Winter Bass Fishing in Power Plant Lakes
By Dick Roland
Who said you had to hang up your casting rod in the winter. Not when you have hot water keeping the lake open year around. Your only question is when should you put the boat away and start shore fishing. This year I put the boat away November 17th. Then the fun begins. Maybe shore fishing doesn’t appeal to a lot of people but for the die hard bass angler this will be the best time of the year other than spawning to catch big fish and lots of them. It’s also a great time to sharpen your skills standing on firm ground and not in a rocking boat fighting to keep it off the shore. Shore fishing is a lot more relaxing.
Where to find the fish?
Where the fish are in winter is related to structure and water temperature, with no weeds the bass tend to hang out in the rocky flats and on ledges in shallow water but close to deep water. Water temperature influences how aggressive they are. The cooler the water the slower the bite is evident by the fact that near the hot water outlet (70 F) the bass will hit the lure a lot harder than at 48 F, a quarter mile away. It is interesting to note though that the larger bass hang out away from the outlet. The same places you catch big bass in the early fall is the same places and the same fish you will catch in the winter. These areas will also have less fishing pressure than the outlet and be more consistent. Mark the spots you had success at in the fall and they will be your best spots in the winter as long as the temperature of the water is 45-50 F. Yes, big bass do bite and fight at water temperatures below 50 F.
My theory on location is that big (old) bass are creatures of habit and probably hold in the same areas they do in summer they just move up and down in the water column to adjust to temperature changes. In the winter they will stay longer in the shallow flats where warm water is whereas in the summer they are down deep most of the day and only come up on the shallows in the morning and evenings to feed. This idea of large bass being very territorial is also why you will catch 2 maybe 3 big bass in one location and then you need to move. I’ve caught the same bass in the same spot more than once, A funny story was my son came out over Christmas and I put him on a spot a told him he will catch a 4 ½ lb. bass with a clipped tail fin, guess what he caught three casts latter!
When to fish?
This brings up a point that the best bite is in the afternoon. With the sun at such a low angle the fish don’t need shade. The best days to fish are after a warming spell; avoid fishing right after an extended cold spell. This goes along with the old tale of a south wind blows the bait into the fish’s mouth. Pick days in the 30’s with a South or West wind. One nice thing about Boundry is with the high bluffs you can get out of the wind.
With the very clear water at Boundary you will need to “match the hatch”. The rocks in Boundary are full of crawfish and shiner minnows. My approach is to go after the aggressive fish first and follow up with finesse bait. I rig up two rods one with a crank bait, buzzbait or chatter bait depending on the amount of light and a jig with a Gulp bait on the other rod for follow up. My two best search baits are; in bright light a Rapala blue glass Shad Rap and in low light a Rapala black glass Shad Rap or black/blue chatterbait. If your day is overcast but not real dark use the neutral color, a brown glass Shad Rap. I put red hooks and feather tails on all my cranks. The new extreme X-rap shad in the Blue color works too and are set up with the tail feather. If you don’t like losing a $6.00 crank try the Berkley Frenzy at $1.98 they work but they don’t cast as well as the Rapala. I have tried the Rapala DT square billed cranks without much success. My theory is the round bills on the glass shads deflect and change direction more naturally and imitate the minnow action better plus they reflect the low light better. With more aggressive fishing conditions I think the DT’s would work.
My favorite finesse bait is a 4” Gulp shiner minnow on a ¼ oz. Matzuo shad prism jig head or a 4” Gulp black shad swim bait on a ½ oz. Matzo prism jig head. These jig heads don’t flake off like painted ones in the rocks and the look very realistic. Be prepared to lose a few in the rocks. I have used a stand up jig head with a Gulp shaky worm with success but I can’t cover as much area as fast. My biggest fish have been caught on the Gulp shiner minnow. One thing I do is soak my cranks and other baits in the Gulp minnow bucket to help keep the fish on the bait longer. Gulp baits work better than plastics in cold water; maybe it is due to the fish taking longer to eat the bait. The only bad thing is eating sunflower seeds with your smelly hands! At Nelson Lake, where the water clarity is lower, you will need to use more contrasting colors on your cranks (fire tiger, hot pink, and crawfish) and use pig & jig or spinner baits to emulate the local crawfish food source.
Winter fishing technique is much the same as what you do in the fall. I like to burn a crank on the first cast with one or two quick stops to see if anything is following. Then follow it up with a jerk, jerk, and pause action and if that doesn’t work use a slow roll through the rocks with long pauses. Sometimes all you feel is a mushy or slack line when they mouth the bait, then give them some line and set the hook. My crank rod is a 6’6” Ugly stick with 20 lb. Power Pro green (this round line doesn’t bind up on the reel), the rod has great characteristics for cranking with a sensitive tip and a stiff back for setting the hook. Winter jig fishing you will want enough weight for making long casts. Let the jig settle to the bottom before using the lift, drop action with long pauses. Here I use a 7” Ugly Stick light with 10 lb. Power Pro line for a sensitive feel and tough enough line to handle the rock abrasion. I have used fluorocarbon leaders but when you can catch big fish in clear water with a 10 lb braid you will lose less fish and lures.
The norm for winter fishing is to use smaller baits but I use big baits because they are easier to cast and big fish like big baits. I use spinning reels to reduce freezing problems, make sure you close the bail manually to keep your line from crossing or getting knotted. Use Reel Magic on your line about every hour to lubricate the line and reduce wind knots.
Bass fishing at night
Pick a nice night with a full moon and try it. Build a fire before dark near your favorite flat. Pull out your top water baits and black/blue chatter bait tipped with a Gulp shiner and feel the excitement of fighting a big bass in the dark. For those of you who have never caught a bass in the dark you’re in for a sensitivity training. When you mask all your visual senses and have to rely on only feel you have a new appreciation for finesse fishing.
Clothing and other equipment.
Layer your clothing and stay away from coveralls, remember you will be walking and casting. Wear rubber boots or hip waders so you can stand in the water and stay dry when retrieving the fish. Use the “stick on” chemical foot warmers in your boots and you will never have cold feet. Carry a light back pack with a tray of baits along with a camera, tape measure, scale, note book and pencil. I carry a finger nail clipper around my neck and needle nose pliers in my back pocket along with a can of Reel Magic. Two pairs of water proof light gloves are a must and yes you can cast a spinning reel with gloves on and it’s easier on your finger too. Put a chemical hand warmer in your jacket pocket to warm your hands, they will be the first to get cold. Don’t forget to bring something to drink and a snack.
Now you’re set for a fun winter day of fishing plus you get your exercise in the great outdoors. Keep you lines tight and watch those bucket mouths’ jump and boil but remember to put them back.
-Badlands Bass Bandits Member