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Apr 17 , 2020

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Denny Brauer on Fall and Winter Bass Fishing

by Frank Ross
Denny Brauer on Fall and Winter Bass Fishing

Fall is a time of transition. Every wild creature is tuned into one innate urge that drives them to load their corpuscular larders for the winter months, when both insulation and stored fat will be required for survival. This is a time when bass begin to school together and attack baitfish on the surface, and for many anglers, a time for their favorite option -surface action.

During this time, baitfish migrate to the backs of creeks and bays where they are relentlessly pursued by hungry bass, but hungry doesn't always mean easy. Denny Brauer suggests a two-pronged approach that begins on the surface. "First, I try to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the bass with a topwater bait. A chugger-type bait seems to work well here. These baits give the appearance of a bass chasing prey. My personal favorite is the Strike King Spit-N-King. If the water clarity is greater than one foot, the shad or baby bass colors work well. If the water clarity is less than that, I like the chartreuse/blue pattern. It is advantageous to throw these baits on a rod with a light tip action. This will help allow the bass to get the bait into its mouth and will reduce the number of fish you miss on the hook-set. I have been using the Team Daiwa Spinnerbait rod with Stren 14-pound line with good success on this technique."

"The second approach is with a fast moving spinnerbait or diving crankbait. The Strike King Rocket Shad and Diamond Shad are perfect fits for this. Both are designed for long casts and quick retrieves, which are needed to catch these fish. I will often use the same set-up as I do with the Spit-N-King unless I feel that the water is dirty enough to move up to 17-pound Stren. The same color choices are also appropriate. Most of the time a simple, fast retrieve will work, but sometimes a stop and go retrieve will trigger the strikes."

Whatever approach you decide to take, remember that for bass nothing is more appealing than a lone or wounded baitfish that has fallen away from the school. Bass will always attack wounded or lone targets first. If you try to give your bait that appearance your percentage of strikes will increase. Finding a group of schooling bass is a great opportunity that doesn't come along every day, so you should be prepared to take advantage when the situation presents itself. Work them from a distance, to avoid disturbing feeding activities. Start on the surface and gradually move to the lower levels where bass will be attacking the school and taking advantage of wounded baitfish that slowly twist and struggle against the inevitable.

Brauer admires a bass which struck on the surface.
Brauer admires a bass.

Lower temps, deeper water
Winter will be on us quicker than you can say thermal underwear. Once you've bagged your deer and waterfowl quota, your best option play for avoiding that dreaded honey-do list is either football or fishing. Any angler worth his salt can figure out how to get their favorite football game tuned in on the boat radio, so why not catch a few bass this winter? Assuming that you live south of the ice belt, bass can and should be on your short list of outdoor activities during the long cycle of seasonal refrigeration.

Bass in the winter? You betcha, and Brauer has the tactics nailed down. Considering the fact that he is considered the undisputed master of jig fishing, it's not surprising that he's fine-tuned this lure for application in all seasons.

"When water temperatures are cold, the bass don't normally bite well, and they certainly aren't aggressive. So slower, more precise presentations are usually the best ways to catch them. Jigging spoons or the jig-and-pig (pork frog) are probably the two most popular methods. If you want to get into the finesse end of things, fishing a small grub can also be good. But my favorite, naturally, is the jig-and-pork," he said.

Vertical fishing
"During winter, on most bodies of water, a vertical presentation is most often used for most cover types. To explain: Bass usually move deeper during the winter months. On some lakes that may mean they move into creek channels for the winter. On other lakes, where everything is pretty well shoreline-related, they might move to steeper banks, 45-degree banks or bluffs, which are the areas where they're probably going to spend the winter."

"One thing you can just about bet on is that wintertime bass are going to be close to deep water. I'm not saying you can't catch them shallow because if you get a few nice days during the winter some of the fish will move up. They may also get on shallow targets next to deep water. Keep deep water and a slow retrieve in mind, and you'll be a little better off during the winter months."

Fish on the Bottom
"When I'm fishing during the wintertime, I usually relate to the bottom. That's where I'm trying to find the bass -- I'm not looking for suspended winter fish. I'm looking primarily for fish that are relating to some type of structure, whether it is a brush pile or a treetop that has been put on the bottom. For some reason, rock cover is very attractive to bass in the colder water situations. Some of my best winter fishing has been on steep rocky banks."

Deep is a relative term; particular to the part of the country you're fishing. Five feet may be deep on some Florida lakes while in the Midwest or on deeper reservoirs, you could be looking at a 25- to 30-foot zone for winter fish.

"The weight of the jig you fish should change with depth. If I'm looking at the 5-foot zone, a heavy jig could be 3/8-ounce. If I'm looking at 25 feet, I'm probably going to be looking at a 1/2-ounce bait," Brauer explained.

Fish Slowly
"I want to get that bait down to the fish. I want to maintain contact with the bottom. Try to crawl the bait along the bottom in short spurts, basically dragging it. You don't want to sweep it off the bottom like you would during the summer. To summarize, winter jig fishing means a slow, tedious retrieve with pauses between movements of the bait. Often that's what it takes to get some of the sluggish wintertime bass to bite. Keep in mind that the bass are well-grouped this time of year. It can be a long time between bites, but when you get a fish to hit, there are probably a bunch of them down there. So stick with it."

When you head out on the water for a little winter bass action, remember to dress in layers. The difference between early morning temperatures and mid-afternoon can be quite dramatic. Dressing in layers gives you the option of stripping off a layer or two and putting them back on to regulate your body temperature as conditions change. It's too easy to lose your focus when you aren't comfortable and maintaining concentration in between pods of fish is important. Long lulls in the action can cause you to become distracted and miss the subtle bump of a winter bass. The rewards for attentive retrieves are always a well-bent rod and a surge of adrenaline that makes you forget that it's winter. Bass are always hungry, and with these tips from Denny Brauer there's no reason not to give them a try.