Member of the Kick'n BassŪ Pro-Staff

Keith Nighswonger's
Western Fishing Network

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Winter bass fishing really can be a flip-flop of Summer fishing. In the Summer we tend to start fishing shallow early, and then move deep as warming water and bright conditions tend to drive the fish off the bank. In the Winter, overnight air temperatures will cause the shallow portions of the lake to become very cold, driving bass out of the shallows and into deeper, more comfortable zones. However, on warm afternoons, these same shallow water areas warm up and bass will move to the shallows. Understand that it doesn't take a large increase in water temperature to draw bass back into the shallows. On a 70 degree day, 50 degree water will increase up to 4 or 5 degrees, which is more than enough to get bass to become active in the shallows.

When I fish in the Winter, I work within 4 different lure systems. I always have a plastic worm rigged, no matter what season I am fishing. The one difference in my Winter-time worm fishing is that I tend to fish it uphill more often. I will use 8lb Excalibur Silver Thread line, a 3 O Offset shank, Owner worm hook and 5" R & R Stroker Rippler worm in dark colors. A typical Winter day will find three rods on the deck of my 205 Dual Pro Procraft boat. A jig rod, a crankbait rod and rod rigged for vertical spooning.

Early Morning
I love to get on the water early. I feel that getting on the water early allows me to get a better feeling of what the fish are doing. I normally start with a jig and plastic trailer combination, fishing visible rock slides and sharp dropping points. Brush on these types of cover only enhances my confidence for success. Carefully working the jig, I try to slow down my retrieve more for very cold conditions, to the point where I may only be keeping my line tight, and not moving the bait at all. It is very important to keep an eye on your depth finder, because you need to read what bait fish are doing. If I pull up to a rock slide, and notice that bait fish are suspended out off the bank, I will pick up my spooning rod and bounce a 3/8 oz Crippled Hearing spoon off of rocks and other deep water cover that is in the area.

Mid Day
When the sun comes out, I find that a jig bite sometimes slows down. This is when I usually go to a smaller jig, like a 3/8 or 1/4 oz Skinny Bear. The Skinny Bear jig is designed to produce a smaller profile, and, be fished on lighter line, and really packs a wallop on fish that have been feeding on bigger baits, but have shut down for the time being. Staying within my jig system, I want a bait that I can crawl along the bottom to mimic a crawdad or fresh water sculpin. During this mid-day period, I also may switch to a mini-Carolina rigged grub, again, remember, I don't go fishing without having a worm rod rigged!

Anywhere you fish, you will encounter barometric changes during the coarse of a day. When the barometer changes, the wind blows. If the day has been somewhat warm, the shallower sections of the lake will warm up a bit. These two conditions, warming water and wind create the perfect opportunity to fish crankbaits. I like a small crankbait like Storm's Wiggle Wart or Excalibur's Small Fat Free Shad. I use suspend dots or led tape to create a suspending effect on the lure. Remember, water temperature also dictates water density. Lures that suspend are fine, but they are tested in tanks that are one water temperature, (most likely room temperature.) In cold Winter months, the density of water will be higher, meaning our crankbaits won't dive as deep and they won't suspend the same way as other times of the year, so you need to work on the baits until they perform the way you want them to.
Once I have dialed in the bait, I will make long casts which parallel a bank that has rock and a flooded secondary brush line. My retrieve is unconventional. Instead of cranking the bait, I will reel down to the desired depth and then pull the bait slowly. I kind of slow reel and pull, slow reel and pull etc. You will be amazed how many after noon bass you can catch on crankbaits.
Another tactic I like to use is finding wind blown points, locating baitfish and dropping the spoon on the schools of bass that accompany the bait. This is a fast moving technique. I don't work the lure fast, but I can determine within 3 or 4 drops of the spoon if the fish are eating or not. I can cover about 10 to 12 spots within an hour's time using this method. I actually enjoy Winter bass fishing more than other times of the year. The bass are harder to find, but then again, that's really the challenge we all seek! 

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