6 Hot Structures For Winter Bass Fishing
While many outdoorsmen are in deer stands and duck blinds this month, you can have some incredible bass fishing all to yourself.
While the winter months may not be widely known for exceptional bass fishing, this is actually one of the best times of the year to catch the biggest bass of your life.
The spawn is still several months away, but the big females know it’s on the horizon, and they’re hard-wired to start their annual preparations. Their bodies are about to undergo a considerable amount of stress, and they need energy and nutrients—food, essentially—to help them withstand the rigors of the spawn.
With their eggs beginning to develop and their increase in appetite, winter bass are often the heaviest they’ll be all year long. That’s a recipe for some unforgettable fishing days for the dedicated angler.
It’s also important to note the lack of fishing pressure throughout the winter. The large majority of outdoorsmen are chasing deer and ducks right now, which leaves even the more popular fisheries fairly free of fishing pressure.
The public-water fish aren’t seeing 100 crankbaits and 150 jigs per weekend right now, so once you’re around them, they’re considerably easier to catch compared to the spring and summer seasons.
But as is always the case in fishing, there’s a catch. Winter bass tend to congregate on very specific structure, so you can’t expect to stand on the trolling motor and beat the bank all day with consistent success.
I’m going to share six types of places that will hold quality bass this winter. Your favorite lake may not have all of these features, and that’s okay. Just finding a few of these will drastically increase your chances of wrestling some wintertime giants.
No. 1: Deep Brushpiles
Anglers sink thousands of trees per year in their favorite fisheries in hope of attracting deep-water bass in both the summer and winter months. While many of these brushpiles can quickly become community holes and receive excessive fishing pressure, spending a few days looking for the sneaky ones will pay enormous dividends. As the old saying goes, you can’t replace time on the water. Finding brushpiles is a good use of your time.
If you have electronics, make a concerted effort to scan the ends of points and channel-swing banks in search of man-made brushpiles. It won’t take long to find a few at the ends of points, but remember, these tend to be the most heavily fished piles because they’re so easy to find. The ones you can have to yourself will likely be found on channel-swing banks, which is where the river or creek channel comes very close to the bank.
These steep depth changes offer a key feature to big winter bass. It’s all about verticality, which gives bass the best of both worlds. They can slide up in the water column when they’re more active during stable, sunny days to regulate their body temperatures, or they can slide down in the water column when one of the many winter cold fronts rolls in.
This depth change takes just a few seconds for the bass, and they don’t have to burn much energy, which is key in cold water.
Key baits: Shaky head paired with a green-pumpkin finesse worm for casting, drop shot and Damiki rig for vertical presentations.
No. 2: Bluff Walls
It’s important to understand that not every fishery is going to have bluff walls; highland reservoirs are most likely to have them. But if you’re able to find a few on your favorite lake, I’d darn near bet you a cheeseburger that you’ll catch some bass off of ‘em. Every bluff wall you run across warrants a few casts this time of year.
The reason they’re so good is the same reason those channel-swing brushpiles are good—all because of verticality. Again, these bluff walls are incredibly similar to channel-swing banks. The bass can move up and down while using very little energy, and an added bonus to bluff walls is that the rock conducts and holds heat, especially on sunny days.
Key baits: Make parallel casts with small swimbaits, shaky heads and drop shots. For those who like to move quickly, crankbaits that dive 10 to 16 feet like the SPRO RkCrawler55 in any red color will producer lots of bites.
No. 3: Red Clay
In addition to verticality, I’m going to harp on heat retention a lot during this article. Think of a human during the winter: You go cut some firewood, blow the yard off or even fish for a few hours, and you’re cold as all get out. You want to come inside and sit next to that nice, warm fire for a little while.
Bass pretty much act the same way this time of year. To warm up, they’ll cuddle up next to anything that conducts and holds heat. Red clay banks hold heat very well, especially on sunny days.
While bare red-clay banks can certainly produce fish, I like to find clay banks that have some different-sized rocks scattered throughout. Bass tend to congregate around any feature that’s dissimilar from their surroundings. So instead of a barren clay bank, these rocks give them something they can relate to.
In addition, rocks hold lots of crawfish and retain even more heat. Essentially, these big ol’ bass have it made in these areas. They’re sitting by a warm fire with a free buffet in front of them.
Key baits: It’s super tough to beat a No. 5 or No. 7 Rapala Shad Rap in the dark brown crawdad color and a Rapala DT-6 in the Ike’s Demon color.
Make 45-degree casts toward the bank, and reel very slowly. You want to feel every individual rock your crankbait comes into contact with. When it feels mushy or loads up, sweep your rod tip to the side and hang on.
No. 4: Primary Points
If you don’t have a bunch of time to commit toward finding all of these areas, primary points will be your best friend. They’re easy to find whether or not you have electronics. And most importantly, most primary points hold fish throughout the winter months.
Bass will sit off the sides of the points in deeper water while they’re somewhat inactive, but when it’s time to feed, they’ll slide on top of the point and feast on passing shad or crawfish.
Because these windows of feeding activity on points are relatively short this time of year, you’ll be able to cover a crazy amount of water within just a few hours. If you don’t get bit within five to 10 casts, move on to the next point. If the bass are there, they’ll let you know. There’s no sense in trying to force-feed them.
Now, whether or not they’re on shallow, flat points or deep, steep points really depends on the weather. While it’s not necessarily science, I’ve found that the shallow points produce best when the sun is high. When it’s overcast and the weather is crummy, you can often find a better bite on the deeper points.
Key baits: Make long casts perpendicular to the point with a Rapala Shad Rap, Rapala DT-6 or SPRO RkCrawler55 to quickly find active bass. If there are no takers, make a few casts with a shaky head or Carolina rig. If they still won’t bite, move on to the next point.
No. 5: Rip-Rap Banks
Almost any lake you fish will have some sort of rip-rap banks scattered throughout. The bad news is, a lot of anglers fish them. The good news, however, is that most are fishing them incorrectly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll drive over a lake bridge and see people making casts perpendicular to the rip-rap. The bass are there because they want to be close to the rocks, so a perpendicular cast puts your crankbait in the optimal strike zone for about two cranks of your reel handle. That’s it.
Ideally, you want to position your boat as close to the rocks as you possibly can. Make long casts parallel to the rocks with a crankbait, and try to keep your lure within a foot to 5 feet of the rocks. Reel slowly, bump your crankbait along the rocks, keep your bait in the strike zone, and you’ll get some big bites.
Key baits: Rapala Shad Rap, Rapala DT-6, and flat-sided balsa crankbaits tend to be strong choices when fishing rip-rap. But don’t overlook a small, suspending jerkbait like a SPRO McStick 95. That’s one of my all-time favorite winter jerkbaits.
No. 6: Anything Concrete
Yea, I know this isn’t really the most specific suggestion I could give, but I’m being downright honest. If you see anything concrete this winter, stop and fish it. It could be bridge pilings, culverts, seawalls, steps leading into the water or even residential boat ramps. You will catch fish if you target concrete, and we can thank our old friend, heat retention, for that.
To a big bass, concrete is just like that warm fire or space heater underneath our desks. The females will even rub on the concrete to warm their egg sacs, which is why you’ll often catch some bass in these areas with a raw spot on their sides or belly.
It’s worth noting that the concrete you target doesn’t have to be in deep water. If the weather is sunny, you can certainly catch winter bass casting parallel to winter seawalls in 16 inches of water, or by casting a jig to the end of a boat ramp in 3 or 4 feet of water. When that sun warms up the concrete, a bass will get in dirt-shallow water to take advantage of its heat.
Key baits: A 3/8-oz. black-and-blue Buckeye Mop Jig with a Zoom Big Salty Chunk is one of the best combinations I’ve ever found for fishing shallow concrete in cold water. That big profile and slow fall rate is pure gold. You can throw crankbaits, spinnerbaits and jerkbaits, too, but I think your biggest fish will come from that big ol’ jig.
While everyone flocks to the woods and duck blinds, do yourself a favor and keep your rods out this winter. It’s not always comfortable or glamorous to bass fish in the winter, but I can confidently say that 80% of my biggest bass have been caught on some of the nastiest and coldest days imaginable.
Target these areas, and you’ll be saying the same thing in no time!
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