Winter Bass on the Fly

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Winter in Texas.  It is typically the time many of us start thinking about hitting up the Guad for some trout, or maybe just time to stay inside and sip coffee, hot chocolate, or whiskey.  But, in spite of all that (and maybe because of all that) winter is also a great time to get out and fly fish for bass.

Winter is the time to fly fish for BIG largemouth bass.  Looking back at data from the ShareLunker Program, by far the best months to catch BIG (13+ pound largemouth bass) are January, February, and March.  Over the last four years, five fish over 13 pounds have been submitted in January, eleven in February, and 23 in March.  The next highest total is June with three, and no other month producing more than one since 2018.

So, let me break down my winter bass fly fishing tips/ticks for you here.

Early Winter:  

Early winter is really impacted by the weather.  If the cold comes in early, bass will change their patterns early.  If the cold weather comes in late, fish will stay in their fall patterns longer.

In years when the weather is mild early in the winter, the water won't cool off as fast and the bass tend to hang onto their Late Fall Patterns (click the link for more info.)  This is definitely a time of year to throw big streamers (again click that link for more info on late fall streamers) like Clouser Minnows and Bass Hook Baitfish.

In years that it cools off sooner, the water cools down faster and will push the bass into their winter patterns sooner. Early winter can be your best shot to catch "numbers" of bigger fish, but maybe not the biggest.  The fishes metabolisms hasn't started slowing down too much, and the fish are still typically actively feeding.  This is when I love to fish big flies!  Big gamechangers, big flies like what I call the Deep Half & Half & Half, and large Bucktail Clousers are my go-to flies this time of year.  Start fishing these a little slower and deeper than you would in the fall.

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Deep Half & Half & Half

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Bucktail Clouser

Mid Winter:

Bass usually really start moving into winter patterns in January.  Fish will typically move deeper (depth can vary based on the overall depth and clarity of the body of water you are fishing.)  If I am fishing a new body of water, I usually follow these rules to find winter bass:

  • If the water is clear, find the deepest structure/cover you can find and then work up in the water column from there.
  • If the water dirtier, I start shallower and work deeper until I find fish.  (Dirty water will keep baitfish shallower)
  • If their is a strong current, find deep water and breaks in the current.  Flowing water is usually cooler and requires more of the fishes energy to stay in.
  • Fish slow, if that doesn't work, fish slower.  If that doesn't work, fish erratic.
  • Start with big flies, then downsize if you are not catching.
  • Shad patterns are often the best.
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Marabou Clouser
Downsizing to a fly that has movement
when sitting still can be deadly in the winter.

Late Winter: 

Late winter is your best chance to catch a truly massive fish.  The water is beginning to warm slightly and the bass are preparing to spawn, so they are more likely to be active and eating.  Like I mentioned earlier, February and March has had more 13+ pound bass submitted the the ShareLunker Program than any other month over the last 4 years.

Often, it seems as though the older, larger females will be the first bass to start spawning.  This can be deeper than you expect (up to 20 feet plus) in deep clear lakes like Lake Amistad.  So around mid February or so (once the water temps begin to swing back up), I change from my Mid Winter tactics to something more "early spring-ish."  Looking for waters that get warmed by the sun earlier can help this time of year, too.

I still follow my rules from Mid Winter, but I might change my fly up a little.  Streamers like Clousers can still be productive but switching to bulkier baits can be even more effective in late winter.  As the water warms, crawfish (probably the favorite food of largemouth bass) begin to emerge from their winter hideouts (or wherever they go in the winter).  Also, as bass start to spawn, sunfish like bluegill, longears, etc., will start trying to pick a few eggs off the basses nests and bass hate this.  So, with these two things (Crawfish and Sunfish) in mind, I switch to bulkier flies like Crawfish Bites, Marabou Clouser, and Improved SMP, that can better mimic these two.
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Crawfish Bite

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Improved SMP (Sunfish)

Final Notes on Winter Bass Fly Fishing:

Winter is often the only time of year that I fish a sinking or sink-tip line.  I usually fish streamers down deep, so anything I can do to help these get down is beneficial.  

If you want to do something that seems (and just might be) dumb, but can be highly effective, "jig"  your fly.  Cast it out as far as you can, strip some more line off as it sinks to the bottom, then gently bounce your fly along the bottom as you slowly strip your fly back.  Don't be afraid to let it sit on the bottom for a while.

So, if you want to break some bass fly fishing records, this is the time to get out there on the water!

Peace out-side, y'all!

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