When Fall finally cuts loose and the temperature drops, most fishermen put up the rods until Spring warms the Earth once again. This is a big mistake. Winter brings maybe the best chance of the year for catching the biggest smallmouth of the season. As long as you dress properly and understand what the fish need, you can catch fish throughout the winter months. The first thing you must understand is confidence. Confidence is the single most important element of winter fishing because if you think that you're going to catch fish your chances greatly increase. In a single day of fishing, you may only get a bite or two, but if you are confident and "on your toes", that bite just may be a 6 pound fish, and that my friends is well worth the effort.
Finding fish is relatively easy in the cold water months, just look for deeper water with a slow current and an ample supply of cover. Deep water is a relative term on all bodies of water. Deep to some may be thirty feet and to others its only eight feet. A lot of smallmouth migrate to deeper water when the temperature drops, but on the other hand a lot of these fish utilize the same water all year long. The chances are that if deep water is found, and it has ample cover there will be bass present. The big part of catching these fish is to find out which part of the cover they are utilizing. They could be on wood, or they could be on rocks, the possibilities are endless. For the most part the fish will be holding tight to the cover so that makes a slow presentation all that more important. Another key to winter fish is baitfish. These fish want the easiest meal possible and a school of shad or others makes the task of feeding that much easier. Areas to look for on rivers and streams include scour holes below dams and bridges, long flat runs below riffles, laydowns and logjams on the channel side, and outside bends with cut banks.
The one thing to remember is that if you think you are fishing slow, slow down. This is the one thing that will always be true in Winter because as we all know, an easy meal is the best meal. There are a few techniques to try to see what the fish want. The one I always start with is simply crawling the bait making sure that I keep the lure tight to the cover and periodically dead sticking the lure. The bait simply sitting still on the bottom is all it takes sometimes to trigger a strike. For the most part with this style, bites are very subtle and unnoticed. That is why setting the hook at the slightest thought of a bite is the way to go. Another technique is to simply use a split shot rig and drift a lure through the hole. This is used throughout the year and is a deadly way to hook up with quality fish. Hopping a lure using short hops with a long pause in between is also a good way to catch fish. This is a great way to fish jigs and plastic craws. Just keep in mind that it is very important to fish slow and thorough and fish an area for long periods of time. You may make fifty casts in one spot before you get a bite, so be patient.
Soft plastics to me are the way to go in cold water, and better yet ones that are salt or scent impregnated. Three to four inch straight worms and craws are quite effective when presented slowly. There are many companies that make these types of baits and Zoom is at the top of my list. Three of my favorites are centipedes, lil’ critter craws, and finesse worms in colors such as green pumpkin, black, watermelon seed, and kudzu. Some of the injected worms are also good because of the holding power they have on fish. Lets face it, the longer the fish holds on the better chance of hooking that fish. Other cold water baits that work well are hair jigs, suspending jerkbaits, and suspending crankbaits.
Remember to dress warm and stay that way so you can fish as long as possible because that one bite might come when you are cold and tired. Be patient and always think to yourself that you CAN catch fish that many others think are dormant. As long as the river is not covered with ice, the smallmouth is catchable all year long for those who dare to be different! Good luck.