You know it’s going to happen, just as sure as death and taxes.
At some point — and usually it’s many points — during the deer season, from November to January, it’s going to be far too warm to sit in a deer stand, especially since the whitetails just won’t be active.
“That’s when you need to put the rifle or bow up and grab your fishing rod and hit the water,” said Pete Ponds, the B.A.S.S. Elite Series pro from Madison. “The same thing that makes deer inactive, warmer weather when it ought to be cold, is the same thing that turns bass on.
“The water temperature may only rise a few degrees, but that is enough to trigger a bite that makes up for a day or two without deer hunting.”
Ponds offered three winter patterns that are reliable, and the first is one that works extremely well in November before the water gets too cold and slows bass activity. The fish will often move up on a shallow flat to look for shad and he wants a technique that allows him to cover a lot of water.
“Get on a shallow flat, grab a red-colored lipless crankbait and go to work, and it is a little bit of work,” Ponds said. “This is not just casting and cranking. This is pumping it up and down off the bottom, like a dying shad struggling to survive. You pump it up off the bottom and then let it fall back and settle. The strike usually happens on the fall and it can be powerful.
“I use 10- or 12-pound Vicious fluorocarbon line and work it all the way back. You don’t get a lot of strikes but the fish that will take it are big ones. This is a pattern that targets the bigger fish.”
Later on in the fall and winter, Ponds will slow down a lot more to accommodate the less active bass.
“One of my favorite patterns is working rocks, like on a dam,” he said. “If you are fishing the morning, find the riprap banks that face the east and catch the sun the earliest in the day. But, the afternoon bite on a west-facing bank is probably better. Those rocks catch radiant heat throughout the day and transfer that heat to the water longer.
“That attracts the food chain to the rocks and eventually will bring some big predator fish like largemouth to the riprap. They can still be a little sluggish so I first try to find out their mood.”
Ponds starts with a Bandit FlatMaxx crankbait and works it at a 45 degree angle down the riprap and tries to find a speed or variable retrieve fish like.
“If they are active at all, that will make them bite,” he said. “What you usually need to do is crank, pause and then pull the lure along with a sweeping motion. Then pause, reel up the slack and repeat. The pauses and slow pull will often trigger a bite. I also try it with a deeper diver, like a Bandit 250 and just work it slower but with the same action.
“If that isn’t working, then I switch to a suspending jerk bait, like a Pro Pointer 100. The key to this pattern is slow, slow, slow, with very long pauses where you just let the lure sit there suspended for several seconds. I mean longer than you think. One-Mississippi. Two-Mississippi ... Nine Mississippi. Ten Mississippi. I’m telling you that sometimes it takes that long to get them to bite, but buddy when they decide to load up, hold on!”
Ponds is convinced that some bass never leave their favorite shallow haunts all year, even in winter. Fishing fish docks or shallow stumps near a ditch or creek is a good pattern when you get a little warming trend after a long cold snap.
For that, Ponds goes “dead sticking.”
“This one is a no-brainer but it works like nobody’s business, and it takes a lot of patience,” he said. “Dead-sticking means throwing a soft plastic lure like a Senko-type worm or a shad-shaped lure like a Bruiser Rad Shad and letting it just sit there with very little if any movement on your part. You have to be patient, just like with the jerkbait, and let it sit still and do its work. Then you pump it up off the bottom, let it fall again and then let it sit again. You’ll be surprised how many big fish will pick it up and take it.
“I always use fluorocarbon line on these patterns because a fish may sit there and look at it for a while before hitting it. The less visible the line, the better.”