Maybe it’s just me, but this time of year is for the birds. It’s cold, it’s cloudy and it seems like it either rains or snows every single day of the week. It messes with my head, man. When you go 17 days without seeing the sunshine, it’s pretty tough to get motivated to go fishing. Combine that with a bunch of wide-open hunting seasons right now and you’re looking at hardly any fishing pressure and totally empty boat-ramp parking lots.
Although the cold temperatures and gloomy weather stinks, the aforementioned lack of fishing pressure can be a huge advantage to dedicated and hardcore anglers. You’re going to have to layer up and be uncomfortable but I’m telling you, this time of year is one of the best opportunities you’ll have at catching your personal-best bass. They’re full of eggs right now and looking for any opportunity to move shallow, so when you get those rare few days of warmer temperatures, you better be on the water with on of these bass fishing lures in your hands.
If you plan on fishing this month, try these lures and see what happens.
Rapala Shadow Rap Shad
Each bass fishing jerkbait on the market has its own unique qualities so don’t get caught up in believing they’re all the same; even small design differences can make an enormous difference on a jerkbait’s underwater performance. Many of the newer jerkbaits out there are made for very particular situations.
In my opinion, the Rapala Shadow Rap Shad is a jerkbait you need to have rigged up this time of year if you like shallow winter bass fishing. I’m not a big-time deep-water guy so I’m not too likely to throw those big ol’ deep-diving jerkbaits. Instead, I like to fish long, shallow points this time of year to target actively feeding bass during sudden warm fronts.
I like this particular jerkbait because it slowly rises to the surface on the pause; it doesn’t suspend like the majority of the other jerkbaits on the market. This has proven to be a tremendous help to me because I’m often targeting small rock points and other hard-cover current breaks in 3 to 5 feet of water. I can make a few quick twitches, let the Shadow Rap Shad pause for a second or two and continue my cadence without any worries of snags or hang-ups that might spook nearby bass.
So if you’re a shallow-type angler who doesn’t like to fish much deeper than 6 feet or so, I highly recommend fishing this jerkbait for the next several weeks. You might not catch a pile of fish but when you do get a bite on some isolated, shallow cover, you can expect it to be one worth bragging about.
Strike King Tour Grade Shakey Head
It’s no secret that shaky heads are a great way to catch bass in especially tough conditions. This particular option, however, has paid big dividends for me throughout the years. You can fully expect to see it rigged and ready to cast on my front deck for not only this month but probably for the next 2 or 3 months as well.
The specially designed barb helps your bait stand up as it rests on the bottom which gives your bait a more prominent profile while maintaining a subtle profile that won’t spook lethargic winter bass. The 60-degree line tie angle is a tremendous help in regards to a high-percentage hookset and the hook holds up well in heavy cover.
If you’d like to try this shaky head, I’d suggest running up a river of your favorite local fishery. I know that kind of goes against conventional wisdom but I’ve had some truly unforgettable days doing this. I’ll take this rig and make long casts to outside river bends, or channel swings, and slowly drag it until I hit a piece of hard cover (these outside bends catch a bunch of debris throughout the year after heavy rains). Once this shaky head touches a piece of cover, I’ll stop my retrieve and barely shake my bait in place. The bite isn’t going to be super aggressive, so if something feels mushy or “different”, make sure you set the hook.
I’ve done really well in cold-water and January tournaments with this technique. On some days when most of the 200-boat field didn’t catch a limit, I’d have mine within the first 10 casts. Were they all giants? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t always take giants to win a derby in frigid January temperatures.
Modified Culprit Incredi Craw
This bait has quickly become one of my favorite soft-plastic baits over the past few years. For whatever reason, it tends to fly under the radar but my gosh, you can use it for just about any bass-fishing application you can think of. For the next few months during all of this nasty cold weather, I strongly suggest rigging this bait on a Carolina rig. As I typed that sentence, I could almost hear the collective groan coming through my computer screen but I’m telling y’all—this thing will catch the tar out of ‘em when it’s tough if you just give it a chance.
I love flipping and pitching the full-profile Incredi Craw in the warmer months but it’s important to keep a more subtle profile in cold water temperatures. In order to achieve this, I’ll actually cut or pull off most of the appendages for a more streamlined and non-threatening underwater look.
The body holds up really well so you can pop it through cover without worry of your hook tearing through the plastic and the colors are nothing short of impressive. The thicker body of this bait also allows you to catch several bass on a single bait which saves you some money in the long run.
With this bait rigged on a Carolina rig, look for shallow pockets or very small creeks with a pronounced ditch in the middle of them. Big bass will often “winter” in these deeper waters on isolated cover such as stumps. When you find these areas, drag the Incredi Craw through the cover slowly and when your weight hits a piece of cover, simply let the bait sit for a few seconds. Much like the shaky head we just discussed, pay close attention to any “mushy” feelings and if your line starts to move to the side, it’s time to set the hook.
Yo-Zuri 3DR-X Series Shad
Simply stated, this is one of the best finesse shad-imitating crankbaits on the market right now. It’s a lightweight bait so I suggest tossing it on a medium-action spinning rod with 8-pound monofilament. While that might not sound like a bunch of fun, I’m fairly confident you’ll change your mind once you start catching a bunch of fish on it.
This is a really good clear-water crankbait, in my opinion. So if you’re out there in the cold weather and notice a cold breeze blowing against a point or a concrete seawall near the mouth of a pocket, I strong suggest slowly cranking the area with this lure. I would like to see some more dirty-water colors become available because I can guarantee you this profile and subtle action would catch some giants in dirty water. But if you frequent clear water, this is one of those sleeper baits… for now, at least.
Z-Man ChatterBait WillowVibe
We’ve written about this lure a fair amount lately and it’s for good reason; it’s catching a bunch of fish for us throughout much of the country. As the water temperatures continue to dip in different areas, this has been a consistent producer due to its finesse shad profile and its subtle action throughout the water column.
I’ve had a lot of luck fishing this lure in the guts of short pockets. Essentially, if I’m fishing a horseshoe-shaped short pocket surround by bank cover such as grass, docks or laydowns, I’ll actually back way off the bank and start throwing this WillowVibe in the “guts” of those pockets. When it’s cold like this, the bass aren’t always going to be around the shallow, visible cover but they won’t always go far. Often times, they’ll just slide into the deeper water adjacent to the visible cover.
When they slide out like this, they’re not always easy to catch which is why it’s important to utilize a finesse approach, which is what the WillowVibe offers. This lure has just enough shimmy to draw attention to itself but it’s not enough water displacement to deter nearby picky bass. If you’re in super-clear water, I suggest the 1/4-ounce size on a medium-action spinning rod and 8-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon, depending on your personal preference. If you’re more a casting rod-type of person, a medium-action casting rod with 12-pound fluorocarbon will do the trick.
If you’re fishing this January and having a tough time getting bites, save this article and try a few of these lures. I’m very confident they’ll produce for you in difficult conditions.