The sky spits snow. The water feels icy. In fact, ice clings to the shaded corners in the boat. Fingertips freeze.
That’s when the real butterballs come out to play. Smallmouths and largemouths both respond to chilling water with a sense of urgency. Cold fronts speed up the bite this time of year. Even the worst, most precipitous drops in temperature and the steepest rises in barometric pressure can spur a hot bite in what, for this region (northern Minnesota), would be considered late fall. Winter, as determined by the solstice, may be more than 6 weeks away, but we could be a couple weeks away from ice fishing in Lake Country.
Water temperatures are already dipping into the high 30°F range in small lakes and rivers. So we head for moderate to very large lakes to find a little more stability, and water temperatures hovering near 44°F.
Sometimes bass bite crankbaits pretty good at 41°F to 44°F, but not so often. Suspending baits work better. As the cold settles in bass slow down. Go through an area at the speeds you fish in early fall and you’re more likely to work your bait past dozens of fish without a bite than you are to incur a frenzy.
Pressure seems to make bass demand even slower presentations. When I arrive at a lake this time of year and see several trailers there, it means two things: 1/ The lake probably has good numbers of pretty good fish, and 2/ The bass are pretty well educated.
When water temperatures drop into the high 30°F range in the Mississippi River, float-and-fly techniques can outproduce livebait for smallmouths, while largemouths in nearby lakes will still comntinue a pretty actively-worked jig. But, when the lake is getting a lot of pressure, largemouths respond much better to deadsticking with scented plastics than they do to active jigging or even dragging.
Just before a lake freezes, largemouth fishing can be spectacular. If you have location wired. Because they respond best to presentations so slow and meticulous it will drive you batty.
That’s when it’s time to go steelheading…