NEVER get skunked again: Top baits to keep you catching fish all winter by species!

Thread starter #1
Lot of folks consider winter time the off season and put their rods away. Other folks attempt to fish through it but end up frustrated, as they keep going and trying but it just gets colder and harder and they're not getting bit. So, to hold those of you who can't find them or just plain give up this season, I'm going to encourage you to endure the cold and still get out, enjoy yourself and catch some fish! I'll break down the gear, the one bait you need to be successful by species of fish in the immediate area, and where/how to actually fish it. Best part about all this? Everything is cheap, readily available, and dumb simple! Welp, let's get started...

TROUT: Winter into early spring is actually one of the best times of year to trout fish, especially here in Georgia. They're a cold water fish and actually prefer water temperatures around 50-55f and can tolerate even ice on the water. Luckily for us, it doesn't exactly get bitter cold here and the cooler the water gets, actually the better the trout fishing gets. Sizeable rainbows and browns, both stocked and wild exist in plenty North Georgia rivers and small streams. Some just a short drive from Atlanta to certain sections of the Chattahoochee river. Your one bait to catch them all winter? - A #5 or #7 rapala countdown. Titel_Rapala_Countdown_7cm_600x600.jpg
This bait is a top choice because of it's sinking ability and tight action. You can get them anywhere, they're cheap and come in plenty colors. No hardware need be changed either, just take it out the package, tie it on and fish. As far as color, I recommend keeping it simple with gold, silver, and firetiger. I know that last one probably throws a lot of people for a loop, but each color is a classic and firetiger is a great attractor color in off color water. On cloudy days with stained to clear water, gold is the best bet and on bright and sunny days with clear water, good ol plain silver works very well. The #5 and #7 sizes should catch trout of all sizes, but consider using a #3-#5 for smaller fish or if they get finicky and the bigger #7 if you're looking for bigger fish. Don't be surprised if you get some bycatch, as this lure works on everything.

Where to fish it: Throw the countdown near any current breaks, eddies, or upstream of any holes you can find. Fast and shallow water will hold less fish. What you're looking for is a deeper pool immediately downstream of a fast and shallow section. Undercut banks and fallen trees are other targets especially for larger fish looking to escape fighting the current. A big brown or rainbow trout is sort of like a largemouth bass in that they kind of become a different fish after a certain size. The countdown is heavy enough to be cast long distance and stay down in the current without blowing out which makes it such a good choice.


BASS: When talking wintertime bass fishing, you have to be a little more specific to which type you're after, as they all act a little different with cold weather. Largemouth will all but shut down if they're uncomfortable, but spotted bass and smallmouth don't care how cold it gets, they'll still chew. That said, they don't just disappear in the winter, they only slow down. This time of year is truly where the saying "90% of the fish live in 10% of the water" comes into play. Bass in general regardless of species will migrate to wintering areas and mostly stay there all season long into pre spawn where they start to transition again. The good news is you can use these "wintering holes" they go to and pattern them year after year and catch them in the same few spots over and over all winter long. Here's the bait you're going to use all season - The Ned rig.
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The Ned is a stone cold bass killer all year long, but it's at it's best in the coldest months. Often when they won't eat anything else, they'll still eat this. It's also one of the most versatile baits to use in the winter by far. Most people throwing them are one demential with it. They throw it out and fish it like a shaky head. In addition to that though, there's really no wrong way to fish it. Drag it, hop it, deadstick it, swim it, skip it, and much more to catch bass. This use to be a very finesse technique but now Ned heads are made that come all the way up to a half ounce and in various size and shape bodies. I recommended just a standard Z-man TRD because it will float up while sitting still and get plenty attention. If you want a larger profile, the big TRD or ROBOWORM Ned worms are great alternatives. With color, you should pick up a black, purple, white and either a green pumpkin or brown. An accent color is optional. That way you have crawfish, baitfish and bold colors to suit any situation.

Where to fish it: HARD COVER. The weeds, pads and other soft places are dead and gone for the year. But ALL black bass, regardless of what kind relate to hard cover and steep structure changes during the winter. Bluff walls, deep and rocky points and humps, timber in ditches on reservoirs, deep riprap and brush, deeper pilings of bridges and docks and all kinds of things hold bass in winter. The key is baitfish and easy access to deep water. If you're a pond guy, fish the dam. On a reservoir from the bank, fish the rock at boat ramps. Really fish that hard cover. If they're suspended, use a shad color bait and hold it deadstick it horizontally just above the fish and now you've got a damiki rig they'll rise up to and eat. If you go somewhat shallow, the best way on those REALLY REALLY tough days is to just drag it a foot and deadstick it for awhile and those bass will just come down and softly pick it up. Endless ways and places to bass fish with this bait this time of year so long as you do it slow and fish hard cover.

CRAPPIE: Here's the good news - Crappie actually bite pretty dang good in the winter time. They like it and are even a popular ice fishing species. Here's the bad news - they're crappie, so they're still fickle fish. Crappie will be in large numbers on hard cover similar to bass, but they may also be suspended seemingly in the middle of nowhere just on transitions. Here's your #1 lure choice - A straight tail shad on a jighead.
Bobby_Garland_Baby_Shad_Mo_Glo_Glow_in_the_Dark_800x.jpg
Something like the baby shad by Bobby Garland fished on SUPER light line (I'm talking about like 2-4lb test here) is a deadly crappie bait. You could do just as well probably on a hair jig, but using plastic gives you the ability to change color in a hurry. Being that crappie are one of the most color selective fish, I suggest a handful: monkey milk, pearl white, black/chartreuse, blue and white, blue and chartreuse and electric chicken. These baits should cover your bases and after finding which one they want you can fish a multi hook rig and fill a livewell quickly. The baby shad takes very little movement to attract fish and actually just holding it still over the school and letting the waves move the bait for you might be the best option this time of year. It's also the right size and profile, looking just like a little threadfin shad that they feed on heavily this time of year.

Where to fish it: Deep docks with a channel swing close to them, deeper brush, bridges, deep main lake coves, deep water at the ends of points, marinas and sometimes riprap and bluffs will all hold winter crappie. If you're river fishing, they should be in deep holes in backwaters on hard cover like stumps. These are finicky fish yes, but the hardest part is finding them. Fish your baits just above the level of the school and pick off the most active members. Electronics on your boat will be the best thing to help you locate them in a short time, and you may do a little running and gunning until you find them. If you catch a few and they quit you have two options. Either leave them and fish another school so you can come back to them later, or cycle through colors and sizes to see if you can get them to eat.

CATFISH: Catfish by and large are a warm water fish, so winter makes them less active than they normally are, especially flathheads who like an 80 degree water temperature believe it or not. Luckily, channel cats and especially blues will still eat well all winter regardless if they're in a reservoir, river or lake. What do you use to catch these fish? Your best choice in bait is actually some kind of cutbait.
wintercatfishbait2_sutton.jpg
Shad, herring, bream, chubs, and any other small fish is a very wise choice in catfish baits. The smellier and more oily the better, so preferably shad and herring whether they be skipjack herring, gizzard shad or another fish. The third best choice is probably a cut sunfish like a bluegill. Some guys swear by saltwater baitfish like mullet or menhaden as well, so you may want to keep that in mind.

Where to fish it: cut your bait in bite size chunks and fish them on bottom with a slip sinker rig above a deep hole if you're river fishing. The widest, deepest areas, especially those immediately below tailrace areas of dams will be the hot spots. In lakes and reservoirs, look for them to be in deep holes and bends in the old river channel and main creek channels. They'll also be on flats with timber, especially near deep water. Also check out humps near the channel.

STRIPED BASS: Striper fishing is excellent in the winter months on any reservoir along with their cousins the hybrid and white bass. They group together in very large and tight schools and don't hesitate to eat a bait nearly as much as they do during the summer months. They'll be active in both reservoirs and rivers alike and they don't lose any of their fighting ability in the cold either, so be prepared for a battle. The best winter artificial lure for reservoir fishing is a jigging spoon.
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Where to fish it: Coves and ditches will hold striper in the winter, especially those between main lake points. Anywhere the creek channel and old river channel cross is another place to look. Deep main lake points at the upper end of the lake, especially those that extend into the river channel are excellent places to look for winter striper and you may find a few on humps near the channel also as long as there's bait. In rivers, the deepest pool in the river, holes along outside bends and deep tailwater areas of dams will hold the striper and white bass. Spoon fishing is easy. Just find the fish, drop it to their level and give it a rip before letting it settle back down. This jigging action imitates a dying shad and gets the attention of hungry fish.





GEAR SELECTION: The proper gear to use on any of these fish with any of these baits and in any of these places is spinning gear luckily for those of you who don't own or don't know how to really use baitcasting setups. On top of that, all of them fish best on braid to a leader. The only thing that changes is the size. A small 2500 size spinning reel will work on everything just fine but the stripers and catfish paired with a medium light spinning rod and 10-15lb braid and an 8lb or lighter leader. As for the bigger fish, plenty striper and big cats can be caught on a medium heavy spinning rod paired with 30-50lb braid and a 15-40lb leader depending on what you're trying to do. Big cats in heavy current in deep water require heavier gear and so do striper in general, but striper in deep clear water reservoirs may have you dropping down to lighter tackle. All in all, spinning rods and braid/leader combos are preferred, although straight fluorocarbon may be used if you don't want to tie leader knots. Luckily it doesn't get quite cold enough for fluoro to get brittle in the winter here so you should be good to go from there!
 
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Thread starter #2
A work in progress! Considering adding stripers and maybe walleye or yellow perch in here to top it off. Just taking a little break!
 

northgeorgiasportsman

Moderator
Staff member
Spent a couple hours on the lake Sunday. Water temp was 52. Caught one 3lb spot on a Ned rig and called it a day.
 
What a coincidence! I just bought some of those crappie Bobby Garland thin tailed shads today. The only color they had was electric chicken, but I have several colors of jig heads so I can make a variety of color combinations.

Backstory: a few days ago I accidentally caught a crappie while fishing for bluegills with live worms in a small shallow pond that only has catfish and bluegills - obviously it has crappie too. Thus I'm going there tomorrow targeting crappie. If I can get a few (about he size of the one I caught a few days ago (about ten inches) that would be great.
Yes, I used to ice-fish for crappie when I was a kid, and cold water doesn't bother them.

And coincidence #2 - you talk about hard cover for bass - I was fishing again for bluegills with worms and caught a bass fishing a lone stump in shallow water. Bear in mind this was a different shallow pond with a maximum depth of about six or seven feet, so the bass can't go deep in the winter. A lone stump might not seem like much structure, but the roots of a stump spread out a long way. So they are great areas for bass & panfish in the winter. I fish a stump from every angle and take my time doing it.
 
Thread starter #5
What a coincidence! I just bought some of those crappie Bobby Garland thin tailed shads today. The only color they had was electric chicken, but I have several colors of jig heads so I can make a variety of color combinations.

Backstory: a few days ago I accidentally caught a crappie while fishing for bluegills with live worms in a small shallow pond that only has catfish and bluegills - obviously it has crappie too. Thus I'm going there tomorrow targeting crappie. If I can get a few (about he size of the one I caught a few days ago (about ten inches) that would be great.
Yes, I used to ice-fish for crappie when I was a kid, and cold water doesn't bother them.

And coincidence #2 - you talk about hard cover for bass - I was fishing again for bluegills with worms and caught a bass fishing a lone stump in shallow water. Bear in mind this was a different shallow pond with a maximum depth of about six or seven feet, so the bass can't go deep in the winter. A lone stump might not seem like much structure, but the roots of a stump spread out a long way. So they are great areas for bass & panfish in the winter. I fish a stump from every angle and take my time doing it.
Not surprised about the bass. In a pond that shallow they'll go to the deepest point they can find and stay there especially if there's hard cover like a tree or stump or something. It could be a sunken lawn chair and they'd sit on it
 
Not surprised about the bass. In a pond that shallow they'll go to the deepest point they can find and stay there especially if there's hard cover like a tree or stump or something. It could be a sunken lawn chair and they'd sit on it
if I were a bass I'd hang out at the stump. It's on a relatively steep drop off. I guess the best way to describe that is I'm fishing from the bank and don't have to cast out very far to get into relatively deep water. So bass can escape to deep water on one side of the roots and corral or ambush baitfish up against the bank on the other side of the roots. Plenty of tiny bluegills are in the general area to eat. A small school of bass could occupy this one piece of structure too.
 

Richf7

Senior Member
Thanks for the great info, Jeremiah!

i‘ve had some success with different Rapalas for trout and white bass, but over time they lose their wobbling swimming action, go left and go right but no zigzag. I tie direct with a clinch knot. The lip looks straight and doesn’t appear bent. TIA for any help!
 
Thread starter #10
Thanks for the great info, Jeremiah!

i‘ve had some success with different Rapalas for trout and white bass, but over time they lose their wobbling swimming action, go left and go right but no zigzag. I tie direct with a clinch knot. The lip looks straight and doesn’t appear bent. TIA for any help!
You can tie a loop knot or use a small snap (not a snap swivel) to attach the bait to the line. Those rapala minnow plugs don't run well when tied direct I noticed. I think that's where the Rapala knot came from.
 
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