During the winter months in Florida, when lake temperatures fall to the upper 60s, largemouth bass leave their shallow haunts for deeper water in search of thermal insulation. Suspending in depths from 6- to 8-feet, males and heavy females alike stage tightly along heavy cover to ambush lethargic baitfish while exerting minimal amounts of energy in the process. While wearing heavy jackets and casting in 50°F weather isn’t how most Floridians think of bass fishing, with the right gear and a little patience you will catch more than your fair share of lazy lunkers.
For most of us, casting weedless baits against grassy banks produces the majority of our success during the spring and summer months. However, once winter sets in you’ll need to change tactics and begin targeting areas near the outer rim of your lake’s littoral zone. This near-shore habitat features depths that enable the sun to penetrate, enabling aquatic fauna to grow via photosynthesis. A high-quality sonar system makes locating these underwater hangouts much easier. Bassmaster Elite Series tournament pro David Walker uses a Lowrance HDS-8 with 2D mapping and DownScan Imaging to accurately display underwater topography and plot fish locations.
Playing it safe may save a little money, but it won’t leave a scratch on your bass thumb.
“It’s absolutely crucial for winter fishing,” Walker contends. “It literally gives you an MRI of the bottom of the lake.” Ideal locations to be on the lookout are submerged grass lines in at least six feet of water, combined with a bottom topography that contains irregularities and depressions, or even slightly steeper than normal slope contours.
Throughout most of the year bass will hit moving baits for almost any reason, whether they are hungry, territorial, or just curious. Winter bass are finicky though, always subject to cold fronts in which feeding only results from a reactionary impulse.
“For tournaments in Florida during December and January, I’ll use a lipless crankbait as part of my arsenal,” continued Walker. “I like to work it in and around heavy cover, bumping it against brush and vegetation in order to trigger a reaction.”
For enticing big Florida bass to eat, Walker believes in matching the hatch with a lure that most closely resembles what big fish feed on. In Florida, the wild shiner reigns supreme as the favorite forage for husky bucketmouths. Walker imitates it by using a lipless ½ ounce Koppers Golden Shiner crankbait, but there are numerous manufacturers that produce worthy enticements.
“Crankbaits are very effective when used as a search bait for scanning over submerged grass lines. I will also keep crankbaits rigged on other rods in bluegill and pumpkinseed patterns in order to offer more options of native forage,” continued Walker.
For heavy cranking through weed and cover, Walker uses a 7 ½ foot cranking rod with a baitcasting reel spooled with 16 or 20 lb. Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon. “The choice of heavy fluorocarbon helps the bait sink, and combined with the action of the long rod there’s enough backbone for ripping the bait free if and when it gets caught in the grass,” Walker noted.
Cranking sluggish bass from a winter slumber requires employing the principle of deflection, which is a technique that typically requires crashing the bait off submerged structure such as a hard bottom, dock, piling or vegetation. A technique lost on most weekend warriors who have a natural tendency to work treble-hooked lures in the opposite manner—reeling them safely back to the boat while carefully avoiding visible snags. Yet it is deep within acres of heavy eelgrass and thick hydrilla beds that winter lunkers sit idle, waiting for a noisy bait to set them off. Playing it safe may save a little money, but it won’t leave a scratch on your bass thumb.
“In the Kissimmee Chain you have huge beds of hydrilla and in Okeechobee there are long submerged beds of pepper and eelgrass. In both of these lakes anglers can apply the deflection principle by casting into any openings within the vegetation, no matter how big or small the size, and bump the grass surrounding those pockets.” Walker said.
Wintertime success may be limited to only a few areas with even fewer feeding times, but once fish are located, and with the right offerings, your chances of cranking up some cold water hogs will greatly increase. Good luck and remember to beat the elements by dressing in layers.