When the water turns cold, bass anglers tend to think bass fishing is over. It wasn’t too long ago that anglers thought bass went into hibernation and just wouldn’t bite, and it’s still being espoused that they go into some trance-like state and shut down. Well, there’ve been many misconceptions about bass behavior over the years, some have been rectified, while some still stubbornly linger. This cold water lore is one of those fallacies.
I’ve always been a big proponent of going against the conventional grain when it comes to what’s possible and what’s not concerning bass behavior. And when it comes to catching bass in cold water, it may surprise some anglers that it’s just as easy as catching them when the water’s warm. Unless anglers find themselves skipping jigs across a surface of ice, bass can be caught in the coldest water.
When the water temperature gets below 40 degrees, most consider that ultra-cold water. Bass are laboring physiologically, and face limitations. Because of the environmental imposition, three rules emerge that will help anglers more easily locate and catch them. First, ultra-slow presentations are a must in ultra-cold water. Second, bass are going to locate in deeper water.
Now, deeper is a relative term. Regardless of where anglers fish, the best way to visualize the relativity is to eliminate the flat shallow areas in a larger area, and concentrate on places where there is some depth. Degree and location aren’t primary concerns; it’s simply fishing the deepest water available.
Lastly, bass are using cover. When the water gets cold, ultra-cold, bass don’t stop living; they simply become more sedentary. In other words, they spend an extraordinary amount of time just hanging out. While in this physiological state, bass being security preferring creatures, they choose to hole-up in and around cover. This is one time in the year where bass not only use cover, but because movement is so arduous and energy costly, they find it in a good area and stay there.
Thus, this is also one time of the year where finding baitfish actually does raise the percentages of finding bass and other gamefish, substantially. In my opinion, using common sense and reason as guiding principles, it’s the most cohesive the relationship is all year. Baitfish will gang up in very precise places. When anglers can find the schools in ultra-cold water, bass are typically right there with it. It’s the equivalent of keeping the refrigerator close at hand. When bass want a late fall/winter snack, they don’t have to put out a lot of effort to get it.
Seeing the full, cold water picture, the fishing is obviously very pointed and simple. There aren’t a lot of fishing decisions to be made, or a lot of laborious thought necessary. It’s straight ahead, slow and patient presentations, in deeper places with available cover. Anglers need only find some suitable habitat, and fish in a manner that keeps their offering in the bass’ wheelhouse as long as possible.
There are only two problems with ultra-cold water fishing. One is the elements above water. Generally, the conditions are as uncomfortable as they are all year. Cold weather is physically taxing, and inclement weather during colder periods makes it even more so. Anglers must be prepared both physically, meaning protected in the elements, and also mentally.
Preparing oneself mentally for the challenging conditions is equally as important. Cold water bass fishing is a mentality. It’s unlike fishing done the rest of the year, where anglers cover lots of water with multiple lures, while looking for active fish in different parts of a body of water. The cold water mentality is a resolute and determined approach that caters to an impaired predator. Bass in ultra-cold water are exhibiting universal behaviors, while being advantageously more stationary. Anglers need only find them.
The other problem is the patience required with each presentation. Along with the less than desirable elements above water, the fishing is going to be less than desirable, too. Ultra-slow fishing is a grind, and as I said, anglers need to prepare mentally for that kind of work demand.
Feel is essential in cold water, as the bites will not only be subtle, but fewer and farther between. The good news is that when an angler does get a bite or two in an area, he can be confident that he’s found something special. Likely, he’s found the fish!
Bass are going to be grouped up, usually with the bait. When anglers get feedback, they really need to lay in the area and saturate it. They may only get a bite every 15 or 30 minutes, and sometimes longer. But they must have confidence that the bass are there, and maintain that confidence even though the bites aren’t coming in rapid-fire succession. It’s cold water bass fishing, and this is exactly the behavior anglers should expect.
Cold water bass fishing is pointed bass fishing. It’s time consuming, and requires extraordinary patience and confidence. One positive aspect of locating bass in cold water is that once an angler has located fish, he can exploit them for long periods.
The dynamics of the phenomenon are simple. Bass find themselves within a physiological barrel in cold water. Their movements are limited, their range is limited, and they’ve reconciled themselves to small areas for the duration of the coldest extremes. Understanding the effects of cold water on bass, how could it be otherwise?
So, anglers simply need to pick an area on their favorite body of water, and find the deeper places with some variance of cover. Then, they need to fish the area slow, really s-l-o-w, crawling their offering seductively in and over every piece of cover they can find. The offering must be made too easy to refuse; that’s just the cold water deal.
The bites will finally come. When they do, confidence will grow rapidly. Anglers will know more than any other time that, in a sense, they’ve got bass cornered. They only need to believe it, and stay with it. Anglers can catch bass in ultra-cold water as long as it’s fishable. It may seem magical when they put it all together and have success. But they shouldn’t shortchange themselves by not recognizing their skill.