The days are colder, the nights longer and the fishing is at its yearly low. Bass anglers around the country are left frustrated by the slow or non-existent bite, wondering how all their spring and summer hotspots are somehow devoid of fish. If you can figure out the best colors for winter bass fishing, you just might be on your way to success.
As water temperatures begin to cool, bass will start to seek out water that has less temperature change. The upper portion of the water column and surface has the most temperature variance throughout all seasons. The fish will begin to seek deeper water during the winter, choosing the lower portion of the thermocline as their sanctuary.
This leaves many anglers confused about how to target their green quarry throughout the coldest months, wondering if it’s the bait, the depth, the time of day or just plain bad luck.
One of the essential things bass anglers can focus on during the winter is the color and choice of lure.
Winter is like no other time of year when it comes to bass fishing, with neutral and natural colored baits yielding the best results. When it comes to lure choice, anglers must pick a bait that matches the environment but creates enough of a disturbance to trigger the predatory instinct of a bass.
In this article, we cover how to select the right bait and color for bass fishing this winter and how to chase lunkers during the coldest time of year.
Winter Bass Fishing
When angling for lunkers during the coldest time of the year, anglers often ask a few questions.
- What is the best bait for winter bass fishing?
- What are the best colors for winter bass fishing?
- How to target bass in the winter?
Below, we cover each of these in depth.
The Best Bait for Bass Fishing in Winter
Lure selection is significant when it comes to winter bass fishing. Size, style, and color all matter far more than in spring or summer when bass ravenously attacks anything that remotely resembles prey.
Below are some of the best baits for winter bass fishing.
If you’re going to attract a passive bass in deeper water, jerk baits work well for two reasons. Their steady retrieve and oblong shape resemble a crankbait but with a longer profile. This bait can meander by a hungry, lazy bass, providing them an easy meal without spooking it from erratic behavior.
However, sometimes erratic behaviors are necessary to lure a bass out of its hibernation state. The jerkbait also excels with a pause-and-go retrieve, mimicking the action of a wounded baitfish that bass love. Weighting the jerkbait down allows anglers to work lower portions in the water column where the bass may lurk during colder weather.
Jigs are excellent for fishing through the ice or working lower portions of the water column, as these lures are suspended at whatever target depth anglers want. Completely interchangeable when it comes to the plastics, the weighted jig head means that anglers are not required to introduce any extra weight onto the line.
3. Blade Baits
Because colder water is usually clearer, blade baits truly shine during winter bass fishing. The sunlight that penetrates deeper into the water is reflected off of the metallic frame of the minnow-shaped lure, drawing attention to it from every species in the area.
Additionally, if the water is cloudy or visibility is reduced due to low light conditions, blade baits rattle and produce vibrations that can summon bass no matter how cold the water temperature is.
Tried and true, crankbaits are good year around. However, winter orders anglers to up their game and be more selective about which crankbait they throw.
Ones that resemble minnows or shad are your best bet, and they better be deep diving if you plan to hook into a big bass. A steady retrieval with a few pauses is always a good game plan but if the bite isn’t happening, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Pro Tip: Go with Rat-L-Traps. It makes more noise, is easier to stop and go, and is excellent for middle to lower portions of the water column.
5. Soft Plastics
While soft plastics may be a year-round lure choice, anglers must be very specific in selecting the bait’s body type, size, and color. Because actual lizards and frogs will be hibernating during this time of year, anglers will want to avoid using artificial plastic ones as lures.
Pumpkin seeds or deep purple soft plastic worms and crawfish have always been my go-to during the coldest time of year. Not only are they incredibly versatile lures, but you can also work every part of the water column with these lures. Pick small to medium-sized plastics and always keep your retrieve a little slower than you think it should be.
6. Live Bait
Live bait is often overlooked and underutilized when it comes to bass fishing. Particularly in the winter, I have fished plenty of lakes with a minnow or nightcrawler under a cork in the middle of the water column and have caught plenty of medium-size bass.
The combination of natural prey, placement in the water column, and movement create the perfect storm to trigger the predatory instinct of a bass.
How My Dad Picked the Best Bait for Winter Bass Fishing
Mike Pelle had just called it in on his three-day hunting weekend. The wind coming in with the cold front meant the deer would smell him from a mile away and there was no sense in freezing his tail off in a treestand without much chance of a kill.
On a whim, he stopped by a family member’s property on his way back to New Orleans and decided to fish the pond for an hour before getting back on the road. The pressure was dropping, and he suspected the fish might be trying to squeeze in one last meal before the cold snap.
Armed with a rod and reel nearly as old as he was, Mike tied on a faded red and white Heddon Lucky 13 and cast into the 3-acre pond.
His lure landed just in front of a small, half-submerged log, and on the first rotation of his reel, the lure disappeared.
To hear my old man tell it, he first thought he had hooked on a massive patch of grass…until the pulling started. Though it didn’t fight nearly as hard as a spring or summer lunker, the 20-inch bass still put up a struggle.
The Best Colors for Winter Bass Fishing
Picking the best colors for winter bass fishing can be tough. Most anglers think brighter, more radiant colors like neon, chartreuse, or bright red are the best colors for winter bass fishing. Unfortunately, you will probably go home empty-handed if you use those colors during the coldest months when angling for lunkers.
Generally speaking, winter bass bait colors should look like a bass’ primary food source at that time of year.
1. Neutral Colors are the Best
Keeping your baits neutral is essential when bass fishing during the winter. While spring and summer often spawn various insects and amphibians, winter sees very little of these creatures. Most of the food consumed by bass consists of other fish, crustaceans, or tiny aquatic organisms.
Because most of these creatures are not vibrant, anglers should select lures that match these prey species.
2. Dull Hard Plastics
When it comes to hard plastic baits such as crank or jerkbaits, the shiny green or gray colors with vibrant metal hues are a no-go. Think dull, think subdued, think natural. A bright metallic lure racing through the water might work during the hay days of summer, but it’s not likely to yield results in the winter.
3. Gold Spoons
When it comes to spoons, stay away from silver. Gold does a much better job during the colder months, and especially farther down the water column, it appears more natural to bass.
4. Green and Purple Soft Plastics
Your soft plastics that usually come in neon colors and often feature silvery flakes are things of the past. Stick to deep greens, purples, or pumpkin seeds.
5. Natural Crank Baits and Topwaters
Finally, if you’re going to work the upper portions of the water column with a shallow running crankbait or a topwater, don’t pick the most visually stimulating lure full of bright colors. Instead, go for the most natural-looking lure that closely resembles naturally-occurring prey in both style and coloration.
Visiting your local bait shop or doing some research before hitting the water can inform you about what species are native to the lake, stream, or pond you plan on fishing This can help you select the right color lure to catch bass.
How to Target Bass in the Winter
While picking the right color and lure may be easy, many anglers struggle with targeting bass in the winter. With the popular summer and spring hotspots empty, anglers must change tactics and pay attention to feeding patterns, weather, and time of day to catch bass during the colder months.
Bass feeding patterns during the spring, summer, and fall can often look like targeting top water prey or schools of bait swarming in the shallows. During winter time, this is not the case.
Much of the insect and amphibian population hibernates during the winter, meaning the surface activity is lower. Additionally, the water exposed to the elements on the surface is usually cooler than that of the thermocline, making it so that the bass rarely venture near the surface or shallows unless the sun has warmed it up.
During winter, many bait fish that bass predate upon will find themselves at the bottom of lakes or up in creeks near structures. These bait fish are similarly lethargic to the bass, and their suspended activity doesn’t trigger the predatory instincts of the bass nearly as much as in spring or summer.
Winter is known for colder temperatures, less sunlight, and snow or ice in many locations throughout the United States. These factors can directly impact anglers’ ability to catch bass in myriad ways.
The ideal temperature spectrum for bass is water between 61 to 85°F. In this range, bass can spawn and feed unhindered, thriving in their aquatic habitat. The upper and lower ends of the spectrum do see a decrease in activity and bass will seek out deeper water where the variance in temperature is less.
Colder weather induces lethargy, making bass less aggressive and hungry as they stay in the thermocline. With cold weather often comes strong winds blowing cold air over the surface of the water, disturbing the water, polluting the clarity, and dropping the service temperature even further.
Because bass are sight predators, the limited amount of sunlight restricts their feeding hours significantly. Depending on the time of year and location in the United States, the difference in sunlight from spring and summer angling could be a few minutes to several hours.
The limited sunlight also reduces plant life and photosynthesis in the water for microorganisms and inhibits the water warming near the surface. Finally, less sunlight means that when there is direct exposure to the sun’s rays, bass will capitalize on this opportunity in colder weather to be comfy near the surface, providing the optimal time for bass anglers to target the upper portions of a water column.
Many locations throughout the United States face snow in the winter. In such cases, the water temperature drops rapidly with the introduction of ice into the environment. The surface of the water will plummet in temperature, while the thermocline and depths will take longer to change in temperature.
From an environmental standpoint, insects, amphibians, small birds, or mammals that bass may strike on the surface will hunker down on land and wait out the snow. When it’s snowing, it’s not the optimal time to angle for bass because the upper water column will be completely shut down. Anglers are limited to the lower portion of the thermocline, rapidly plummeting in temperature.
While many anglers may think ice fishing is entirely off the table for bass, that’s untrue. In northern states, bass can be caught beneath the ice regularly, provided the body of water has enough depth to accommodate vast transitioning from the colder upper portion of the water column into the thermocline.
If the lake is frozen, anglers should target the deeper locations that regularly have bass. Because ice is translucent, the surface of the water beneath the ice sheet is susceptible to change from exposure to sunlight. Anglers should target sunny days when ice fishing for bass, as enhanced water clarity and increased sunlight helps the bait stand out for lethargic bass.
4 Stellar Winter Bass Fishing Tips
1. Slow Your Roll
If winter bass fishing could be summarized in a single word, it would be slow. Anglers are required to have an abundance of patience when it comes to winter bass fishing due to the lack of activity and aggression by the fish.
When working a lure, anglers need to slow their retrieve down and present in a fashion that assimilates to the lethargy of the bait fish and bass in the water. Rather than the darting maneuvers or quick start and stop retrieves used during spring, summer, and fall months, winter angling is about presenting the bait to the bass as long as possible to allow it to strike.
2. Right Place, Right Time
The success or failure of a winter bass fishing trip can be decided by as little as place and time. Anglers should try to find days with the mildest weather conditions and target locations exposed to as much sunlight as possible. The more moderate the water and overall temperatures are, the higher the likelihood of increased activity from the bass.
With little cloud cover, the middle of the day can provide a high level of visibility, warmer water, and optimal bass fishing conditions. Additionally, anglers should stick to the basics of bass fishing, such as targeting submerged structures and areas with a high density of bait.
3. Size Matters
No matter what they tell you, size matters. This is especially true when winter bass fishing, as anglers cannot be picky and choosy about which bass they catch. The smaller the bay, the larger spectrum of bass you have a likelihood of catching. Pick baits that match the ecosystem in size, color, and species, and put them out there for the bass.
4. Hit the Bottom
Anglers should target the lower end of the thermocline and the bottom of the water column when fishing for bass during the winter. This is because there is little change in water temperature in these locations, and bass prefer that over the constantly fluctuating surface temperature. It is also where most of the bass will head if they can find structure in deeper water.
This is not to say anglers should try to dredge up mud or silt on the bottom of the lake or pond they are angling in. Instead, look to have the bait 1-6 feet off the bottom, depending on the overall water depth.
While bass fishing is one of the most popular kinds of angling in the US, it takes a hit during the colder months. Anglers are often hung out to dry by their favorite quarry who seem to have given up and vanished at the first sign of cold weather.
However, with the right lure and color combo and understanding bass patterns during the winter, anglers can still rip lips during the coldest time of year. We hope this article helps you fish for bass this winter.
Related: Early Fall Bass Patterns
As always, good luck, and stay safe out on the water.