Finding cold water smallmouth

About the author

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick

Stephen Headrick is better known to the bass fishing world as the Smallmouth Guru. He lives in Celina, Tenn., and is the owner of Punisher Lures.

I’ve been covered over lately with questions about how to find cold water smallmouth. Part of the problem guys are having is that the weather has been so crazy this winter. We’ve had cold spells with snow and ice and then warm spells that make most of the country believe spring is on the way.

Those weather patterns have kept the smallmouth moving in almost every lake, reservoir and river in the country. They go to their winter haunts when it’s cold but then can’t be found when it warms up for a few days. That’s because they’re moving with the water temperature. The guys that are having trouble finding them are spending too much time looking at structure and not enough time looking at water temperature.

What happens is that the baitfish move towards warmer water every chance they get. The smallmouth move with them. It doesn’t take much of a change to move everything, either. One or two degrees will do it. Three or four degrees will be huge. That’ll change everything in the lake or river. It’s like a migration.

The last three or four weeks is a great example. We had some cold weather before and after Christmas but then, this last week, it warmed up a lot. Some parts of the country that should’ve been below freezing were in the middle 50 degree range. That pushed the baitfish shallow — back into the creeks and bigger cuts mostly. The smallies were right behind.

This movement was even more pronounced in those areas that got a lot of rain. Warm water ran into the creeks and pushed their temperature up several degrees. That’s what I meant when I said that one or two degrees mattered but that three or four was huge. Everything warmed up a little but the creeks warmed up a lot. That’s why the creeks were on fire everywhere, and why guys struggled in the main lake.

What I’m saying is that if you want to find winter smallmouth when the weather is as crazy as it has been you need to get out your temperature gauge and cruise around the lake. Look for areas that are warmer than the surrounding water. This takes time. You can’t be in a hurry to find warm spots. Go slow, check the temperature at least every 100 feet and don’t stop until you have a good picture of where you’re fishing.

That’s the hardest part about wintertime fishing. We all want to get out there and start casting to our favorite wintertime spot. That works when the weather is normal. They go to a cold water holding spot and stay there until spring arrives. But this isn’t normal. They’re moving around. You have to take the time to find them. If you don’t do it you’ll probably come home empty-handed, and no one wants to do that.

Next week we’ll talk about what effect water clarity has on all this and we’ll cover a few things you can do to narrow your search for warmer water.

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