Winter has arrived and believe it or not, it is one of the best times of the year to catch big bass on big swimbaits. Well-known California swimbait guide Matt Allen, takes full advantage of the winter swimbait bite. Allen believes during this time bass are in survival mode.
These larger bass are smart and don’t want to exert a ton of energy on a bunch of small meals throughout the day, so they hunker down on the most opportunistic spots of the lake waiting for one big meal that will last them a week.
Allen shared some of his favorite big swimbaits for winter bass as well as his gear selection, where to look for bass in the winter and how to fish the big swimbaits.
The key in the winter is to slow down, which is why Allen uses big soft plastic swimbaits. Soft swimbaits allow Allen to retrieve the bait at very slow speeds and still have a natural swimming action. Allen uses 3 large soft swimbaits, each having a unique tail design that mimic different bait fish.
- The Huddleston Deluxe has a vortex tail that puts out a very subtle vibration at all speeds, closely imitating a trout. It has a very realistic appearance and has proven itself coast to coast to catch giant bass. Allen uses the Huddleston in ROF 12 which stands for rate of fall 12. In terms of the Huddleston baits it means the bait sinks 12 feet in 10 seconds.
- JSJ Baits 8-inch hitch has a cylinder tail and utilizes a great crossover design. At slow speeds you get a very methodical kick, representative of trout or kokanee. At a faster pace, the tail creates a lot of thump and flash, which better mimics shad and other baitfish. He’s been testing this swimbait that will be available next spring.
- Osprey 7-inch Talon swimbait has a boot-style tail that creates a heavy thump, closely resembling a baitfish (shad, shiner and herring). “This bait has a heavier kick which I utilize in darker or stained water,” Allen said.
These 3 baits collectively represent baitfish across the nation. By looking at the baitfish in your lake you can choose the right bait and tail design to use at on your lake.
- Rod – Allen uses a Dobyns 807MAG, an 8-foot heavy power rod with a fast action. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a proper swimbait rod,” Allen said. “As a guide, I see clients lose fish all the time when not using the proper gear. You need a very stout rod to pin that jig-style hook of the swimbait in the fish’s mouth with a hard hookset, and to keep control of the fish when fighting it to the boat.”
- Reel – Shimano Calcutta 400 is Allen’s choice when using a big swimbait because you need a big reel to handle the weight of the bait. The big reels are geared well and can handle big fish. “A true giant can lock up a low profile reel. It takes a lot more pressure to lock up a round-style reel.”
- Line, leader, knot – Allen spools his reels with 65 to 80-pound braided line, connected to a 7-foot 25 to 30-pound monofilament leader. The braid sensitivity allows you to feel the action of the bait going through cover and the lack of stretch produces positive hook sets. Allen ties the bait with a San Diego Jam knot because it does not slip and can be seen if tied incorrectly.
Finding the right areas and fishing them
Allen suggests looking at a contour map and finding the largest point on the lake. Large points on the main lake hold big fish because all nomadic bait (baitfish that travel) must swim past a large point which makes it the perfect ambush spot.
When fishing points, Allen will start out at a 45-degree angle to the point and cast just past the point into shallow water.
“Understanding the sun position helps me decide which side of the point I will fish, and it is important not to cast a shadow over the point.”
He will let the bait sink to the bottom then start a very slow retrieve back towards the boat.
“One full crank of the the reel can take 5 seconds. That is painfully slow for most anglers.“
Allen will continue this process casting shallow working his way out to deep water.
If you are fishing a lake that plants trout, one of the best spots will be right at the ramp where the trout are released.
“Big bass can sense when trout are released and will come to feed.”
Watching the weather can greatly increase the likelihood of getting bit. Even though Allen has caught big bass in all types of weather, he has found the best time will be right before a storm when the barometric pressure starts to fall.
“Bass can feel that pressure fall, and will feed before the storm.”
If you go out on day that is sunny and dead calm, don’t lose confidence; some of Allen’s largest bass have been caught on calm sunny days.
“Between 11am and 2pm will be the best times on real sunny days, as I believe the fish can see a lot better when the sun is up.”
What to expect?
Just because you are throwing a giant bait don’t expect the bite to feel like a giant fish. Most of the time these large fish will feel like a very subtle tick.
“Big bass will approach the bait and suck it in, you will feel a tick which is the lips of the bass hitting the line after she has already engulfed the bait. As soon as you feel that tick you must hit them as hard as you can with your set, because they often spit it out.”
Once the fish is hooked the key is to get them in the boat as quickly as possible.
The weight of the bait will be used against you and fish can throw the hook. This is why you must use the heavy equipment. Keep the fish coming towards you and grind them in on your heavy tackle so that you keep control of the fish, never allow them to throw their head back and forth in the fight.
Develop a one bite mentality
Remember when using these big baits you are fishing for a true giant bass. Maybe one of the largest in a fishery. Therefore, fish the entire day with a zero or hero mentality. Although bites are few and far between, when you do get bit, it could be the fish of a lifetime. But you’ve got to put in the hours to get there.
So don’t expect a 10-pounder on your first trip. But as you learn those prime feeding areas on your lake, you will begin to catch big bass with regularity and develop a one bite mentality.