Fishing Tips

Look for Vertical Structure, Vegetation When Bass Fishing This Winter

Posted 12/16/2014

Yamaha Pro James Niggemeyer Chooses Creek Channels, Points, and Rocky Banks in Cold Weather

James Niggemeyer’s “to do” list for winter bass fishing is a short one. The Yamaha Pro looks for vertical structure that changes the bottom depth; he checks that structure for possible vegetation cover and he slows his lure presentation. It’s a strategy that has served him well during his career as both a professional tournament angler as well as a guide on Lake Fork, Texas.

“In cold weather, bass really gravitate to vertical structure, which allows them to easily and quickly move up and down in the water column if the water temperature changes rather than travel a long distance to find agreeable conditions,” explains Niggemeyer, who will be fishing his third Bassmaster Classic® world championship in February. “The ideal vertical structure is a steep-sided creek channel or a point that drops straight down, but the actual amount of depth change does not have to be that great. I have caught a lot of winter bass where the depth change was five feet or less.”

Because the Yamaha Pro prefers fishing shallow water, he usually begins his search for winter bass in water depths of less than 10 feet. The visible shoreline often gives him a clue about depth changes underwater, since the terrain features above water usually continue below the surface. In winter, rock and gravel shorelines are nearly always the most productive, too.

“Anytime I also see baitfish present is always a plus,” adds Niggemeyer, “but during the winter months bass frequently change their diet from shad to crawfish, which aren’t that easy to see on our electronics, so not seeing any type of forage isn’t going to keep me from fishing a particular area like a rocky shoreline.”


What will keep him in a particular spot is finding vegetation near any type of vertical structure. The vegetation does not need to be one of the bass favorites like green milfoil or hydrilla, either. Brown reeds and even dead shoreline grasses can also attract and hold winter bass.

“Vegetation represents an environment where bass can hide and ambush their prey more easily,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “All types of forage utilize vegetation for food and shelter, and the bass recognize this. Certain types of vegetation, especially thick weeds like milfoil and hydrilla, will hold bass all year, but through my years of fishing, I’ve learned to check any type of vegetation during the winter months

“I really like jerkbaits and crankbaits because I visualize them just like jigging spoons, except I’m fishing them horizontally,” says Niggemeyer. “Sometimes a slow, steady retrieve will be effective, but other times I’ll let them fall, then rip them back more erratically. Spinnerbaits are great for fishing over the top or along the edge of vegetation, too, and attract fish because of their flash as well as their vibration

“I don’t always downsize to smaller lures, either. If I’m fishing deeper water, I’ll use a heavier crankbait, or a larger jerkbait to reach the fish.”


With jigs and drop shots, Niggemeyer works the lures slowly along the bottom, usually casting to the shallower water and then bringing them down a vertical breakline. Both can also be hopped lightly for additional action, or left in place beside a piece of cover if bass are more lethargic.

“Bass fishing in winter is also a mental game,” concludes the Yamaha Pro, “because you normally are not going to get as many bites as you would in warmer water. That means making a lot of casts without any action. Still, you’ll always increase your chances of catching fish this time of year if you concentrate on vertical structure or vegetation, and just slow your presentation.”