With the winter season now upon us, many bass anglers elect to stow their fishing gear and avoid going fishing. This is certainly understandable for comfort reasons. It can get downright miserable out there. You are faced with cold temperatures, rain, wind, hail, and sometimes, even snow. The problem is that the wintertime is one of the two best big bass seasons of the year, second only to the spring spawn. If you're looking to catch the fish of a lifetime, now is the time to catch it. But you need to know what to do, when to do it, and where to do it.
What to do:
Without a doubt, the best big bass baits during the winter and early spring are the trout imitator swimbaits. In fact, most wintertime tournaments in the Southern California area are won on swimbaits, and usually with only three or four fish. Some of the more popular brands of swimbaits include the Osprey swimbaits, Castaic swimbaits, Optimum swimbaits, the Basstrix swimbaits, and the A.C. swimbaits. Of course there are other brands out there that will work equally as well, these are just a few of the more popular brands.
When to do it:
Unfortunately, the best days to catch giant bass on swimbaits are usually the most miserable days. An approaching storm front with falling barometric pressure usually turns the fish on. These conditions will usually continue throughout the first several hours of rainfall. However, once the barometric pressure begins to rise, you might as well put your boat on the trailer (if you haven't already), and head for home. The reason is that the postfrontal conditions have begun. Although this usually means no more rain, it also means that the wind is coming and the bite will, most likely, shut off.
Where to do it:
The two best wintertime big bass swimbait lakes in Southern California are Lake Perris in Riverside County and Lake Casitas in Ventura County. Over the past five years, there have been countless bass over 12 pounds caught on swimbaits at these two lakes. Now this is certainly not to say that you won't catch big bass on swimbaits at other Southern California lakes, it's just that your odds are probably a little better at Lake Perris and Lake Casitas.
There are a few very important things that you need to remember when fishing swimbaits:
First and foremost is that you will not get many bites on a swimbait. You are focusing on a very small population of bass in any given lake. There are simply not very many 12 pound plus fish out there. (This is why "Catch and Release" is a must when fishing for big bass). You may end up making several trips to the lake with zero bites before you finally get one of those monsters to bite. Hang in there, it WILL happen!
Second, you have to have the right equipment to fish swimbaits. A number of major rod companies make rods specifically for swimbait fishing. My personal preference is the 8-foot "Big Bait Rod" made by Phenix Rods. I also use a 7'6" Lamiglas "Inshore Classic" rod for fishing swimbaits. Both of these rods are extra heavy action rods with a little give in the tip to allow for extra long casts. This little give in the rod tip is also essential when setting the hook on a big bass. Both rods feature an extra long handle for two-handed casting. I use a Shimano Chronarch SF reel spooled with 20-pound test Berkley Big Game line when fishing swimbaits.
Third, you must have patience. My good friend Buck Bauernfeind once had an outstanding day at Lake Casitas with an original Castaic Soft Bait trout (the kind with the bill on it). The secret to his success was to make a long cast across major points and then wait for three minutes before even moving the bait. He would then twitch the bait and then wait another three minutes before moving it again. Each cast lasted fifteen minutes, but the end result was five fish weighing nearly 40 pounds, with his best being a 12 pounder. This technique also worked for my friend Rich Iannolo at Lake Perris, where he caught 5 fish over 10 pounds, including one over 14 pounds. Fishing a swimbait this slowly is a very difficult thing to do, but the rewards are well worth the wait.
So, instead of packing your bass fishing gear away for the winter, grab you swimbait rod and a few swimbaits and head on out to Lake Casitas or Lake Perris and catch the fish of a lifetime. Just remember to dress warmly and bring your raingear, for this is the type of fishing that generated the old saying: "Even the worst day of fishing is better than the best day at work".
Thanks for your time and always remember: "The shortest distance between two points is a reef!"