Well, it’s officially that time of year again. There is snow on the ground, brutal temperatures are sweeping through most of the country; and all I can do is think about bass fishing. I am from central Illinois, meaning- that as of now, a good bit of ice has set in and there will be no bass fishing for me until early this spring. And it’s around this time every year, after deer hunting subsides, that cabin fever starts to really set in. For many, this means it is time to get out and ice fish. I have nothing against ice fishing whatsoever, but personally I cannot stand to sit over a hole and wait for the fish to come to me. I need the chase; I need to be constantly thinking, moving, and adjusting trying to catch those little green (and brown) fish. So I put together a few ideas on how to stay sharp, and at the top of your bass fishing game in the winter months if you’re not able to get out and fish in your part of the country.
The first and most basic tip for staying at the top of your game in the winter is to organize. Organization is key to bass fishing in many respects; from each individual hook, all the way up to your truck, boat, and trailer. It is imperative to have all your gear at 100% when the time comes to get back out on the water in late winter/ early spring. The very first thing I do when I hang up my rods in the fall is to completely strip my reels of line and ‘clean’ them to the fullest extent. As a college student and an avid bass fisherman, I spend most of my time being broke, or close to it. Meaning the longevity of my rod and reel’s life is very important to me; I simply can’t afford to get five new set-ups every year because I mistreated the previous years gear. There are many detailed instructions on how to take apart, clean, grease, and oil every make and model of reel out on the market. I am no expert, so I will let you get the specifics of reel cleaning from someone more qualified than me. (I have several links to instructional videos, if you would like to see them please comment below) But what I do know is that reel cleaning mostly comes down to taking your time, and paying attention to the details. Be sure that when you put your reels up for the winter that you took care of them to the best of your ability. I also spend time wiping down my rods, cleaning and inspecting the reel seats, checking for broken/nicked guides, etc. This all just gives me full confidence that when I am ready to hit the water in spring, my gear is just as ready as I am.
I also spend a lot of time taking stock and organizing my baits and terminal tackle from previous years. I’ll make sure that all the moisture is completely out of my tackle bags, boxes, or compartments. For lures, especially hard-baits, rust is the ultimate enemy; and can ruin your $10.00 lures quicker than anything. So I’ll go through each and every bait, making sure it isn’t already rusted and will not become rusted. It may be tedious, time consuming work, but it is worth it. I then spend time sharpening or changing out any rusty, dull, or bent hooks on all hard-baits and jigs that I can use in the future. Bass fishing in the late winter or early spring is often a time where you may only get a few bites each trip, but just as often these bites can and will be giant fish. So making sure your lures, especially your hooks, are as perfect as they can be is crucial.
Now that you have spent some time refurbishing and organizing your old gear, it is time to re-stock any necessities before the coming season. After you organize your old rods, reels, and lures you will see where the voids in your tackle are. Winter (especially Christmas!) is the perfect time to re-stock on gear you burned through last year, as well as anything you know you’ll need in the coming months. For me, I usually look at what tournaments, fishing trips, or lakes I plan to fish once the ice comes off. I then order the baits and any other gear I think I will need for these outings. This does two things. Obviously, it helps fill your supply list with items you need. But more than that it gets you thinking about upcoming fishing trips in a detailed way; what will you need, or what might you need. It is this sort of thinking that prepares us mentally for the brutal conditions early spring can offer.
The last two very important steps we can take to prepare us for ice off and the upcoming fishing season are research and practice. Research is becoming more and more of a necessity in competitive bass fishing today. With Google Maps, Navionics chips, and resources like Fishidy, if you haven’t put in your time learning a body of water before a tournament then you are already a few steps behind some of your competition. Websites like Fishidy are especially critical because you can see contour lines, or depth changes on a lake. Bass like to school up during the late winter/early spring transitional period, often making bass fishing a ‘feast or famine’ deal. Using pre-tournament research, you can pinpoint some potential spots on your map long before ever laying eyes on the lake. Making pre-fishing much more efficient and easier to accomplish once it is time for your tournament.
The last tip- practice, may sound very obvious; of course practicing in the off-season is an ideal way to prepare for the coming months. But what if all the lakes in your area are frozen solid, not leaving practice as an option? Well, there still may be hope. First, it may sound silly but don’t look past the simple art of casting. Take one of your reels and spool some line back on it, enough to make a cast with. Then, simply practice. I don’t care if it is a bush in your front yard, or a coffee cup in your living room. Practice being accurate with your flips, pitches, and casts. Play out different scenarios in your head while you practice. Imagine you have make a pin-point pitch to a spawning female; or you have to skip your jig under a dock where a bass is likely hiding. Whether you believe it or not, this sort of practicing can do wonders for an angler in the off-season. The second tip for practicing in the off-season for you winter warriors is to look for power-plant lakes in your area. I am fortunate enough to have four or five fantastic power-plant lakes within a two hour drive from me and I try to take advantage of them as much as possible. When it comes to practicing, there is no substitute for time on the water and these power-plant lakes offer us that chance even if it is ten degrees outside! This will help you get used to the brutal temperatures you may have to deal with in your early Spring outings, as well as practicing the techniques and presentations you will have to utilize in your first few tournaments. Did I mention it offers us the chance to get outside and fight off cabin fever for a few hours?! All power-plant lakes fish differently, but one reliable tip is to find the hot water discharge. During this time of year there is almost always fish of various species to be caught near a hot water discharge on a power-plant lake. If you have a power-plant lake in your area you should first check to make sure they don’t close the lake to fishermen at any time of the year; then put your warm layers on and get out there! No one has ever caught a fish from their couch!
The dead of winter is a time where even the most avid bass fisherman can be pushed away from the sport they love. From the Midwest to the Northwest, there are thousands of people who wish they could get out and go fishing right now. With the exception of ice fishing, or power-plant lakes, these tips may not be as good as actually fishing, but they are the next best thing. For me, they have worked to fight back cabin fever and keep my mind on the tournaments and tasks at hand. I am curious, what do you do during the winter to keep your bass fishing game at 100%? I am always looking for more advice on what I can do during the winter months, so comment below with what has worked for you. Remember, if at all possible, keep your baits wet and your lines tight!