Editor's Note: Ken Cook is a former Bassmaster Classic champion. He is now retired from professional bass fishing and lives on his Tarbone Ranch in Meers, but still goes bass fishing regularly.
I'm often asked how to catch bass in the heart of winter. Anglers are tired of hanging out in the garage playing with tackle, hunting seasons are at an end and the urge to get out on the lake is overwhelming.
My answer is basically very simple. I bundle up to brace against those biting winds and organize an ensemble of light tackle.
My most trusted equipment is an Abu Garcia Revo 30 spinning reel and a 7-foot Fenwick medium action rod. While this may seem too light of tackle for largemouth, I can assure you this is ideal for the line choices I make and the baits I will present.
The concept of slowing down presentations in the colder water is the common and accepted practice. It might take a bit more focus while shivering on the front deck but moving the baits too fast results in a nice chilly boat ride with no fish.
I often have a 5-inch PowerBait Shaky Worm or a 3-inch PowerBait Twitchtail Minnow rigged for my finesse needs. I can approach a wide range of water depths as I focus on finding submerged rock to hold the fish.
The spinning tackle matches perfectly to the 8-pound test Berkley Nanofil line. I choose this line because it is by far the smallest diameter line to use. I add a section of 8-pound test 100 percent Fluorocarbon line as my leader.
The past couple of years I have broadened my hard winter arsenal to include crankbaits. Depending on the situation I tie on either a Rapala square billed Shad Rap or a wide wobble Wiggle Wart.
Still using spinning tackle, I spool with 12-pound test 100 percent Fluorocarbon for added sensitivity. Again, submerged rock is my target.
If the water is relatively clear, like Tenkiller or Broken Bow, I will rely on the Shad Rap. It provides good action at a slow retrieve.
But the fish have to be somewhat shallow, less than 10 feet deep for this to work. If the fish are deeper I switch to a jig simply to get down to where the fish are found.
If the water is somewhat murky, like parts of Eufaula, I throw the Wiggle Wart. The extreme wide wobble of this bait is a better attracter for the fish. Remember, the water is cold, the fish very lethargic.
They won't be able to see this bait but they will detect the action. And the murky water tends to allow the fish to lurk a bit shallower, in two to six feet deep, so reaching the bass with this technique may not be a problem.
Don't be shy when it comes to searching new water. Give each spot a lot of repetitive casts but if not producing move on. Once you find a fish don't move. A school of winter bass can be a bonanza for multiple catches in one hole.
One philosophy is to use a jerk bait, like the Berkley Jerk Shad in the winter. While this can be a good search bait to find reactionary bites, I typically I reserve my jerk bait techniques to late January and early February.
When the water takes that first rise after being so cold for several weeks is like turning on a switch to the bass and the reaction bite is unbelievable.
But Groundhog Day seems so far into the future right now and finesse or crankbait fishing will be my plan for catching fish over the next few weeks.