COLD MUDDY WATER AND BASS
By Ken Poor
Over the years, I have caught many bass through the ice while ice fishing. I mention this because I have heard many people state that bass don’t bite in the winter. First let me say, in the north bass season is
typically closed during the winter months, as a result very few bass are caught in the winter and especially after the lakes are covered with ice.
Another myth I often hear is that bass hibernate in the winter. The fact is if bass don’t eat they die. True they are cold blooded and their metabolism slows way down in cold water, but somewhere on the lake there are bass feeding. Cold water, muddy conditions, slow metabolism, simply means tough fishing – not impossible – just challenging.
Cold water or muddy water fishing conditions are exceptionally tough. In their individual context they carry special problems. Combined, they are bad news for the bass angler. When water in the lake is about the color of coffee with cream in it, that is what most anglers would consider muddy water. When the water temperature is below 55 degrees it would certainly be considered cold for bass fishing.
Due to my job responsibilities, I have never had the luxury of fishing only in ideal conditions. Typically, I go to the lake when I can get off work or when fishing the occasional tournament. This approach is used by most anglers. It means you have to adapt to the conditions even if they are lousy.
The obvious question is how can we make the best of these conditions. The whole story revolves around cold weather conditions because warm water and muddy conditions is another can of worms.
To begin with cold water slows the metabolism of bass, thus their required feeding activity is lower than in warmer water. The upside to this is that during late winter the females have to feed more than normal because of the demands for nutrients required for developing eggs. Also, bass are creatures of instinct and you may be able to force a bass to hit a bait just because you placed it in the strike zone and triggered a response.
The strike zone will also be a key factor and in cold water the strike zone will be very small. Thinking about where and how to present your lure is important under these conditions. Probably more so than at any other time of the year, bass will hold tight to cover in cold water and they will also stay there for long periods of time. This means you should work the area parallel to depth changes, brush piles, deep weed edges or vertically fish this type of cover and structure as well as logs, stumps, and submerged trees or logs on steep banks.
If you have muddy water conditions on a body of water that is normally pretty clear combined with cold water, you now have fish that haven’t been aggressively feeding. Their metabolism is low and they have lost most of their normal ability to feed by sight which is typical for fish in clear water. To feed they now must rely on sound and vibration.
Anytime you fish cold muddy water you must fish very slow. The best two baits for fishing these conditions are an oversized blade on a spinnerbait or the #1 lure, a jig and pig with rattles. The weight of the spinnerbait is not as important as the size of the blade. It must be large and rotate constantly when retrieved at a very slow speed.
The vibration and flash of the blade is important because bass in muddy water are more dependent on flash and vibrations than bass that are sight feeding in clear water. Spinnerbaits with large blades are difficult to cast in strong winds and you may have to make a compromise between size and weight to fish them in extreme conditions.
If the muddy water was caused by a recent rain storm it may provide some isolated pockets of clear warm water that will be attractive to bass. The best way to find these areas is to look for run-off areas in protected bays and coves that are sheltered from winds and then check the water temperature and color of the water.
A few degrees of increased water temperature can be a very strong bass attractor even in shallow water. Spinnerbaits with oversized blades and the jig and pig with rattles worked very slow are still the best choice under these conditions.
The biggest problem with a jig and pig in cold muddy water is going to be your ability to stay with the extremely slow retrieve necessary for fishing it effectively under the conditions. If you are confident the spot you are fishing is very likely to hold fish, then make several cast to the spot. Also, adding fish attractant to your lure can help the bass locate your jig and pig.
I would not completely rule out crankbaits in cold muddy water, but a slow retrieve is very important. For shallow water (under 10-feet), the crankbait should be big, brightly colored, have a slow tight wobble, and a loud rattle.
In deep cold muddy water (over 10-feet) the color of your crankbait is less important and sound and/or vibration is the key. In cold muddy water bass depend more on sound and vibration than on sight feeding for locating forage. Again, a very slow retrieve and a crankbait with a tight wobble and a loud rattle will be your best choice.
We all dream of those perfect days on the water when all the elements come together, but if you fish a lot, it is inevitable that Mother Nature will every now and then, throw you a curve ball. Use those days to learn and refine your techniques. That is why we call it fishing and not catching. Keep in mind the fishing is always great even when the catching is slow.