5 Baits That Catch Winter Bass
Head to the lake with these lures—from winter classics to some newcomers—and expect some December action.
As the freezing temps settle in across the South, the bass fishing slows down quite a bit. Many anglers trade the rods in for rifles and choose to warm the seat of a tree stand, as they shiver and shake trying to stay warm.
Now I’ve done a little deer hunting the last few years, and I must admit there’s a definite spike in body heat when a big buck walks out onto the field. But those monotonous hours in between don’t really do it for me. I’d rather be on the move shaking a rod tip as opposed to listening to my teeth chatter while sitting still.
For those of you like me who prefer to spend your time on the water during the winter months, we’re going to take a deep dive into five great baits for wintertime fishing. We’ll cover a wide spectrum with these five categories, pay homage to some cold-water classics and also acknowledge a few of the newcomers that have quickly become mainstays.
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of all baits that work in the winter, or even a top 5. It’s more intended to give everyone something to try this winter, that will work, whether your water preference is 2 feet of mud or 40 feet of clear. So let’s get to it, here are five great baits for wintertime fishing.
Double Colorado Spinnerbait
One of my favorite baits for shallow, cold and muddy water is a double Colorado spinnerbait. My dad got me on this style of fishing at an early age, with this lure in particular. We’ve bought some name-brand spinnerbaits like this over the years and made our own more times than not. But there are a few over-arching themes that they all share.
A Colorado blade gives off more vibration and flash than other blades for its size. And it offers more resistance, making it possible to reel the bait slower through the water while also keeping it on the move. These attributes make a spinnerbait with a Colorado blade ideal for shallow, cold and muddy water. Doubling these benefits by adding another blade to the arm is even better.
Whether you buy one or build your own, make sure the hook is strong and sharp, go with brighter-colored skirts (and trailers if you choose to use one) and lastly make sure the arm of the spinnerbait is strong but also thin enough to allow for maximum vibration. This last criterion can be a little challenging to perfect.
The lighter the wire used to make the arm of the spinnerbait, the more vibration it gives off. But the more likely it is to break, as well. As the arm of a spinnerbait oscillates repeatedly over long periods of time, it can weaken the wire, much the same you would break a wire by bending it back and forth repeatedly. So you don’t want to select a spinnerbait with a wire that’s too thin.
But the thicker the wire, the stiffer it is and the less vibration the blades are able to give off. Thus you kind of have to hone this in overtime, and I’d always recommend airing to the side of caution with a slightly thicker wire. Getting a big one to bite does no good if all you get back are the blades.
This can be anything from a chartreuse and black-back squarebill for fishing in the mud to a Shad Rap in a more natural craw or shad color to fish in clear water. The basic take away—you need to focus on shallow cranking in the wintertime.
The old faithful Shad Rap requires mentioning anytime you talk about wintertime crankbait fishing. Its tight wiggle and silent characteristics make a Shad Rap a fantastic lure for lethargic bass in cold water.
And a squarebill gives you a great compliment to the double Colorado spinnerbait for fishing in shallow, cold and stained to muddy water. The squarebill is a little more finesse than the spinnerbait for sure, but its contrasting colors, wide wobble and optional rattles make a squarebill a force to be reckoned with in low-visibility situations when the water is cold.
Circling back to the Shad Rap though, one of its main drawbacks is that it doesn’t cast well, due to its elongated lightweight body that catches air and tumbles in the wind. This is where some of the new-age crankbaits really come into play.
The Jackall Soul Shad is a great bait built on a very similar body style to the Shad Rap, and it has an internal weight transfer system to make it extremely easy to cast, even on a baitcaster. The only problem, this lure has been discontinued and is hard to find now.
But there are several more great baits with internal weight systems to help with casting on the market now, like the Ark MiniDiver and SPRO Little John Micro DD, which have different body styles but also attack this 5- to 10- foot range well in the winter.
Leaving the shallows and moving a little deeper, we introduce the Ned rig to this conversation. Hardly a new bait at this point, almost everyone who fishes for bass has heard about this technique, thanks to its meteoric rise in popularity over the last decade.
Essentially a 2- to 3- inch soft plastic rigged on a flat-topped jig head with the hook exposed, its near nothing action and small stature makes the Ned rig a fantastic lure to fish in the winter. Bass are coldblooded, with their body temps and metabolism regulated by the temperature of the water around them.
So as the water continues to cool, many bass become increasingly inactive, or lethargic, and require less energy to survive. Thus, less food is needed. So where a bass might attack a larger bait in warmer water, it’s less likely to do so in the cold. That’s why we have to rely heavily on small, non-threatening baits in the winter at times. And there are very few baits that are smaller or less intimidating than a Ned rig.
Though this setup could easily be rigged with half of your favorite soft plastic stick bait, like a Yamamoto Senko, there are dozens of Ned specific soft plastics on the market now. Some are miniature craws and creature baits, while others stick with the do-nothing worm look.
The most interesting perhaps are those from Z-Man. Made with their proprietary ElaZtech material (which floats and is extremely durable), there’s no other soft plastic that will help a Ned rig stand up better or last through more fish catches than baits like the Z-Man TRD BugZ, Finesse TRD or TRD TicklerZ.
Fishing a spoon vertically out over deep water is one of the most tried-and-true ways to catch wintertime bass that you’ll find, especially when fishing for spotted bass.
Growing up on Lake Martin in the pre-sidescan/Livescope/360 era of bass fishing, I remember winter days spent staring at a flasher on the front of my dad’s boat, watching as a little blip on the sonar made its way up and down with our bait, until the two little blips became one.
Some bass, spots in particular, stay deep throughout the winter. These fish gorge on shad throughout the fall and then disperse with the bait as winter approaches. Some schools of bait stay shallow, some go deep, so some bass follow each.
Those that go deep school up and target the little shad that roam around down there. Insert a little chunk of fluttering shiny metal into the mix, and the bass think they’ve found themselves a shad on its last leg, figuratively speaking of course.
If you find a school of bass like this out in 20 to 40 feet of clear water, you can catch them all day long on a jigging spoon. And there are often other species like striper and hybrid mixed in, as well. So this is an interactive, exciting and action-packed way to get a kid or other newcomer to bass fishing involved in and excited about the sport.
Now this one is a bit vague on purpose, kind of like the shallow cranking section. Because there are a half-dozen jig styles that work well in the winter. Everything from a 1/2-oz. flipping jig around shallow wood to a 1/8-oz. finesse jig out in deeper brush. Skipping jigs, casting jigs and football heads are all great options, as well.
Crawfish really start to flourish and become more plentiful in the colder months. So as the biomass of shad dissipates, the bass become more and more focused on the crawfish. This makes a jig really effective along the bottom, from 1 foot of water out to about 25 feet. The keys are selecting the right style head, color and weight.
The right head design depends on what you’re trying to do with it. If you’re skipping docks, there are jigs with heads specifically designed with larger flat surfaces. If you’re flipping grass, there are pointier, more conical jig heads. Wanting to drag a jig through brush? Try a casting jig. Or want to fish in open water around small rock? The finesse jig is probably the way to go.
For color, you want to match the hatch as much as possible, while also making sure the bass are able to see the bait. Early in the winter, black and blue, brown and green pumpkin look like the real thing and are easy to spot in clear water. In muddy water, the darker colors like black and blue with a little purple show up better. And in late winter as early spring approaches, it’s a good idea to shift to red.
The weight should be as light as possible, generally speaking. So if you can skip a 3/8-oz. jig effectively, do that as opposed to a 1/2-oz. jig, since the slower fall is more appealing to bass in colder water.
Adding a craw-style trailer helps slow the bait down as well. But if you’re fishing water with current or in deeper water, you’ll likely need to go with a heavier jig to get the bait down and keep it down.
With these five bait categories, you can effectively cover some part of any fishery in the winter, across the Southeast. If you like to fish shallow for largemouth and aren’t afraid of a heavy stain, the double Colorado and squarebill are hard to beat, and might as well add in a black-and-blue flipping jig. In those mid-range, clear and rocky situations, try a Ned rig, finesse jig or shallow crank in a natural color.
In clear and deep water, try jigging a spoon or perhaps dragging a football jig. With all these baits, lean toward the shad imitators and colors early in the winter and transition more towards craw patterns with the crankbaits and jigs as time goes on.
Focus on fishing slow and make repetitive casts to ensure the lethargic bass have a chance to act. Implement a little mixture of all this into your cold water fishing strategy and you should find success this winter.
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