December 24, 2023
There are better times to target largemouth bass. Some might even say winter bass fishing is for the hard-headed.
Well, for one thing, the chilly season can offer some pretty sweet opportunities. But even from the pragmatic position, “hard-headed” actually serves well the angler seeking big bites.
The reason is twofold: First, solid objects make dandy ambush spots, especially for fish that are in no mood to travel far and/or fast. The other part—arguably, the most important element—is the warmth.
When hard structures are exposed to sunlight, the warmth retention turns them into space heaters, which makes them high-value winter targets. Baitfish and crustaceans are attracted to that surface, while bass appreciate the heat, as well as the food sources.
Also, during late winter, the southern prespawn period finds fish staging on mid-depth hard spots. That may be a steep break near the entrance to a spawning pocket, the stair steps of a bluff wall outside a protected bay, or deeper cypress trees on the outskirts of the shallower forest where fish will soon pull up to spawn.
While hard structure can certainly factor into the ice-fishing game, we’ll focus this discussion below the freeze line. So, consider these examples of hard structure that can benefit winter bass pursuits.
Sure, the deeper, offshore ranges host plenty of winter fish, but in southern waters, there’s always a population of bass that live shallow year-round. These fish simply adjust their position for feeding, spawning, and water temperature preference.
For the winter season, they’re looking for larger rocks that spend more time in the sun than the shade. Darker surfaces tend to absorb more heat than lighter, so plan accordingly.
Complementing the natural stuff, the manmade riprap banks protecting marinas, bridges, etc. play a significant wintertime role. Full of crawfish and often hosting shad and bluegill, these angled formations allow fish to rise into sun-drenched shallows and quickly drop into the safety of deeper water.
Bridges: Depending on time of day and weather patterns, fish could be utilizing the deeper main span pilings, the shallower columns closer to the prespawn areas or the riprap buttressing the causeways.
And don’t overlook the corners—the areas where the water meets the land and the spot where the riprap meets the natural bottom. Both are key transition zones where winter fish do a lot of their business.
Boat Ramps: From large multi-lane facilities, to modest neighborhood launches, a concrete slab collects a lot of heat and offers a clearly discernible target. (Not to mention the fact that tournament “release” fish often hang around the area for a while. WinkWink.)
Seawalls: Whether it’s a residential area, a marina, or a lakefront/river front industrial area, broad, flat surfaces catching sunlight and extending into deeper water work very much like a bluff wall. Fish ascend and descend as needed to regulate their temperature.
Boat Hulls: Big marinas tucked into calm, protected pockets offer hundreds of opportunities for shivering baitfish and bass to cozy against sun-warmed fiberglass and metal.
Stumps: The remnants of clear cutting, or the remains of natural processes, stumps—particularly hard woods—make fine winter comforts. Word to the wise; stumps are like fire ants—find one, you’ll probably find more. Know before you go and proceed with caution.
Time & Place
With a rising sun increasing the warming influence, expect the action to pick up from about mid-morning through late afternoon. More sun exposure means more heat on the hard stuff and that typically means comfy bass that are more likely to open their mouths.
The most important element is that proximity to deep water. That’s why bridges, bluff walls and marina riprap can be so productive this time of year.
Another key point involves geography. Hard structures facing east will get the earliest sun exposure, so they’re the first to start warming. On the flipside, west-facing structure gets the strength of afternoon sun; so, these spots will hold more residual warmth through the night and into the morning.
That being said, don’t discount the daybreak period. Even in the colder months, there’s almost always an early bite and it’s often on or near one of those heating centers.
Consider also an area’s proximity to spawning bays/creeks. Depending on weather patterns, the year’s first couple of months may see prespawn staging—or at least the initial transitions from winter refuges. In any case, hard structures in line with the fish’s spring travel plans are likely to hold the crowds.
As for productive presentations, preferences vary by fishery, while water clarity, local forage and fishing pressure factor into the equation. Start with your reaction baits like squarebills and shallow diving crankbaits, swim jigs and the all-time winter favorite, the jerkbait, to cover water. Once you dial in the active areas, pick them apart with jigs, shaky heads and dropshots.