Winter Bassin' In The Shallows

Masimo Zanetti

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Italian bassmen are lucky enough to have good winter bass fishing, at least when water doesn't freeze over! I remember some of the most exciting winter trips I ever had were characterized by grey skies and snow. When it's snowing, the temperature is less frigid than when the sun is shining bright. The atmosphere is something of surreal and all around you feel peace and tranquillity. You have the lake or the river all to yourself. In these "magic" days, bass fishing can be really rewarding if you know how to face such weather conditions. In winter, water is clearer than in summer, due to the death of plankton and micro-organisms, and this usually means deep water fishing. You don't have to believe me if you don't want to, but the majority of my winter bass come from water depth ranging from two to eight feet and with a typical summertime technique: pitchin'. I certain downsize my lures and my line but I pitch... and catch bass. I've caught fish in less than three feet of water and this says a lot to me about winter bassin'. Consider these factors: cloudy skies, no wind, good water clarity and emergents. These are ideal conditions for shallow winter bassin'.

Massimo and a cool Italian bass...


Another good situation to catch bass consistently during cold months is represented by tidal rivers, specially when water is running fast and the tide reach the highest and lowest peaks.

Let's go into details:

Pitching shallow waters

While in summer, pitchin' is a technique strictly connected to sunny days when bass stay closer to shallow cover areas, in winter I've found the contrary. Shiny and bright days move bass to deeper areas or give them lockjaw, while cloud cover seems to call them into the shallows. To catch those snail-reflex fish, my best lure is a chartreuse pepper, heavy scented, 3 ½" tube jig. I rig it on a 3/0 wide gap worm hook and ¼ to 1/8 oz bullet weight. I pitch the small lure close to the cover or even into the cover and shake it a few times. If bass don't bite I crawl the lure on the bottom for a couple of feet and then I make another pitch. I know this sounds to be a fast technique for nearly dormant fish but I assure you that it pays well. I even caught 12 bass in three hours, with some in the four-pound range. Another productive lure is the spider jig, always in chartreuse pepper color, white or pumpkinseed. I rig it with a ¼ oz. football weedless head and use the same tactic applied on the tube jig: shake and crawl. I've noted that in winter bright colored lures are bass-catchers. Sometimes my fishing partners use black/chartreuse and catch some bass. I believe that the chartreuse tail or skirts are the key. This is not true when it comes to jig & pig. With this well known big bass lure, natural colors seems to work fine. Black and brown jigs, with a # 11 or # 1 pork chunk in the ¼ to 3/8 oz. works really well in shallow winter waters. Regarding the tackle for this unusual winter technique, I use a 6'6" heavy action spinning rod for tube jigs and 12 lb test clear mono. I fish jigs with a 6'6" baitcasting combo and 14 lb test clear mono. Sometimes you can detect strikes watching your line but sometimes you can't detect strikes at all. The only thing you feel is a mushy sensation. Sometimes the bite is easily detected: you feel the tap of the fish and the line starts moving but the majority of times you feel nothing. When in doubt reel in and set the hook!

Tidal river bassin'

Moving waters are bass factories all year round because they keep the fish in an active-feeding mood. This is because tidal rivers produce bass even during the coldest months of the year. Approach them in the right way and you will catch even more fish than in the other "good" seasons. In tidal rivers I usually fish Texas rigged 4 to 6 inch curly tail plastic worms in natural colors, 3"-4" grubs and jigs. For this technique I use a 6' heavy action baitcasting rod and 14 lb monofilament on the reel. The technique is really simple but you must consider the weight to use with your rig. This will depend on the tide: the faster the tide, the heavier the weight. It's really important to keep your lure in contact with the bottom so, don't hesitate to put a 1 oz. bullet weight on your worm if the current is really strong. Cast to the shore and retrieve your lure very slowly on the bottom, until it reaches the boat, shake it a couple of times, reel in and make a new cast. In current, curly tailed 4" worms in bullfrog and black color patterns catch fish. The key is to keep your lure on the bottom. Whenever your lure is not on the bottom you don't get strikes from the fish.

A typical winter situation in tidal river is to find big schools of bass. If you catch just one in a certain spot, you could easily catch a whole mess of fish from the same spot. Casting to the same spot and using exactly the same retrieve is all important.

It's not rare to catch winter bass on the surface in tidal rivers. I remember that on certain trips, even with an inch of ice on the shoreline, I have caught bass that nail my lure as soon as it touches the surface. Other times I have seen bass nipping at the tail of a plastic worm snagged on a tree limb. All in all, fishing in winter is not any worse than in the other seasons, it's only a matter of technique and choice of waters. Be persistent and you'll catch large mouths even in the coldest season of the year.  

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