Catch Cold, Muddy-Water Bass
Contrary to popular belief, muddy water can produce some giant bass throughout the winter months.
For many outdoorsmen, this is just about when our annual depression sets in. With most of the hunting seasons winding down for the year, there’s really not much for us to get into. It’s cold, it’s nasty, and it rains every other day. I reckon we can dive into our honey-do lists before turkey season and the bass spawn rolls around, but what kind of fun would that be?
If you’re already going a little stir crazy, hook your boat up and go bass fishing. I know it sounds crazy to hear in January, but this is honestly an excellent time to catch your personal-best bass. If you can get the gumption to bundle up and deal with some uncomfortable conditions, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
First, let’s look at the misconceptions
Since I started my career over a decade ago, I keep noticing how many blatant misconceptions there are in regards to bass fishing. We’re taught to bass fish in the spring and summer—that’s about it. The angling community, in my opinion, does not question conventional wisdom nearly enough. Bass fishing is not just a warm-weather activity.
Go back and read the previous sentence one more time. Now is the time you catch giants.
People tend to think bass simply don’t bite in the winter. While their metabolism does decrease as do their activity levels, they still have to eat. It’s up to the angler to adjust his or her strategy to identify and adjust to these smaller feeding windows.
I’ve also heard countless anglers advise others that muddy water is unproductive this time of year. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’d take chocolate milk-colored, 45-degree water over clear 80-degree water any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
With all of that being said, you can’t just hook up the boat and fish with the same techniques you use during other times of the year. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. But I’m going to cover a few key factors that will produce your biggest bass of the year.
Beware Of “Fresh” Mud
In my opinion, there are two types of mud when we’re talking bass fishing—there’s fresh mud, and then there’s stable mud. Many lakes in our area will have stable mud this time of year. Whether it’s rain, sleet or snow, the precipitation tends to increase in the winter. This will cause most, if not all, of a lake to have a brown tint to the water. If it’s been that way for a few weeks, that’s what I refer to as stable mud. The fish are used to it.
Fresh mud, however, can and will blow out otherwise productive areas overnight. Bass don’t mind muddy water. But when too much mud dumps into an area too quickly, it freaks ’em out a little bit, and it takes the bass several days to readjust. Fresh mud tends to happen toward the back-halves of creeks after a massive rain event.
So if you’re fishing a few days after a big rain, I’d probably suggest steering clear of the backs of creeks. Again, muddy water farther toward the mouth of the creek or in the main lake is normally fine. But if you’re in the back of a creek and you can see your trolling motor shaft cutting through what looks like a “film” of mud, I’d back out and give it a few days to settle.
Pay Attention To The Forecast
If you’re looking to plan a “sick” day in advance, I’d strongly recommend planning it on a sunny day. Not only is it more comfortable for us to fish in, but most importantly, it makes big bass a bunch easier to target and catch.
Muddy water is a bit more viscous than clear water, which makes it conduct and hold heat quite nicely. This means the sunny side of the lake will have much warmer water than the shade, and when you’re talking winter bass fishing, just a degree or two can make a monumental difference in the activity level and positioning of the fish.
So if you think about it, these sunny days make it much easier to identify potential hotspots for a big bass. It can essentially cut the lake in half for you and eliminate a lot of unproductive water. Focus on the sunny banks and ignore the shade, and you’ll put yourself in a great situation.
Repeated Casts Are A Major Key
This is probably the one time it pays to be a stubborn angler. My wife will gladly attest to my stubbornness, so maybe that’s why I like fishing this time of year so much. Kidding aside, I cannot possibly overstate the importance of repeated casts when you’re fishing in cold, muddy water.
As we’ve discussed, the feeding windows of big bass become remarkably small in cold water. But a bass doesn’t have to be actively feeding in order for it to bite your lure. You can get a lot of bites right now out of pure aggression. This is achieved by making several identical casts to a good-looking piece of cover. Essentially, you’re trying to tick that bass off.
I liken it to back when we were kids, when someone would put their finger right in front of your eye and repeatedly say, “I’m not touching you!” Yeah, you’ll giggle a time or two, but eventually you’re going to get sick of it and smack their grimy little hand out of your face. That’s exactly what you’re doing by making repeated casts in cold, muddy water. That bass probably ain’t hungry. So you just have to get on its last nerve so it finally swats at your grimy little hand—your lure—and gets a hook in its mouth.
This whole concept really clicked for me a few years ago. I had been on some big fish, and I snuck back out one afternoon to get another piece of the pie. I went through my primary areas and caught a few dinks but nothing to brag about. It didn’t make sense because the mud was stable and it was sunny. Again, being the stubborn guy I am, I went right back through the same area and started making repeated casts to very specific stumps out of frustration. Long story short, in just two hours I had a five-bass limit that weighed 31 pounds according to my Rapala digital scale.
I’m not particularly smart, but that was plenty to convince me.
Prepare To Fish Tight To Cover
When I say you need to fish tight to cover, I’m not talking about pitching a jig 8 inches from a laydown. I’m not talking about running your Rapala or SPRO crankbait 4 inches from a dock post. I’m talking about making actual contact with the cover. Whether you like to flip, crank or throw a spinnerbait, your lure needs to have 4-wheel drive this time of year. These cold-water bass aren’t going to swim a long way to attack your lure. Their strike zones are incredibly small right now.
Muddy water takes away the sense of sight for a bass, which means they rely much more on their sense of feel right now. They’re not going to be wandering around in the open in muddy water. They’re going to be as close as possible to a piece of cover. Not only for a perceived sense of security, but also for warmth. So for instance, when you see a good-looking isolated dock you want to fish, take a crankbait and knock it off of every single dock post multiple times. You have to put it in their house and make them make a decision. This is power fishing at its finest.
It’s Like A Smoke-Filled Room
I make a living explaining fishing to people, so I tend to come up with new analogies to help folks better understand what I’m talking about. To that end, let’s take a smoke-filled room for example.
If you were in a room that was quickly filling with smoke, rendering your vision useless, what would be the first thing you’d do? I’m willing to bet you’d immediately head for the closest wall and feel your way toward a window or door of some sort.
This is exactly what bass do in muddy water. They can’t see, so they have to feel their way around in order to efficiently move. This reiterates the massive importance of fishing super tight to cover right now.
That’s also a big reason I fish a lot of seawalls in cold, muddy water. These bass will literally develop open sores on their sides from rubbing against the wall as they attempt to move in these low-visibility conditions.
They’re doing exactly what you and I would do in a smoke-filled room. Make sure to keep that in mind as you’re positioning your boat and making casts in cold, muddy water.
A Few Closing Notes
Because you’re going to get a lot of swats and slaps that miss your bait this time of year, make absolutely certain your hooks are razor sharp before and during every fishing trip. Keep a file in the boat, and keep a tackle trey of various treble hooks nearby.
As we talked about in last month’s article on the best wintertime structure, you’ll find yourself fishing a bunch of rock and other hard cover right now, so your hooks will dull quicker than normal.
If you’re fishing with a moving bait, such as a spinnerbait, crankbait or bladed jig, I’d recommend using a lighter-action rod than you normally would. Personally speaking, I want more of a delay between hookup and hookset right now. With a lot of these fish being barely hooked and their skin being a lot firmer due to the cold water, a rod that’s too stiff will rip the hook out and cause you to lose the fish.
I know it’s easy to get bummed out this time of year. I get it. But get those boat batteries charged, hook up that boat, and find a sunny day in the forecast.
This is my absolute favorite time of year to bass fish and if you try some of these things, I bet it will be yours, too.
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