When winter arrives, most bass anglers can be found in their tackle rooms or garages gearing up for the arrival of spring. However, there exists a certain diehard contingent that won't allow a little cold weather to keep them off the water.
Arkansas Elite Series pro Kevin Short admits that there are easier ways to fish for bass in the wintertime than heading to the river. "I've had some phenomenal days on the Arkansas River in late December and early January, but that's typically the exception to the rule," he says.
Cold, muddy, moving water can be the toughest situation a bass angler can face, Short explains. "The biggest problem with fishing southern rivers in the wintertime is that there's usually been a lot of rain runoff, which makes the water incredibly muddy."
On the other hand, if the conditions are such that there is some visibility in the water, even if it's below 40 degrees, bass can be caught.
Structure fishing a river during the winter, as Short points out, revolves around access to deep water. "Deep is going to be relative to the river system that you're fishing," he says. "For instance, on the Arkansas River, 'deep' means somewhere around 35 feet. On the Mississippi River though, it might only mean 25 feet deep. It just depends, but you have to understand that the bass will be near deep water. That doesn't mean that they will be deep, just close to deep water."
Short recommends channel swings as a great starting point on a river in winter. "These can be especially good if there's something that will concentrate bass within that bend," he says. "It could be anything from rock along the outside bank to a rock jetty or wing dam — just something that the fish can get around."
From there, depending on water temperature and clarity, Short will determine the appropriate lure to employ. "I'm either going with a crankbait or a jerkbait this time of year," he says. It's all going to be relative to how cold the water is, and how clear it is.
"If the water drops below about 45 degrees, my No. 1 bait is a jerkbait," Short explains. "From the mid-40s to the mid-50s, it's going to be some kind of crankbait."
Another important consideration about river fishing in cold weather relates to current, Short notes. "At all costs, I'm going to try to avoid current," he says. "Bass get finicky when it's cold, so when you throw current into the mix, bass become almost impossible to find."
If faced with cold, muddy conditions where current is present, Short recommends finding a calm backwater area. "If you have to fish in those conditions, the best alternative — aside from just staying home in bed — is to find some backwater," he says. "I'm going to find some area off the river that has the same types of transitional breaks — from shallow to deep — that the main river does."
Short points out that the depth transition in backwater areas doesn't have to be significant in order to hold bass. "It can be a drop of only 2 or 3 feet," he says. "If that's the biggest breakline you have, that's where you need to focus your efforts."
Originally published May 2010