Heavy metal jigging lures, including spoons and blade baits are among the best lures for catching bass in cold water – IF you know the right techniques!
There is a lot of fishless water in the winter. -Frank Scalish
Sounds like a gloomy outlook, but it’s not. In fact, the opposite is true, and understanding this aspect of winter bass fishing is key to tapping into what can be some of the fastest fishing action of the year. It also explains why Scalish really likes jigging spoons and blade baits, like a Heddon Sonar, during winter.
“Fishless water is a bad thing if that’s where you’re trying to fish,” said Scalish, a legendary Ohio angler and lure painter and former nationally touring bass pro. “But where you find them, you find a bunch of them, and the fishing can be really good!”
Winter bass often relate to shad and hold tight to bottom structure, and spoons and blade baits work wonderfully for winter bass fishing because you can work that zone precisely and imitate shad that are winter chilled or even dying in the cold water.
Finding the Bass
Winter bass fishing begins with finding bass, and finding bass begins with finding shad. For Scalish, the looking begins while he’s still idling away from the boat ramp after launching his boat.
“I have my graph on from the start and am watching it. As soon as the bottom starts dropping into the lake’s main basin or the original creek or river channel, I start looking for shad.”
Those findings tell Scalish the key baitfish depth, which gives him a gauge for the day. If the shad schools are 25 feet deep, chances are very good that they will be at that depth all over the lake. Scalish will focus on significant structural features, including humps, saddles, channel edges and points, that top off or break at that key depth.
“The bass use the structures as an ambush point to intercept the shad,” he said. “It is a perfect place to fish a jigging spoon.”
Using lake knowledge and electronic mapping, Scalish identifies the right kinds of structures in the key depth range and then goes and looks at those spots with his graph. The main thing he looks for at each stop is an abundance of shad in the area and especially atop the structure.
“If you don’t find bait, keep going,” he said.
If the bass are very tight to the bottom and the bait is thick, the bass sometimes won’t show up on the graph. Usually Scalish sees bass, too, but not spotting them initially is not a deal breaker for trying a spot. History has shown that if the shad are in the right kinds of places, the bass are there as well.
Spoon Fishing Approach
Scalish’s jigging spoon of choice is a ¾-ounce C.C. Spoon, which is the heaviest C.C. Spoon and his pick because it gets down to the fish quickly and allows him good control in any condition. He fishes it on 17-pound-test fluorocarbon and baitcasting gear, with a medium-heavy rod.
For winter bass fishing, the core spoon approach is strictly vertical, with the boat directly over the structure. That allows for precise placement and keeps the spoon in the strike zone. And while fall fish sometimes suspend, the strike zone for this approach during winter typically is close to the bottom.
Scalish’s jigging presentation begins with a 3-foot upward snap of the rod. He then follows the spoon with his rod tip as if flutters down to keep a “controlled slack line.” He doesn’t want the line tight because that inhibits the spoon’s action as it falls. However, he wants it only slightly slack because most fish hit a spoon on the drop and he needs to be able to detect every bite.
As the spoon falls – about halfway down – he gives it a little bump – lifting his rod tip just enough to add irregularity to the fall.
Assuming bass are on the bottom, Scalish lets the spoon pound the bottom on every drop. This kicks up a cloud of mud that sometimes draws interest, as does the next snap off the bottom. For suspended fish, Scalish stressed to always keep the spoon above the bass because suspending bass move up to feed, not down.
Scalish learns how the bass are relating to the structure and bait as he fishes because everything is visual on his electronics. “It’s all below my locater,” he said. “I can see my spoon, see the fish and see the baitfish.”
Blade baits like a Heddon Sonar fill a slightly different niche for Scalish, but again he targets bass relating to winter slowed shad near the bottom, and the depth of the shad is vital to his approach. The difference is that he fishes a zone, instead of a defined spot, and works his lure slowly through that zone instead of fishing vertically.
Scalish’s No. 1 location for fishing a blade bait in the winter is atop a long point that stretches all the way to a natural lake’s main basin or a reservoir’s creek or river channel. Wherever the point intersects the depth the shad are using is where Scalish expects to find the bass, and a Sonar is ideal for working tight to the bottom and imitating a winter-chilled shad in that zone.
Scalish positions his boat over the point but just down the slope from the key zone. He then casts toward the shallow end and lets his bait fall to the bottom. He then works the lure down the point by dragging it in slow sweeps, moving the rod just enough to engage the wiggle and letting then lure fall.
“You don’t want to pump it and lift it much,” Scalish said, explaining that his rod movement is more like what he would do to drag a Carolina rig across the bottom.
Scalish fishes points with a 1/2-ounce Sonar during winter and uses 17-pound test fluorocarbon line.
An alternative blade bait application, which Scalish does with a ¼-ounce Sonar or Cotton Cordell Gay Blade, is to work the tops of tapering grass edges during the winter.
A lighter blade bait is important for grass because Scalish actually lets the bait sink until it settles atop the vegetation and then pulls it enough to free it from the grass before letting it drop again. A ¼-ounce blade bait is ideal because it gets to the zone but doesn’t quite sink in or get bogged down.
“This can be deadly on natural grass lakes,” Scalish said.
See for yourself:
Not Just for Winter
Scalish emphasized that as effective as jigging spoons and blade baits are for winter bass fishing, they are by no means only for winter.
“They can be great for warm weather conditions and cold,” he said. Approaches simply change during different seasons.
On some waters, if Scalish is fishing, he has a C.C. Spoon tied on to one line, not matter what time of year it is, and chances are good he’s going to use at some time during the day.
In truth, summer jigging spoon fishing has a fair amount in common with winter jigging spoon fishing, but that’s another story for another time!
Bonus Jigging Spoon Tips
A jigging spoon is critical part of the winter bass fishing equation for Lurenet’s own Dustin Elder of Mt. Ida, Arkansas. Elder, who grew up fishing Lake Ouachita and now fishes all over western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, typically uses a War Eagle Jigging Spoon. We asked for the highlights of his winter approach.
Find clouds of baitfish on my graph, typically 20 to 30 feet deep, off channel swings or points