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As a general rule of thumb in this area, I think I will definitely catch bass if the water is over 50 degrees, have a decent chance of catching some if it is 45 to 50 degrees, but don’t have much hope if colder than 45. Since the bass are not used to water that cold here they get very sluggish and just do not feed.
I still go fishing, no matter what the water temperature. Since I fish two bass clubs that fish 12 months out of the year, I always fish some tournaments under very cold conditons. These tactics have worked for me in the range of water temps from 45 to 52 degrees over the years, and I have caught a few bass using these tactics for cold water bass fishing when the water is colder than 45 degrees.
- Fish slowly. Bass slow down as the water cools. They are less likely to hit a fast moving bait, so slow your presentation down and give them time to eat your bait.
- Fish steeper banks. In-Fisherman Magazine recommends fishing banks that have at least a 30 percent drop and 45 is better. Bass like to move vertically in a short distance during the winter so bluff banks are good.
- Choose a bait you can keep in one place on the bottom. A jig and pig is a classic bait for cold water. Crawl it slowly along and make it stop and twitch when you bump cover. A jigging spoon moved up and down in one place works well. Slow moving crankbaits and spinnerbaits slow rolled or crawled on the bottom are also good.
- Put scent on your bait. Scents may help induce a bite in cold water. I like JJs Magic, a strong garlic scented dip. It also comes in colors that will offer contrast to your soft plastics
- Fish deeper. Bass tend to hold deep in the winter, so look for the ends of long points, steep bluff banks and creek channels. They hold there until there are several warm days, then they move up into more shallow water.
- Be patient. Don't expect a lot of bites, but the ones you get may be big bass. Take your time and wait on that one big bite.
- Pay attention. Bites are often light and subtle. Pay close attention to your line and what your bait is doing. Don’t miss that one big bite. It may be indicated by the slightest pressure on your line, a tiny jump of it, a mushy feeling or something else like the wiggle of the crankbait stopping or the thump of the spinnerbait blade suddenly stopping. Be ready to set the hook if anything feels different.
- Dress for the weather. You can't catch bass if you are miserable or if you can't stay out there. Get warm clothes and layer so you can adjust. Be sure you have something with you that will turn rain and stop the wind, too. Chemical hand warmers and foot warmers can make a huge difference on a very cold day.
I caught my biggest bass ever, a 9 pound, 7 ounce beauty, the second weekend in February a few years ago. She hit a slow moving crankbait on a steep rocky point. It was the only bite I got that day. I caught my first 8 pound bass in a January tournament on a slowly moved crankbait. I caught my second 8 pounder on a big spinnerbait crawled across the bottom, in a January tournament. Both of them were also the only bites I got those days.
Give winter bass fishing a try.