also can swap hooks, replacing broken or bent ones or upgrading to stronger and sharper ones.
Carving the perfect wooden crankbait may take more than one winter to master, but you can assemble lures. Not only will it give you a chance to create something specific to your needs, you’ll save some money. There are several tackle-component companies online that offer every color of skirt material imaginable, along with jigheads, crankbait bodies, blades and other parts and pieces. If you have the space and the proper ventilation, you can try pouring your own lead jigs, spinnerbaits and weights. Many different molds are available.
Take a trip
It doesn’t have to be exotic, and it can be scheduled just a few weeks before you hit the lakes at home, but traveling to the closest fishable bass waters will cure the worst case of winter blues. New York anglers have it easier today with early season catch-and-release options almost statewide, but when I lived there, bass season was closed till the third week in June — no exceptions. That was a long wait, especially if we had an early freeze. To ease the pain, we would travel to a neighboring state that had an earlier season. Connecticut and Maryland were popular destinations. We’d go a few days early for some prefishing and then fish a tournament before heading home.
Plan your season
If you’ve accomplished all these and the snow is still flying, there is one more thing you can do. Take some time to plan out your goals for the upcoming season. Try picking a new technique to learn and finding a lake that best sets up for it. If it’s drop-shotting, for example, look for a lake with a good smallmouth population and deeper water. If you want to learn crankbaits, look for a lake with hard targets — typically wood or rock. You also might want to prepare for your first tournament. Tournament schedules are usually out before the new year, so you can map out a schedule and even request vacation days before someone else snatches them. Be sure to schedule time for prefishing.
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