Last winter, we talked about winter swimbait bass fishing being the new frontier.
It's still in that category, but we've developed a ton of useful information since that lesson was published. As far as the warm weather areas of our country are concerned, nothing much has changed.
Even though it's December, the bass are still fairly active in those venues, and swimbaits are an excellent option if you're looking for a good fish.
For most of our country, however, cold weather swimbait bass fishing requires some serious adjustments. They're still a solid big fish option, but only if you throw the right bait and fish it in the right way. In short, winter is special.
Start with the idea that your target is the bottom. Whatever bait you choose, and whatever spot you choose to fish, must relate to the bottom. That's where your fish will be. It's where your bait must be if you expect to be successful.
The idea is to work your swimbait much like you would work a jig. Pull or gently hop it along the bottom. Try to mimic a cold, miserable baitfish or crayfish. Fish it as slow as you can stand it and then slow down some more. Picking the right bait isn't difficult if you keep two or three things in mind.
First, your baits should be soft plastic — the softer the better. Hard baits are fine in warmer weather, but they won't work when it's cold. You need something with soft, subtle movement and something that the fish will hang on to an extra second or two.
The Berkley Power Mullet is a good choice. River2Sea and Optimum also make good winter swimbaits. To encourage them to hang on, I load all my plastic, winter swimbaits with a scent product of some sort. There are several good ones on the market.
My first choice is always Extra Edge Hot Sauce. In my experience, it's the best. Second, your bait should have an exposed hook that protrudes from the top of the bait. Bites at this time of the year are soft. An exposed hook will help immensely when it comes time to drive the point home. And, if it isn't on top, it'll hang constantly as it bumps along the bottom.
Finally, pick something small for your lake or river that matches the local forage as close as possible. Big fish are wary, and they don't eat every often when the water temperature's below 50 degrees. You have to make them feel comfortable with what you're offering.
My winter rod is a medium or medium-heavy action, 7-3 or 7-6 model. My picks always come from the Duckett Fishing Micro Magic Series. Micro Magic's combination of quality, performance, durability and affordability is hard to beat. A medium or high-speed reel during the winter works best. You're fishing your swimbait deep, like a jig. It's impossible to keep slack out of your line.
No matter how hard you try, there'll always be a bow in it and the current will frequently push it left or right. You need a fairly fast reel to take up the slack quickly so you can get a solid hookset when you get a bite. I spool my reel with Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. Fluoro helps get the bait down, and the lack of stretch is helpful. I like 15-pound test for most applications.
One final thought: If you're looking at hard water, you might try using ice fishing electronics to find weedy points that drop off sharply into very deep water. Vertically jig a soft swimbait on the very tip of the point. Make contact with the bottom and the weeds. I'm hearing stories that some guys are really catching them doing that. I can't say it'll work because I've never tried it. I'd think it's worth a try, though. If you want to do something a little different this winter and maybe catch a sack full of good bass, give swimbaits a go. It's a new frontier. You may as well be a part of it.