When you make your next trip to the great outdoors for a spot of bass fishing in winter, remember it’s not going to be easy but is completely possible.
To many, the thought of leaving your dry, warm home to go try to catch bass on a fly sounds like utter madness. Don’t be mistaken; it is tough, cold weather, numb fingers can be challenging, but the rewards are far greater than any miscomforts.
Fly fishing in winter for bass is highly productive and well worth getting off the couch for. The bass, particularly winter smallmouth, act and eat differently, but once you figure out your piece of water, you will be in for a treat. There are a few key things to look out for and to understand before you head out.
Location of the winter smallmouth, water temperatures to work with, and which column to focus on. This will all influence your catch rate. In the below section, we are looking at how to target bass in the winter, with success!
Where to look when fly fishing for winter bass
Both big smallmouth bass and largemouth bass still feed in winter. The cold weather and cold water play a massive role in their behavior and feeding habits both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass are cold-blooded species, so colder water temperatures slow down their metabolism. Coldwater equals slower, less active bass as opposed to warmer waters that cause the bass’s metabolism to rise and become more active.
That said, winter largemouth and winter smallmouth bass still need to eat but will exert the least amount of energy required to feed. Focus on the deeper underwater structures more than you would the shallow water areas. The bass will be holding in there somewhere, so on your next boating adventure, be sure to work the deeper areas of the lake.
The bass won’t be chasing schools of baitfish in the shallows, so forget about those scenarios and focus on the next fishing spot.
Keep an eye out for deep tailouts with decent structure in them. The smallmouth bass will be held in the lower water column where the deepwater can provide some warmth. Any over-hanging banks or trees which will provide security and a constant food source are good bets. Deepwater, over 10 feet deep, would be a good starting point to fish. Any deep pool or ledges is where you need to spend most of your time fly fishing for bass.
Bass fishing is all about working structure, yes it can be a little more challenging with bass fly rods when your fly gets stuck working the structure, but it does yield the best results. Find the structure, and you will find the bass!
Sunken logs or debris are the best types of structures to work, especially for winter bass fishing. They are deep, warmer, and provide security, and the bass have a great predatory advantage over any small or large aquatic animal that passes. If you are battling to find this type of structure or it’s too far to reach with a fly fishing rod, then the second-best kind of structure is to look for rocky ledges.
Look for a rocky cluster and then fish the deep water off either side of it. Again the bass will hold in the deeper water and move in to feed if the opportunity should allow. A full sinking bass fly line is best suited for this type of fly fishing. You need to get down fast and retrieve the fly through the column. The last option is to target bass in the winter would be to fish the deeper weed beds.
This may require long casts and a more subtle approach of wet wading to get into position, but this type of structure can produce. Work from the deepwater onto the weed beds, fast sporadic strips, and movements usually provoke vicious takes.
How important is the water temperature?
Water temperature is as critical in bass fishing as it is in trout fishing. The cold water affects the bass even more so than it does trout. Trout would still feed and be active in cold waters where bass become very lethargic in this particular water. As we all know, bass love the warmer months and water, but the winter months waters are still productive should you wish to break the cabin fever cycle and get out there.
Look for waters that aren’t colder than 40°F; this is on the colder side but is still fishable. If you find the 50°F plus water, then you will be in for some fun.
Time of day can play a significant role in when to fish for bass in winter. The sunset session is often the most productive as the water has had the whole day to warm up, allowing the fish to be more active.
Gear needed when fly fishing for winter bass.
The best cold weather fly fishing gear needed to fly fish for bass isn’t much different from the gear needed to fly fish for them in summer. The same weight fly rods and reels can be used, 5wt -7wt setups, changing from a WF floating line to a WF fly fishing sinking line. A DI 3 or DI5 will be fine. The reason for this is because you will be predominantly focusing on the deep water.
It’s also better to start with smaller flies instead of the big flies you use in the summer months because the bass wants to use the least amount of energy to feed so that smaller prey would be an easy meal. Other anglers may start fishing with larger, lighter flies, but a smaller weighted fly will imitate a small baitfish best.
Don’t spend several hours in one spot either. If you haven’t had any interest in a chosen location, then move; the more water you cover, the better until you find the fish. Covering water on the lake or still water reservoir is the only way to up your chances.
How to catch bass in winter
As a fly fisherman, you use the surroundings and environment to influence your decisions on flies and tactics. Catching bass in the winter is tricky, but it can become a regular thing with a bit of extra knowledge. Always look for an underwater structure first, then make sure you choose the right fly to pull through once you have located this type of possible holding area. Check out our post here on best bass flies for more patterns to choose from.
Small baitfish patterns are the first choice as most baitfish die out over the winter, the bass jump at the opportunity to feed on the remaining fish. So choose a fly with a quick sink rate and one that will imitate the local baitfish; shad imitations work well. Shad and crawfish imitations are great flies to start with colors like red, orange, and white.
If you tie your own winter patterns, then combination colors are perfect. Take a look at affiliated sites and other recommended articles on which bass flies should be fished.
A slowed metabolism means more sluggish responses so, the best way to start your retrieve is with a few short, fast strips with long pauses. Followed by a few slow retrieves and pauses, pay attention to the drop between each pause as this is when bass love to take and many eats can be missed.
The slower approach yields better results but demands more patience and awareness, but once you get the feeling for the eats and the general motions of the slower approach, you will start to land some fatties.
So there you have it, W a lot of fun once you have mastered a few changes from your usual approach to bass fishing. The main differences would be to skip the shallower areas and focus on the slow deep, structured waters. A slow, sinking line and slow retrieve is the best way to get the fly down to the bass.
The slow retrieve is key as the fish don’t want to spend that much energy feeding. Use a smaller fly to start with and work your way up in fly size until you have found what works. Once you have zeroed in on the best retrieve and flies, you will be in for a great session.