Veteran Missouri bass pro Guido Hibdon had just finished off his limit on a day when most folks would prefer to be holding a steaming cup of coffee instead of a fishing rod with frozen guides.
"I'm not surprised," he says in reference to a hot morning of fishing on this bitter late February day. "Just because it's cold doesn't mean the fish will quit biting completely. There's actually some real good bass fishing to be had, but the problem is that most people don't want to have to fight off the cold to experience it."
Guido Hibdon, the consummate light tackle bass pro, takes some of his biggest fish of the year on small plastics in late winter.
The colder water temperatures of late winter and early spring certainly aren’t the most comfortable in which to fish. But knowledgeable anglers know that the bass are still around and will even cooperate when presented with the right lures and techniques.
Here are four techniques and situations that can help thaw out of cold-water fishing.
Jig-And-Pig For Inactive Bass
During the late winter/early spring months in his corner of northeast Texas, Michael Dyess knows well that just running a boat can be a masochistic experience. He also realizes how productive the coldest days of the year can be.
"The coldest time of the year can be the best jig fishing of the year," claims the accomplished Texas pro. "Although it's too cold for most fishermen to go out, a few determined fishermen are catching some of the biggest bass of the year."
"It is the greatest jig time there is because during the coldest times the bass are staged on cover, whether it be grass or wood. Instead of being suspended, you will find them related to structure that is obvious. You can then work that piece of structure completely and if you are slow and precise enough, you can catch some big fish without a lot of finesse."
Dyess has experienced tournament days so cold that the guides on his rod accumulated ice, yet his catch had a 4-pound average. The secret during this time of year, he says, is loading the jig with a pair of No. 11 Uncle Josh pork chunks to slow its descent as much as possible. An agonizingly slow fall is the secret with the jig-and-pig in the coldest times. Dyess also fans out the bristles on the jig's weedguard to get more resistance and slow the fall even more.
His main weapon is a 3/8-ounce black Stanley Jig tied to 14- to 20-pound test line.
"I look for cold-water fish in textbook areas—sloughs where they can move up as the water warms, creek channels and along the edges of deeper points," Dyess adds. "They aren't hard to locate."
Alabama pro Tim Horton with a big largemouth and smallmouth taken in early spring.
Rocks Heat Up
Simply stated, rocks are the answer to locating the most active bass in lakes, reservoirs and rivers during the early spring. Whether it be a long riprap serving as a foundation or a jetty serving as a current break in a river system, these rocky structures are bass magnets. And for good reason.
"Heat," says four-time BASS Masters Classic champion Rick Clunn. "Riprap or any rock in the northwestern portions of a lake or reservoir will have about the warmest water available during this time of year. And the bass will seek out that warmer water and bunch up."
Riprap and/or jetties are found in almost every reservoir and river system with year-round bass fishing, except for the natural lakes of Florida. Although there are some advanced techniques that fully exploit these structures, they are simple to locate and visible objects that are usually easy to fish. Those two aspects of fishing work to the advantage of even the most inexperienced angler.
And given the extra warmth that attracts bass, these rock structures are the places on which to concentrate when the water is cold with a variety of lures (plastic worms, grubs, jigs and crankbaits).
Crankin’ In The Cold
Many bass enthusiasts will be surprised to learn that one of Kevin VanDam's bread-and-butter late winter/early spring tactics involves fishing a crankbait. Crankbaits, generally, are considered warm-water lures. But VanDam, the reigning Classic champion from Michigan, has found that these diving baits have a certain allure with the often sluggish bass of late winter and early spring.
"A crankbait is a key lure for me in the colder months from late fall through early spring," he explains. "During that time of year, the fish will only bite a jig or worm that is worked real slow. So you have to slow your crankbait down and almost finesse the lure. That's one of the strongest presentations during that time of year for me."
VanDam's choice of cold-water crankbaits that can be finessed around cover centers on Strike King Series 4 and 5 models. He prefers plastic plugs during this time, because of the extra buoyancy that enables them to almost suspend (a cure for inactive, suspended bass).
"I like to parallel the cover with a crankbait, especially rock banks," he says. "By paralleling, each bass on that particular bank is going to see my bait three or four times as it slowly comes by.
"One of the keys with cold-water cranking is really working over or finessing each individual piece of cover. I'm going to spend a little bit more time because the water is cold. I will finesse that crankbait—crawl it over and bump it off of as much stuff as I can. It's important to show the fish that bait from different angles, as well as a couple of different colors and maybe different crankbaits with different actions."
Bluffing For Bass
During this time of year, Stacey King's favorite places to look for bass are bluffs, those broad-based banks or cliffs made of rock, mud or clay that are common in midland and highland reservoirs. King, a veteran pro and guide on Missouri's Table Rock Lake, says bluffs are late winter/early spring hot spots because of several factors: bass migrate to these rocky structures because the stone radiates warmth from the sunlight; bluffs typically feature boulders, chunk rock, sheer walls and outcroppings that provide prime ambush positioning. Vertical in nature, bluffs provide easy adjustments in depth as the water temperature changes throughout the day (bass move more vertically than horizontally along the structure in the late winter); and shad are usually present.
The coldest months often create a lethargic bass that will suspend in the deep water well away from the bluff itself. King has enjoyed good success with these sluggish bass in 40 to 50 feet of water by fishing a jigging spoon, jig-and-pig and finesse-type worm.
"Typically, the bass are most likely to be suspended out off of the bluff and move into the cover to feed from time to time," he says. "But once you locate their position, a lot of times you can mop up on the fish."
With the approaches outlined by our experts, there are still plenty of bass to be caught during the most miserable days of the year. Their techniques can quickly warm up the coldest of times afloat.