Winter Smallmouth Bass Fishing!
As the Daylight hours get shorter and the overnight temperatures get lower it’s time to think about wintertime bass fishing. Believe it or not we can catch bass in Washington 12 months out of the year even though many consider bass to be a warm water fish. By changing your tactics and depths you can find success catching nice smallmouth bass all winter long.
First let’s start with locations. For those fishing on the west side of the mountains your two best options for wintertime success will be Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington. Both lakes have adequate deep-water structure as I will talk about later and both lakes don’t freeze over which allows anglers to target bass all winter long. For the winter time anglers finding the best success will require a boat to reach the fish as the smallmouth bass will move far offshore into the deeper water to follow the food. Most of your winter time fishing on either lake will be done between 35-65’ with the best fishing typically in the 40-50’ range.
Now let’s move onto what sort of structure the smallmouth bass will be hanging around in the wintertime months. The fish will follow the forage out to the deeper water and on lakes like Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish that forage typically moves out to areas of harder bottom. In the wintertime the smallmouth feed heavily on crawfish and sculpin. They will also eat other baitfish such as perch but prefer to feed more on the crawfish and sculpin. Crawfish and sculpin will migrate out to the deeper hard bottom areas such as rock piles and or hard bottom flats with rock or clay mixed in as well as sand. Anywhere you can find hard bottom in deeper water mixed with either rock or wood on the bottom will be a prime habitat for winter time smallmouth. Some areas to focus your fishing on Lake Washington would be Coleman point, Pleasure Point, Webster Point, in between the three bays up in the Kirkland area, as well as the aquatic center on the south end of Mercer Island. In comparison to spring through fall the amount of wintertime smallmouth spots greatly diminish so on a nice day in the winter don’t be surprised if you are sharing some spots with others on the water. On Lake Sammamish it will be similar areas as Lake Washington around some of the main lake points as well as the sunken forest on the west side of the lake.
When it comes to fishing for wintertime smallmouth the gear needed to be successful is minimal. Like previously mentioned smallmouth feed predominantly in the winter on crawfish and sculpin and your presentations should reflect that. In the wintertime I like to fish either a football head jig or a drop shot or a tube jig. Let’s start with the football head, when fishing a football head, you can fish one with or without a skirt and weed guard. In the winter I tend to fish a football head just plain with no skirt or weed guard and some sort of crawfish or sculpin imitation plastic. Depending on how deep I am fishing and how windy it is I will fish anywhere between a ½-1oz football head. Some of my favorite plastics to put on the football head would include the Keitech fat Swing Impact 3.8 in Green Pumpkin to imitate sculpin. Another great bait to imitate sculpin and or baitfish would be the Fisher Brothers Skull Fish or the KGM TW Swimmer in the 375 and 475 sizes. When fishing the KGM TW swimmer in the 475 size I like to use a Revenge Swim bait head in ½-1oz size as well. If you are looking to imitate a crawfish some of the best options to do so would be a Yamamoto Hula Grub in color 176 or 221, Fisher Brothers Heart Throb in a smoke or cinnamon purple color. A couple other great baits would be a Reaction Innovations beaver in either the 3.5 or 4” size as well as the Fisher Brothers Donkey Chow in the same sizes. I like to stick to the natural colors such as the green pumpkin or watermelon in the winter time when fishing for smallmouth.
When fishing a football head if it’s windy I like to keep a slow retrieve dropping my bait a few feet behind the boat and free spooling it until it hits the bottom then engaging the reel and dragging the bottom using the trolling motor on a low speed to essentially troll along the bottom. This is effective on areas that are expansive deep-water flats. If you are fishing a smaller spot such as a rock pile I like to make a long cast past the structure and essentially bring it up and over the whole piece of structure on the bottom.
If you decide you want to dropshot I like to run a heavier dropshot weight such as a ½-3/4oz quikdrop drop shot weight with a size 2 gamakatsu split shot drop shot hook. For my bait selection I like to fish either a Fisher Brothers DS minnow, DS Hex, Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm or a Sniper Snub. I don’t like to impart a ton of action or shaking of the bait in the winter as the forage is more lethargic this time of year. I tend to pick up the dropshot when I notice fish on the graph suspended a few feet of the bottom otherwise I tend to fish the football head more. I like to fish the dropshot more vertical over a piece of structure or dropping my bait down to a fish I may see under the boat on the fish finder.
I like to run a green pumpkin tube with an internal tube jig head in a ½-3/4oz size to maintain bottom contact and reach the bottom quickly. I like to fish the tube jig the exact same way I like to fish my football head by either dragging or casting out and dragging the bottom whether it be an expansive hard bottom flat or a deep-water rock pile.
When you do hook into a Smallmouth in the deep water make sure you reel slow and steady to the surface as it will help reduce the expansion of the fish’s air bladder much like a rockfish or a diver getting the Benz. I always carry a hypodermic needle in the boat to fizz the fish to help it be able to swim back down. If the fishes air bladder expands and you do not help shrink it back down to size the fish will not be able to stay upright and will not be able to swim back down and will be floating on the surface. Most the time though if you reel the fish up slowly and unhook it quickly and put it back in the water the fish will be able to get itself back down deep.
Wintertime fishing can be slow, but you do have the potential on the good days to catch 15-20 smallmouth bass in the dead of winter. Hopefully this information will help you get out this winter and take advantage of another wintertime fishery in our own backyard!