The Season is Never too Late for Bass
I never put away rods and reels for winter, and years ago the species I pursued in any open water available included largemouth bass. Although in recent years I’ve caught some in March, my youthful eagerness to fish bass on windy, subfreezing December afternoons passed, but not the memories. As a teen, I was especially proud of making catches under conditions invigorating at best.
Since I’ve kept this article in mind for several weeks before writing it, I considered that maybe I will apply in late November what I’ll recommend. We used to call what happened to me recently getting psyched. I hooked bass on a spinnerbait; they were striking short in water getting critically cold, sort of nibbling at the leadhead skirt, barely getting hooked. I worked my way down along the pond’s spillway while casting, stared into the deepest water, and took a few more tentative casts, letting the lure reach bottom to reel it back slowly. That’s when I looked forward to the possibility of dunking shiners.
However, live shiners are not the only way to catch bass when water temperature falls below 50 degrees. I’ve caught largemouth bass in December on jigs fished on bottom in a pond’s deepest water. I’ve also caught January bass through the ice on jigs. But for now, let’s concern ourselves with open water.
When water temperatures fall into the 40’s, bass usually go deep. This isn’t because deep water is warmer. They lose the chase for bluegills and other forage in the shallows. Until water temperature drops to 39.2 degrees, the warmest is at the surface, coldest on bottom. However the science of physics accounts for the reversal, if the coldest possible water didn’t rise, ice would form on the bottom of a pond, lake, or stream. Nevertheless, although bass are cold blooded and prefer temperatures closer to 70 degrees, the chief reason they descend into the belly of a pond sometime in November is relative inactivity.
Contrary to popular opinion, bass have not fattened for winter during the classic “fall feed.” Bass have no cause for putting on fat to protect against cold because they have no body warmth to protect. Their cold blooded metabolism simply adjusts to water temperature. During the 19th century, it was widely believed bass hibernate during winter! Fishermen believed they burrowed in submerged brush and under rocks to remain dormant until spring. Bass don’t feed as often during winter; their bodies process calories at a much slower rate. But they will strike in reaction to lures on occasion, though they are much less likely to pursue a lure retrieved quickly.
Ponds and lakes with lots of shallows, lots of bass, and a relatively limited area of deep water may be easy to fish in the late fall and winter. Bass congregate in the deep area and are vulnerable. Most ponds and lakes are more and less shallow throughout, or have lots of deep water. In the case of ponds or small lakes with lots of 10 foot depth, bass roam randomly and fin in place if no cover is available. It may then be that fishermen need structure more than bass. The prospect of going out in a boat or standing on shore and casting randomly in the freezing cold is futile. I’ve found that at least some of the bass in a given pond relate to the bottom edges of drop-offs from shorelines into the deepest water available, if that pond isn’t deeper than about 15 feet. Extreme depth is less likely to hold largemouths. In a shallower body of water, residual weedbeds, submerged brush, or other cover, if available, will hold bass.
Bobber fishing is a bore compared to live-lining shiners. For one thing, suspended under a bobber, you can never get a shiner deep enough. Let a shiner swim for bottom without any weight added to the line but a small barrel swivel to connect a leader. But more important, with a bobber you lose out on the subtle action of a bass taking the bait from you. Fishing is all about contact. That’s why a bobber suddenly going under is such an uncanny thrill. But the slightest tick you may feel from free-swimming shiner taken so the line transmits subtle tension to a sensitive graphite rod raises goose pimples quicker than the action of a bobber ever can. And then you see the line slowly moving away, tightening, as you allow the bass to swim off another yard and lower the rod tip, let that line tighten straight, and set the hook.
An event like that can make a subfreezing afternoon bass fishing worthwhile even to an adult.