Winter is on its way, and we have actually already had a small taste of it in late October. With winter weather comes my favorite time to fish for bass on our Murphy mountain lakes. While a lot of people prefer to sit at home by the fire on winter days, experience has taught me that the months of November through March typically offer the best bass fishing of the year on Hiwassee, Apalachia, and Chatuge Lakes. I would like to spend some time this month discussing winter tactics, locations, and techniques.
Location, location, location
The great thing about bass fishing in the winter is that when you find one, you typically find a bunch. Finding bass in the winter boils down to 4 key variables: water temperature, water clarity, weather conditions, and species being pursued.
In terms of water temperature and weather conditions, fish in the winter are typically looking for warmer water. This means that if you are on a sustained cooling trend weather wise, you will probably find more fish in the warmer, clearer waters of the main channel (I like point ends and channel bends especially well). However, if the water has some stain and the weather is on a warming front, off color water in creeks, coves, and rivers will often hold more baitfish, heat, and bass. A warm, sunny day will put the fish on anything shallow that will draw and hold heat. A snowy day, and the corresponding super low barometric pressure that accompanies it, seems to always be highly productive. However, a cold, windy, bluebird day can present challenges, primarily because it causes fish to suspend so much. These are the days where good electronics pay for themselves.
The species you are pursuing also factors heavily into location. Smallmouth and spotted bass are more channel oriented (meaning they are more comfortable on structure as opposed to just cover), whereas largemouth will seek out the last remaining cover in winter drawdown. Spots and largemouth are also more comfortable in shallow, dirty water than are smallmouth.
Baits and Tactics
A number of lures will work for winter bass, and it is actually the one time of the year where artificial lures often outfish live bait. In terms of deep water lure selections, my favorite bait is a hair jig (I tie my own), which is generally most productive in water temps below 50 degrees. I also am a big fan of silver buddy type baits. I also love to find deep fish on my electronics and drop a bait in their face. I have three or four baits I don’t want to disclose for this tactic, and the video game aspect of this type of fishing can be addicting. Live bait can also be very productive depending upon the mood of the fish, but generally deep fish will respond as well, or better, to a correctly placed artificial.
My two primary lures for suspended fish are jerkbaits and Alabama rigs. I prefer Megabass and Lucky Craft jerkbaits, but you have to experiment with colors, bill styles, and diving depths. I also prefer a custom made A-rig with a number of small willow blades, but a flash mob or flash mob junior works in a pinch. I typically tip my jigheads on the rig with some hand poured soft plastics, but any good swimming, 3 to 5 inch bait that resembles herring or shad can be effective. I also employ a fish head spin type bait with a similar swimbait trailer if the fish are especially spooky. However, suspended fish are usually in a bad mood, and they are the main reason that I always make sure to have a tank full of fresh blueback herring on the boat. While that is not my favorite way to catch fish, sometimes they save the trip. Regardless, always remember that bass feed up, which means you want to keep your bait slightly above their depth, not below it.
For shallow fish, I typically employ shallower diving jerkbaits in clear to slightly stained water, and medium diving crankbaits and rattlebaits in stained to muddy water. Match your colors to the water clarity, and match your diving depths and retrieve speeds to the depth and mood of the fish.
Winter is a time that can require a lot of versatility from an angler, but it is also a time that can yield the most rewards of the year. We typically have some of our highest numbers of fish per trip in the winter, capped off last January with a 44 smallmouth day, with 21 of those in excess of 4 pounds. In addition to numbers, winter fish are heavier than they are at any other time of the year, so the opportunity for the trophy of a lifetime is always there. If you would like to try some new tactics at a time of year with less boat traffic and reduced fishing pressure, please give me a call at 865-466-1345. We are the area’s premier trophy smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass guide service, and as of right now I have a couple of December dates left. We are also booking trips for 2018 if winter fishing is not your thing. I hope to hear from you!
Aaron Kephart is the Owner of Mountain Lakes Guide Service. To book a guided trip on one of the Murphy area mountain lakes, contact him by phone at 865-466-1345 or by email at [email protected] Check out his website at http://www.mtnlakesguideservice.com and catch him on [email protected].