If you’ve been in the fishing game long enough you’ve probably heard people emphasize “slowing down” in the wintertime. Although a number of reaction baits like crankbaits can disprove this theory, it’s still an extremely effective method for catching big fish. Sure, it’s not as fun dragging a jig around for hours and the bite might be slow, but the few fish you catch throughout the day will most likely be of rewarding size. Due to the cold conditions most of the active bass are large bass that have the energy reserves to still be active feeders. So it’s time to dress warm, grab your jig rod and put some work in winter jig fishing in a hunt for the big ones.
Locating Winter Bass
Jig fishing in general revolves around structure such as rocks and timber, and in the wintertime it’s even more important to locate these promising locations. Bass will cling to rocks as rocks hold more heat and provide shelter for prey such as crawdads, making it the perfect place for fish to stay. As a rule of thumb try to locate water that is as clear as possible. The bass will not move around as actively and the farther they can locate your jig the more chances you’ll have of enticing them to strike.
Even though the bass are stuck to bottom structure, you don’t necessarily have to fish extremely deep. Position yourself in deeper water and cast into the shallows, slowly working back into deeper water and pay attention to what depth the fish bit at. Be sure to locate any sudden vertical changes in depth such as bluff walls and ledges as these are notorious for holding cold water bass. Since the fish aren’t willing to move much, a bluff wall or ledge allows them to limit moving across a huge flat and ultimately save precious energy.
Choosing the Right Jig
A football head jig is the best option for winter fishing since you’ll be dragging your jig over an expanse of rocks, timber and other structure. The football-shaped head will keep your jig standing straight as you drag it over structure and give you the best feel and presentation compared to other jig head styles.
- Sandman Custom Jigs
- Dirty Jigs Tour Level Football Jigs
- G-Money Football Jigs
- Revenge Football Jigs
Keep the football jig as light as possible unless you are fishing much deeper in the water column. The lighter weight will allow you to fish with lighter line since the bass aren’t as active and will try to get a closer look at your jig.
Jig Color Selection
Keep your color selection as simple as possible. Natural colors such as Green Pumpkin, Green Pumpkin/Brown and Watermelon will work great in clearer water, but darker colors will also be effective. Some anglers swear by Black & Blue and Brown/Purple, which work great in both clear and murkier water. Think simple and natural and you will save yourself both time and money.
Jig Trailer Selection
This is where you have a ton of creative freedom. Some people prefer beaver-style trailers such as the Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver series and others prefer trailers with more movement and action such as the Strike King Rage Craw series. A number of anglers will also swear by old-fashioned pork trailers as they hold a considerable amount of scent and feel more natural once bit. If the water is much colder stick to a beaver-style or pork trailer to reduce action for extremely lethargic fish.
Scent Never Hurts
The extra effort you take to scent your jigs may play a crucial role in a successful trip. Since the bass will essentially come right up to your jig and closely examine it, having the extra effect of scent may just be the ticket to cause a strike. Not only will the bass be more convinced to eat your jig but they will also hold on considerably longer, giving you the extra few seconds you might need to set the hook properly. With that being said, it absolutely can’t hurt to scent your jig especially when the fish are extra picky in the cold. Here are some of the brands I’ve found work great:
- Smelly Jelly Pro Guide 3X Strength Elite
- Megastrike Fish Attractant
- Pro-Cure Super Gel
A Proper Jig Setup
Rod and reel selection is crucial for fishing jigs correctly. The right amount of softness in the tip for flexibility along with enough backbone for hard hooksets are both key. A 7’ to 7’6” casting rod is ideal for jigs, but if you’re fishing at depths around 20+ feet it may be more useful to buy a longer 7’9” to even an 8’ rod simply because you can pick up an enormous amount of slack line on the hookset. For most anglers, however, stick to the 7’ to 7’6” range as this rod will be more versatile in the long run.
Look for a Medium-Heavy rod with Extra Fast to Fast Action that can handle at least 1-1.5 ounces. This will ensure you have enough backbone to drive the thicker hook through the mouth while being sensitive enough to differentiate a bite from rocks. Here are a few great examples.
- Powell Max 3D 775 CEF
- Dobyns Champion 735C
- 13 Fishing Omen Black 7’3” Heavy
Your casting reel should be no less than a 7.1:1 gear ratio. The reason for this is because you’ll need to pick up slack line as fast as possible before the hookset, especially if the fish happens to bite at the end of a long cast. Going to a faster 8.1:1 and above is up to you but generally stick to any casting reel around the 7:1 speed. Fluorocarbon line is a must. The abrasion-resistant and low-stretch properties of fluoro make it more sensitive and allow you to get a more direct hookset since monofilament stretches under pressure. Fluorocarbon also refracts light better than monofilament, allowing it to be virtually invisible underwater. Fishing lighter fluorocarbon line (around 15lb test) allows you to give yourself the best sensitivity and your jig the best presentation.
- Seaguar InvisX Fluorocarbon
- Sunline Sniper FC
- P-Line 100% Pure Fluorocarbon
Winter Jig Fishing Techniques
- Trim the jig skirt: You should always trim the jig skirt before fishing. Trimming a few strands here and there gives your jig a more natural appearance, and if done correctly it will allow the skirt to flare open for better action. After being dragged around a jig will naturally lose a few strands and look more enticing, but trimming speeds up the process and gives you immediate results.
- Work slowly: After a long cast, leave your jig on the bottom for a few moments before slowly dragging it over rocks or timber. If you drag too quickly you’ll pull the jig off the bottom and cause it to pendulum back to you, especially when fishing bluff walls and other vertical structure. Pay attention to your line for any sudden twitch or unusual amount of slack as this may indicate a bite. Learn what different structure feels like through your rod blank and you’ll be able to detect bites better.
- Don’t yank on a snag: If you feel yourself getting stuck during the middle of dragging your jig don’t yank your rod in hopes of popping it out. Often times a hard yank will simply bury the jig deeper into a crevice and eliminate all chances of recovery. Instead, take a few feet of slack line from your reel and pull it out with your free hand. Then, shake your rod tip gently on slack line and the jig should pop free. If this doesn’t work, do the same process with taking slack line from the reel but this time lift the rod tip up until you have tension on the line, then let go of the line pulled from the reel (like a bow and arrow) and repeat until you’re free.
Now you’re ready to battle against the cold! Always remember to be patient and pay attention to your surroundings. The lake may seem lifeless but you now have one of the best methods of pulling giants out in freezing temperatures. Please feel free to leave any suggestions or personal tips of your own in the comments below. Tight lines!