Catch a big smallmouth before winter’s over

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David Mullins
Steve Bowman
David Mullins

Winter’s on the way out but there’s still time to catch a big, hefty winter smallmouth. All you have to do is keep a positive attitude and dress warm — and throw the right lure in the right place.

We’ll start by talking about the right place. 

In most lakes there’ll be a better minnow bite than there will be a crawfish bite. That basically means that you’ll be looking for a depression or steep drop somewhere near the main lake channel. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll be fishing deep. Sometimes this late in the winter they move surprisingly shallow, but they’ll still be near the main lake channel.

As a general rule their depth will be determined by water color and temperature. When the water is 50 degrees or warmer and has a little color to it they tend of move shallow. When the water’s colder and clear they’ll typically be found deeper. 

Why is a matter of guesswork and conjecture. It might be because that’s where the minnows are or it might be because the deep water gives them protection from the crazy swings in the weather that late winter brings. No matter why, however, that’s where they’ll be most of the time.

That brings us to lure choices. 

I’m going to name the ones I use but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones that’ll catch a late winter smallie. It’s just because they are the ones I’m most familiar with and have had the most success using. 

I usually start with a 3-inch Scottsboro Tackle Co. swimbait. It’s got the right action for colder water, and it’ll produce at almost any depth. Swim it along the bottom with spinning tackle on a 1/4-ounce head for the most success. I go with the smallest size because it seems like that’s what they’re feeding on at this time of the year. They seem to shy away from bigger lures.   

Another one of my choices is the Doomsday Tackle Co. C-Shad, 3.2 inches long. I use this one when the bass are schooled and a vertical presentation is the thing.

My third choice is an old-fashioned Storm Wiggle Wart. Those things have been around forever, and there’s a reason for that — they flat out catch them. I prefer the 2-inch size. 

As far as color is concerned I always go with whatever most closely matches what they’re eating. All of the lures I’ve mentioned come in several colors so finding one that suits the bass shouldn’t be a problem.

In some lakes — especially mountain, rocky types — crawfish are important, even this late in the winter. Whenever I’m fishing one of them I go with a jig. There are a hundred good ones out there. Pick the one you have the most confidence in and go fishing.

Once again, color matters. Look closely at the local crayfish — they come in a countless number of colors around the country — and match them as best you can.  

Don’t let the cold weather and gray skies keep you in the house. This is a great time to bag a true trophy smallmouth.