I’m sure it’s happened to you. Your alarm goes off on a cold early December morning, and it takes you a while to decide whether it’s worth getting up to go out and fish that morning. You weigh out the pros and cons and finally choose to launch the boat and go out for a day of fishing. Everything you do that day, is probably done a little slower due to the cold weather. That same cold that made you indecisive about getting up causes the fish to be indecisive when it comes to eating. Just think about how slowly you moved, and how long it took you to get going, the fish are much the same and you need to fish accordingly.
During the winter the fish want a meal that is easy to catch and fills them up with one bite. I turn to the jig to imitate a crawfish, which similarly are moving slower and have a slower metabolism. I really want to emphasize how slow you need to move the jig to get a productive response from the bass, when I say slow its something that might be hard to understand until you are actually fishing it. Really, the bait should be moving like you would picture a crawdad moving in 50 degree water. The crawdad would crawl across the rocks, sometimes pausing right before crawling over another rock. I try and make a habit of telling myself to slow down, concentrating intently on what I’m feeling in the water, and trying only to move the jig a few inches at a time.
When I fish with other anglers, I see a common trend among those catching fish and those who aren’t, and that again is the speed of the retrieve. It’s not unusual for me to make only one cast to four casts of the angler I’m fishing with.
Jig fishing is something you learn with experience; you do something and you catch a fish, and it becomes easier and feels natural over time. The more and more you fish this bait correctly the better your results will be and the more confidence you’ll gain with it.
In winter, I find it even more important to rely on feel.. By feel, I don’t just mean the weight, or the bite, I want to be able to feel every inch of the structure I’m covering. If the jig is moving up the side of a rock or over a branch I want to know that so I can fish the most productive piece of that structure as much as possible. Sometimes I will dead-stick the jig on top of a rock pile, not moving it for several minutes. Once I find the sweet spot of the piece of structure, I will pick it apart until I am certain the fish just won’t bite.
I am a big believer that using good quality equipment can make you a better angler, and jig fishing is no different; You need to use the right equipment, and the most important piece is the rod. There are several great jig rods out there that will get the job done, but I have found the Dobyns Extreme Champion series DX705 to be the top of the line when it comes to balance, sensitivity and power. I have yet to find a rod that transmits the same amount of feel, and still has the power to drive the hook in at 30 feet.
As far as which type of jig, I always choose a football head jig. When working through structure, I want the weight to be toward the front of the bait. I use a Pepper Jig “ Pro Football Series” with a Sweet Beaver trailer. I generally stick with natural colors of green and brown; the more natural colors work almost everywhere and I try and stick with the basics. Honestly, it’s the action that is most important, and will be the deciding factor of whether you get the fish to bite or not. I throw my jigs on 14-20 pound test Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, its important to use this higher quality fluorocarbon because rocks will tear up the line, and its easy to lose a big fish if you’re not careful. I also really believe it helps you feel the bite better than other fluorocarbons, it’s a necessity when fishing a jig because you need to recognize the bite quickly and set the hook before the fish is able to decipher this is not a live crawdad.
There are several techniques you can employ during winter to catch fish, a jig is just one of them. So when you are fishing the jig you need to have a different mindset, instead of getting many bites I am only expecting to get 6 or 7 bites, but quality ones. In tournaments I try and forget about numbers altogether, and remember no matter how many fish you catch you still only weigh your best five fish. To find those bites, I look for areas with good structure adjacent to deep water, ideally I would like to find some wood mixed in. As the temperatures rise during the day wood is better at retaining heat, and bass will relate to that warmer structure. Usually, I will find the depth of the fish by starting shallow in the morning and going deeper until I reach the right water depth. I’ll fish water as deep as 40-50 feet, you’ve got to put your bait where the fish are and when you are in the right depth the fish will let you know.
There are some things I like to do during the winter that are uncommon, but I’ve found to get me bites when things are tough. Every once in a while working my jig through structure, I’ll give the jig a violent pop, something that may be unorthodox during the winter to some, but this has helped me catch some bigger fish. Its something that I wouldn’t say will catch you a lot of fish, but it might trigger a big bite that gives you a needed kicker fish.
Along those same lines, sometimes I’ll work my jigs in quick spurts. I’ll go from dead-sticking to moving the jig rapidly for a couple feet and then back to dead-sticking again. Its interesting to see how variation will get you bites when things are tough.
The more you fish any technique the more comfortable you will get with it, and jig fishing is no exception. The more experience you get, the more tricks you’ll pick up and the confidence you will get from putting a few fish in the boat will help you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
A jig is a big fish bait, and its proved it to me many times over. During the winter if I can‘t get them to go on a swim bait, the jig is my go to bait. So remember, slow down your retrieve this winter when its cold outside and just maybe you’ll get on a hot jig bite!