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The Best Bass Bait for Tough Winter Conditions?

The new YUM FF Sonar Minnow catches bass year ‘round and in a broad range of conditions, but it becomes extra valuable when cold weather makes the bass extra finicky.

Bass holding on the bottom and at the top have always been easy to catch, according to Jason Christie, the reigning Bassmaster Classic Champion. “It was those fish in-between that were not relating to anything that were hard to catch. LiveScope and this bait have made that a lot easier,” Christie said.

The bait referenced, which was one of two baits Christie used to win the 2022 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell, is the YUM FF Sonar Minnow, matched with an Forward Facing Sonar Jig. Although just released last year by YUM, this is a bait and a fishing system that Christie has been refining for several years, specifically for catching tough suspended fish during winter.

Christie has learned over the past year that the FF Sonar is not only for winter – not even close. He has fished it extensively ever since the Classic in a host of situations and through the seasons and found it highly effective every month of the year, with the only disclaimer being that the water must be at least somewhat clear because of the bait’s visual appeal.

Although it works year ‘round, the FF Sonar Minnow becomes EXTRA important during winter – when cold water causes bass to suspend and often makes them finicky. With Christie’s approach, this bait consistently coaxes fish into biting when other lures simply do not work as well.

FF Sonar Minnow Development

YUM FF Sonar MinnowsYUM FF Sonar Minnows

Christie developed the FF Sonar Minnow and his technique primarily on Tenkiller Lake, a deep, clear Oklahoma Lake where Christie has spent countless hours over the years. The approach grew out of necessity for prompting strikes from tough suspended winter fish following the development of forward facing sonar. With Panoptix and then LiveScope, he could see the fish he was trying to catch and watch how they responded (or failed to respond) to various lures and presentations, which helped him realize that he needed something different.

Various highly popular offerings for targeting suspended fish in cold water had limitations.

If Christie was throwing a jerkbait that suspended 8 feet deep and spotted a fish that was suspended 16 feet down, he’d have to put down that rod and pick up something else. By the time he did that, that fish might be gone. At times, the jerkbait was also too big and lacked the subtlety the situation demanded.

Swimbaits, even small, highly natural swimbaits, drew a lot of follows, but he could not keep the bait in the strike zone long enough, and the fish would tend to follow them a short distance and then turn away.

Unless the fish were extremely deep, popular vertical finesse tactics required putting the boat directly over the fish. He wanted to be able to cast from a distance and catch fish by surprise.

Christie needed a highly natural offering that looked like an easy target and that was properly balanced so he could get it down the proper depth but and then present it horizontally, but with very gradual horizontal movement that kept it near a fish and just above it for a longer time.

As Christie began unlocking the technique and figuring out exactly what he needed for ideal presentations, be began working with YUM to develop the perfect bait and eventually a jighead that had the perfect shape, line tie and hook and in the right sizes for the technique.

Christie had FF Sonar Minnows that were perfected but not yet released going into the Bassmaster Classic in March, and he knew that if he could find the right fish, he had the baits he needed to win the Classic. During the official practice period he realized that the fish were set up exactly like they often had been at Tenkiller, which was an ideal scenario.

FF Sonar Minnow System 

The YUM FF Sonar Minnow is 3 inches long, with a slender minnow-like profile a thin forked tail, natural etched details and ultra-realistic color patterns. It moves with a soft shimmying action. The jigheads created to match with the FF Sonar Minnow are round, with a premium sickle-style hook, and come in three color and three sizes (1/8, 3/16 and 1/4 ounce).

While other anglers are beginning to discover the FF Sonar Minnow’s value as a dropshot bait and for a host of other applications, Christie fishes the baits and heads together, as tools for a specific technique that he developed and continues to refine.

Christie fishes the FF Sonar Minnow on a 7-foot soft-tipped Falcon spinning rod with a fast Lew’s spinning reel spooled with 16-pound Sunline high-vis braid and a 15-foot, 8-pound Sunline fluorocarbon leader and ties the jighead to the leader with a loop knot. It’s an entire system, and each part of the system has important functions for making proper presentations.

The Technique

Jason Christie winter fishingJason Christie winter fishing

For Christie, fishing the FF Sonar Minnow remains true to the lure’s name. He uses this bait to target suspended bass that he sees on forward facing sonar. Virtually every cast is to a specific fish or group of fish that he can see on his screen. The screen shows how far away a fish is, so he seeks to cast directly over the fish or just barely past it so the bait sinks to the fish.

Christie allows the bait sink until it is just over the fish and begins his presentation, which is achieved by reeling VERY slowly and lightly popping the rod upward. The rod movement is miniscule – basically a jiggle – but continuous. This causes the FF Sonar Minnow to quiver constantly but remain horizontal and at the same level of the water column. The horizontal movement is sufficiently slow to keep the bait in the strike zone for a long time – often too long for a bass to resist attacking such a natural and helpless looking offering.

Interestingly, Christie doesn’t see most strikes. Once he has gotten his bait just above the bass and has begun working it, he normally looks away. He has done this enough to know the retrieve speed that will keep his bait in the right zone and doing what it needs to do, and time has taught him that if he’s watching, he’ll sometimes set the hook too soon because of what he sees on the screen.

Because of Christie’s rod and line choices and because of the sharpness and wire size of the hook on the FF Sonar jighead, hooksets don’t need to be hard. He just lifts and leans into fish, and most end up hooked solidly in the top of the mouth.

FF Sonar Minnow Tips

YUM FF Sonar MinnowYUM FF Sonar Minnow
  • Keep your bait above the fish. Christie has learned that when his bait drops lower than a bass, that fish normally loses all interest.
  • Use transparent, subtle colors for clear water, calm conditions and sunny skies. Use brighter, more opaque colors when there is a bit of stain or when clouds or chop reduce visibility.
  • Stay as far back from the fish as possible while still delivering accurate casts. Finicky bass are much more likely to bite if they are unaware of your presence.
  • Whenever possible, face into the wind for best boat control and bait presentations.

No Forward Facing Sonar?

While seeing the fish and your bait provides obvious advantages for making precise presentations, the FF Sonar Minnow is highly effective with or without the sophisticated electronics. Watch, as Jason Christie turns off his forward facing sonar units and shows how to work this bait and catch fish “blind.”