Winter is bass fishing’s most challenging time
During winter and early spring, when daytime water temperatures in the lakes and rivers stay below 45 degrees, I’ve always found the fishing to be tough. I rarely venture out when the temperature are near or below freezing as I like snow but not while sitting in a boat.
Former Fishing League Worldwide professional Jim Taylor, who now guides on Lake Okeechobee, says he it is hard to find and catch fish in cold rain, snow, or when water temperatures drop sharply. Yes, bass will bite in the cold but because they are cold-blooded their metabolism slows down and they tend to be lethargic. They often hover where deeper water is located, along steep creek channels and river bends or at points jutting out sharply towards the main channel.
During winter warming trends, they will move towards points where they are more catch-able if you fish slowly and have patience. The conventional wisdom is to toss smaller baits, fish slowly, and dress warmly.
Spring is king
My fishing starts in earnest when water temperatures rise above 50. The fish begin moving towards shallow areas in search of a good place to spawn.
During the pre-spawn period, when water temperatures generally range from 50 to 65 degrees, the weather can have a huge impact on the fishing.
The water warms quickest where the bottoms are dark and along the north side of coves where the sun’s impact is strongest. Recall that in winter, snow melts first on south facing slopes in the terrain. Well, the sun warms the south facing slopes of coves in the same way. Also, small shallow bodies of water such as ponds will warm quicker than large bodies of water.
During the pre-spawn, cold fronts can really mess up the bite by driving fish away from the shallows back towards deeper water where they suspend and wait for better conditions. Crankbaits (lipless and deep diving), spinnerbaits, chatterbaits, swimbaits, and worms are my typical choices this time of year. When you don’t find fish in the shallow coves, try fishing along points that lead into them.
Ken Penrod, a well-known D.C. area fishing guide a noted and author of “Ken Penrod’s Tidal Potomac River Fishing Bible”, notes that largemouth bass in our region tend to spawn when the early morning water temperatures stay in the 65 to 75 degree range. The fish generally move into their spawning beds with a full or new moon.
The smaller male bass typically move into the spawning areas first looking for places to create a bed by clearing out debris often leaving light sandy or shell-covered areas. The larger females often wait somewhere nearby where the water is a little deeper, sometimes where depths first fall off from the flat especially if there is wood or rocks nearby. Other times, the larger females will be located where submerged grass is closest to a drop off.
Your chances of catching a lunker increase during the days leading up to the spawn as the big females are often full of eggs.
Penrod says the post spawn period occurs with water temperatures at first light in the 70 to 80 degree range. Once the big females spawn, they move back towards deeper water but some also stay in the shallows for a while to feed. I’ve always had good luck during the post spawn period, though the bigger fish tend to be skinnier than earlier in the spring having deposited their eggs.
The summer doldrums
Once summer rolls around and water temperatures at dawn get into the 80s, the fishing grows tougher. Sometimes it feels like there are no bass on the river or lake.
I’ve had the best luck using topwater lures during low light conditions along the outside edge of vegetation on a flat or later in the day when the sun is up fishing a fluke or plastic worm in the grass near where there is a drop off to deeper water. Another summer option is to fish with a heavy weight (1 or 2 oz.) and punch the weedless jig or creature bait through the milfoil and hydrilla weeds.
During summer, some bass also move towards deeper water. If I’m fishing a lake that has little or no submerged vegetation, I move towards creek channels and concentrate along curves in them or even try to find fish along rip rap (rock structures) near the dam. Or, I fish points that have downed trees extending towards the deeper water. Humps in deeper water also will hold fish. The trouble with summer is that the fish are spread out.
The fall flurry
In fall, when water temperatures cool back through the 70s into the 60s, the fishing typically picks back up as bass start feeding to help tide them through the winter.
Bass follow the baitfish and often can be found in shallow water where the baitfish tend to congregate. Submerged grass still holds bass when it is green but dying grass decreases oxygen supply. Bass also can be found on wood and concrete structures like bridges, and along rip rap near dams.
Fall is also the season when the water turns over as cold rains or cold days cool the surface waters fast enough that they end up being cooler than the waters found lower in the lake. That helps bring the oxygen depleted air from the depths to the surface. Bass are less active when oxygen levels are down. However, the turnover does not occur everywhere in the lake at the same time. So if you’re not catching bass in one spot, move to another. But never leave fish to find new fish.
Overall, fall is a good time to catch bass especially in the afternoon when the sun has warmed the shallows a bit.
The author, Wes Junker, is Capital Weather Gang’s winter weather expert and an avid fisherman.