Although bass fishing with spinnerbaits is often considered most operative throughout the spring and fall, the effectiveness doesn’t stop there. There’s a great chance that as you’re reading this article, despite the now-infamous “Polar Vortex” wreaking havoc on much of the country, an insane spinnerbait bite is being largely overlooked on your favorite fishery.
FLW Tour pro and 2014 Bassmaster Classic qualifier Patrick Bone is known to capitalize on coldwater spinnerbait action throughout the winter months. According to him, these may not be the most comfortable conditions for fishing but rest assured—big, lethargic bass are total suckers for a blade and skirt concoction.
In order to partake in the action, there are four things you need to know before hitting the water.
1. Recognize and target high-percentage areas
As with any bass fishing technique, you need to be around the fish in order to get bites. Coldwater spinnerbait fishing is certainly no different. Bone believes finding the bass is half the battle and when you find ‘em, you better hold on.
“If your water temperatures are hovering in the upper 30 to low 40-degree range, a spinnerbait needs to be within reach,” Bone said. “It gives you several options which are very important this time of year. While it’s a great imitation of a shad, you have to keep in mind—bass know what’s natural and a something screaming by their face just doesn’t look right. With this technique, you have the unique ability to slow down, thoroughly saturate specific areas and cover the entire water column searching for activity.”
Cold front—“If a nasty cold front blows through my area, I’m going to heavily concentrate on deep water structure and cover,” Bone said. “Creek channels and ledges are some of the best areas in these conditions. Sure, it’s cold outside but remember—the length of days has a big influence on a bass’ readiness to spawn and sure enough, the days are getting longer which means the spawn isn’t too far away. They’ll start thinking about it soon, so look for them to be staging in these channels close to shallow water.”
Warm front—“When you get a three or four-day warming trend in the winter, you can absolutely hammer ‘em in super shallow water,” Bone said. “You’ll be amazed how aggressive they can be. Those fish that were hanging out in the channels will start to move shallow for feeding opportunities, so try to target shallow cover adjacent to their deep hangouts. Of course, anything that holds heat such as chunk rock, gravel or clay banks is perfect for this scenario.”
2. Choose your spinnerbait size accordingly
It’s easy to get lost in the endless maze of spinnerbait sizes and head weights, but try not to let it overwhelm you. This time of year, all you need are four different sizes to cover the entire water column.
- 20 to 30 feet—“Deep spinnerbait fishing is all about keeping constant contact with the bottom,” Bone said. “I’m not looking to burn it through the water, so I choose a 1-ounce Booyah Blade so I’m able to slowly creep it along, catering to the sluggish feeding behavior of these deep, coldwater bass.”
- 11 to 20 feet—“In this depth range, it’s not necessary to have a giant head on your spinnerbait, so I’m able to get away with a 3/4-ounce head,” Bone said. “Throughout my experience and constant experimentation, I believe this head size allows you to slow-roll that lure without dropping or lifting too much.”
- 5 to 10 feet—“Whenever I’m fishing in 5 to 10 feet of water, I’m probably going to be target casting to very specific pieces of cover,” Bone said. “So I use a 1/2-ounce head because I’m able to cast it very well and land it softly on the surface without spooking nearby bass.”
- 5 feet or less—“If you find yourself fishing on a relatively warm day with a lot of sunshine, you’ll probably find some good spinnerbait bass in the dirt,” Bone said. “When this is the case, try a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait in order to cover water efficiently. You can cast it quietly and keep it away from time consuming snags.”
3. Keep your blade selection simple
There are infinite blade sizes, colors and styles out there, but again—try to keep it simple. Bone has narrowed down his selection to three types of blades that serve very specific purposes.
Quick tip: Bone uses silver blades for most of his deep spinnerbait fishing and begins to utilize gold more often when he moves to shallow water to increase his lure’s visibility in the stained water.
- 30 to 15 feet—“When you’re barely rolling that spinnerbait along in deep water, you don’t want the blades to be turning too fast because it the increase in action can appear unnatural to coldwater bass,” Bone said. “The blades need to be barely flopping back and forth, so I usually stick with a big No. 5 willow leaf blade. Bigger, bulkier blades will give your spinnerbait too much lift during the retrieve, taking it out of the most productive strike zone.”
- 15 to 8 feet—“There’s likely to be a little more light penetration at this depth range, so you don’t need huge blades on your spinnerbait to draw so much attention,” Bone said. “This is where I’ll opt for the more standard willow leaf blades, such as a No. 3 or No. 4.”
- 8 feet or less—“In shallow water throughout the winter, I’m pretty much set on an Indiana and Colorado blade combination,” Bone said. “Think about it—most shallow water this time of year will have some good stain to it from runoff, so your spinnerbait needs to displace more water so the bass can detect it. If there’s a rare instance in which the shallows may be clear, I’ll definitely choose No. 3 willow leaf blades.”
4. Adapt your retrieve to the conditions
There are some fast-moving techniques you can use for winter bass fishing, but spinnerbait fishing in deep water isn’t really one of them. Like we touched on earlier, shad probably won’t be kicking around without a care in the world right now. They’re going to be struggling to live and moving very slowly, making a deliberate approach much more desirable.
“If you’re fishing a spinnerbait in deep water, I can’t overstate the importance of a painstakingly slow retrieve,” Bone said. “You have to really make yourself slow down and barely move your reel handle so your blades look like a dying shad. You’ll find more activity on warmer days, but on an average, cold winter day, you can expect the shad activity to slow to a crawl. If I lose contact with the bottom during any part of my retrieve, I stop reeling and let it fall back to the bottom.”
Detecting a deep spinnerbait bite takes some practice, but once you learn it, it becomes second nature. According to Bone, the bites are often subtle and unordinary.
“Most of your bites will feel very spongy, almost like you pulled your spinnerbait into a wad of trash,” Bone said. “It’s not always going to feel like a fish, so if anything feels different while you’re reeling it in, set the hook and set it hard. Spinnerbaits have pretty big hooks in them, so it takes some power to penetrate the bass’ mouth with a hook point.”
After a few days of warm weather however, the “old school” spinnerbait anglers should feel right at home. Bone suggests fishing it exactly as you would during warmer times of the year.
“If you find some active fish in the shallows during a warming trend, try to put a lot more action into your spinnerbait,” Bone said. “Keep it off the bottom more, pop your rod tip to make the skirt flare and try to knock it into every piece of cover you can find. Reaction strikes are key when winter bass move shallow, so don’t be afraid to get hung-up. You’ll know when you get a bite too—there’s no second guessing when you’re catching them shallow!”
If you’re tired of sitting inside like us, head to your favorite lake and bring a few spinnerbaits along. If you look for key areas, use the right equipment and concentrate on your retrieve, you’ll totally forget about the cold weather.