It’s time to break out the lipless crankbaits.
In my mind, there isn’t a better coldwater bait for fishing at this time of year.
The vibrating/sinking hardbait is tailor made for power fishermen like me who prefer to fish fast and cover a lot of water.
For some reason, the flat-side style of baits with tighter wiggles is more appealing to bass in cold water than the billed, round-bodied baits. And, you can control the depth easier with them.
The lipless lure is perfect for covering flats when the fish first move up from winter haunts. Grass and gravel points are among my favorite places to fish it.
When the water is cold during the late winter or prespawn, the bass are less likely to chase a bait burning beneath the surface.
During summer, I begin the retrieve soon after the bait hits the water, but this time of year, I let it go to the bottom before I lift it.
I fish it slower, too, holding my rod to the side and crank at medium speed. However —and this is important —I will periodically pull the rod to the side and hesitate, allowing the bait to freefall.
The Strike King Red Eye Shad is my first choice, but that doesn’t mean other lipless crankbaits won’t catch bass this time of year.
I was deeply involved in the design of the Red Eye, and while it resembles dozens of other lipless baits out there, it has a unique fall that makes it very suitable for cold water fishing.
It’s what I used when I won the Bassmaster Classic at Lay Lake and one that I will have tied on this year at Grand Lake if the fish are 10 feet or less.
The Red Eye doesn’t fall on its side on a slack line; it flutters nose first with a subtle side-to-side shimmy and it stays balanced. That’s when I get most of my strikes during cold weather periods.
I like fishing it close to cover. In fact, I want to feel the bait ticking whatever is down there, and if it’s grass I'll give the rod a jerk to make it jump away from the cover and let it fall for a second before resuming my retrieve.
If there isn’t grass I'll "rapid fire" the area until I catch a fish. However, I will make multiple casts around a grass bed trying to call out whatever fish might be in there.
This is a time of year when I prefer a slower geared reel (5.3:1) for fishing lipless crankbaits. That helps me control the bait, make sure it gets down and makes it easier for me to slow it down. And another thing —I have a better feel at slower speed, so I always know what the bait is doing. While the fish engulf the bait, they’re a little more lethargic and that slower reel helps me feel every wobble.
Of course, so does fluorocarbon line. As I do with all my crankbaits, I match the line size to water depth; if fishing deeper, I use lighter line (10- to 12-pound test) and go heavier as the water gets shallower. When I won at Lay Lake, I was fishing 3 to 6 feet of water and using 17-pound line most of the time.
I also fish it on my signature Quantum composite rod that has a soft tip but a lot of backbone. If fishing around grass, I go to a little stiffer tip that allows me to better rip the bait from the grass.
Colors can be critical, too. Remember, early season bass are targeting crawfish, which is why you'll find those colors tied to my line when the water is cold.
Get a good look at the crawfish in your lake and match your colors accordingly. That’s why red is so good in Texas this time of year; most of the crawfish in those lakes are red during early spring.