Former Bassmaster Classic® champion Alton Jones ranks winter as one of his favorite seasons of the year to catch bass, because he can literally fish top to bottom with two of his favorite lures, surface plugs and deep diving crankbaits. These lures aren’t normally associated with cold weather fishing, but the Yamaha Pro has been catching winter bass with them for years.
“Bass are not always in extremely deep water during the winter months like a lot of fisherman believe,” explains the veteran angler. “Actually, they can be just about anywhere. Once a lake ‘turns over’ and the thermocline goes away, bass are not as limited to specific areas as they are at other times of the year.
“That’s one of the reasons winter bass fishing can be difficult, since the fish have so many location choices, but because winter bass usually gather in extremely large schools you can also have excellent action once you do locate them.”
Jones especially likes to use large topwater lures when he’s fishing clear water on calm, bright winter days. With a surface lure he’s always fishing near or over cover, such as bluff walls, deep brush piles, flooded timber, or subsurface vegetation.
“I prefer a big walking lure I can fish very slowly around these types of targets,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “Bass may come up 20 feet to hit a topwater lure as long as they can see it, which is why this technique only produces well in clear, calm water.
I usually walk the lure several feet, then let it sit motionless for 15 to 20 seconds before I move it again. I want bass to have plenty of time to decide to hit it.”
The bass Jones is targeting are suspended over the cover rather than holding on the very bottom. He makes his casts parallel to long, steep bluff walls, for example, because winter bass often locate just eight or 10 feet deep along the wall, even through the water may be 30 feet deep. The same is true around flooded timber where bass may be suspended just a few feet below the surface even though the water is much deeper.
“Fishing a topwater lure over submerged vegetation can also be extremely productive,” he adds, “especially later in the day. Bass move up and hold right over the top of the vegetation where they can enjoy the sun, but if they can see the surface, they’ll definitely come up to hit a topwater lure.”
When he’s fishing different conditions, such as cloudy or windy days, Jones changes from a topwater lure to a deep diving crankbait, and instead of looking for submerged cover, he searches for baitfish, which also gather in large schools during the winter.
“Typically, shad and other baitfish will move to deeper holes in creek and river channels and even in large coves,” Jones explains, “and you can easily see them with your electronics. Bass usually position themselves underneath these balls of shad, and frequently you can see them, too, with your electronics.
“A deep diving crankbait works well because you can trigger reflex strikes from the bass by running the lure through the baitfish as fast as you can reel it. I’ll make a long cast and reel the lure down, pause just a split second, then reel it fast again. When you find a school of bass like this beneath a ball of bait, you may catch as many as 50 or 60 fish in a row once you get them excited, which is what the fast retrieve does.”
Jones often modifies his crankbaits slightly to make them even more effective. He wraps lead wire around the front treble hook to add just enough weight to cause the lure to suspend in place when he stops reeling. Bass often hit the bait when he does pause because it stays in front of them rather than starting to rise to the surface.
“You really can catch bass from top to bottom in the winter,” emphasizes the Yamaha Pro. “These two techniques, working a slow moving surface lure or a fast moving deep crankbait, are my favorite ways to fish not only because they’re fun but also because I know they work.”