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FISH HEAVY COVER TO FIND SHALLOW WINTER BASS

Posted 3/29/2010

For most bass fishermen, cold, muddy water represents one of the worst of all fishing conditions, but Yamaha Pro Mike Hawkes looks for that type of water when the temperature drops.

"Cold, muddy water will hold bass shallow if it also contains abundant cover like standing timber, laydowns, and even brown, dead vegetation," notes Hawkes, a veteran FLW® angler and former Bassmaster® Classic qualifier. "It's also important that there not be any immediate access to deep water.

"You simply have to pick the right habitat if you want to catch bass shallow in winter. You have to be where the bass are living."

Hawkes admits fishing cold, muddy water usually means getting only a few strikes during the day, but by using small, compact lures and fishing slowly around cover, it's certainly possible to catch bass. He's generally working water less than three feet deep, too, even when the water temperature is below 40 degrees.

"If the lake has a lot of shallow cover and the water is generally dingy and off-color, baitfish will stay shallow, and that's why the bass are there," the Yamaha angler continues, "but overall, the lake itself has to be shallow.

"The Santee-Cooper in South Carolina, Marion and Moultrie, are good examples. Both are generally shallow and have a lot of flooded cypress trees where the bass stay. There are a lot of bass lakes that are similar, where the bass live shallow all year."

On many impoundments, the lower ends have deeper and clearer water, while the upper parts of the lake may be shallow and dingy. Even on these lakes, Hawkes will choose the shallow upper end to fish in the winter.

"My favorite lure is probably a light ¼ or 3/8-oz. black or black/blue jig with a small plastic trailer," he explains. "The cold water shrinks the strike zone so I want a lure I can fish slowly and keep it in that strike zone as long as possible.

"I'll pitch or cast to a particular target like a cypress tree and just let the jig sit motionless on the bottom for 10 or 15 seconds. Then I slowly crawl it along the bottom for five or six feet. I may try hopping it, but normally in cold, dingy water crawling has worked better for me.

"Swimming the jig just above the bottom may be another presentation, especially if you learn the bass are suspended. Winter bass aren't very active, and much of the time they don't want an active lure, but if you pay attention when you do get a strike, it will tell you which presentation to use."

In slightly warmer water the Yamaha Pro may fish a small 3/8-oz. spinnerbait with Indiana and Colorado blades. The problem with any spinnerbait is reeling slow enough to keep the lure in that small strike zone while still producing flash and vibration to attract a strike.

Jerkbaits are seldom productive in cold, muddy water, and small, flat-sided crankbaits don't really begin producing well until the water temperature climbs above 50 degrees.

"When you're fishing cold, muddy water, don't try to cover a lot of water because you'll start fishing too fast," advises Hawkes. "Instead, concentrate on key types of cover, such as trees on a main lake point leading into a cove or pocket, or even small ditches and depressions near cover.

"Bass feel safer and more secure in places like that, even though the ditches may only be six to 10 inches deeper than the surrounding water."

Isolated cover, such as a single tree or bush standing away from others just like it, often holds bass, but in cold water the tendency again is to fish too fast, simply in order to visit as much isolated cover as possible.

"What surprises many fishermen is how shallow bass may be in cold, muddy water," concludes the Yamaha pro. "I've caught a lot of fish less than a foot deep under these conditions. The key is just fishing very slowly and very tight to the cover."