The early morning air is crisp and your breath lingers as you exhale like a small-suspended cloud. However, the sun is shining for the first time in weeks and there's not a whisper of wind in the atmosphere. In the distance you hear Canadian geese clamoring as they converse about their day. Winter has been hanging around like a fly over dinner as you've been anxiously waiting for a break in the inversion. It's time to take matters into your own hands and escape the dismal dreary days that may return and linger on. It's a beautiful bluebird day and all you can think about is whether there is even the remotest chance you could catch a bass.
One late February day nearly 20 years ago, with an absolutely clear blue sky, I found myself and my ole' fishin' buddy Bill Pryor taking casts at my favorite rock slide on Owyhee Reservoir in Eastern Oregon. We were both anxious to get away from those dreary days of winter and much to our surprise we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day. Since I rarely venture out bass fishing in the winter I was pleasantly surprised when we started catching fish. The sun beating down on the clearer than normal water quickly pushed the water temperature at the surface into the mid-to-high 40's. Not typically a great temperature for bass fishing, but when temperatures had been closer to freezing for most of the winter it was all the bass needed to boost their interest in feeding.
Fishing along the boulder outcroppings we not only found a few fish but landed a released numerous largemouth in just a few hours. We started fishing with four-inch purple and chartreuse ring tailed worms in water depths from about 15 to 35 feet. My best catch of the day came along a submerged rock pile in about 15 feet of water. It was a nice healthy 4-pound female. Surprisingly she hit, get this, an eighth ounce yellow crappie jig! We thought if we could catch bass then why not crappie, so I tied on a crappie jig just for the heck of it. We caught and released several more largemouth that day in the 2 to 3 pound range. Our method was fairly simple; fish slow, slower, and even slower, painstakingly dragging a small Texas rigged worm back to the boat. We found out a slow moving morsel can prove to be more than a winter famished largemouth could take. We primarily used small light colored plastic worms in purple, white and yellow, Texas or jig rigged on light line, and again using as slow a presentation as we could bare.
Some folks call this method "dead sticking." It's used by bass fishermen all over the country when the fishing gets tough due to cold front conditions or in this case, wintertime. First, you cast to shallow water near the shore and let the bait settle to the bottom. Waiting as much as 10-15 seconds before moving it, which is an eternity for most bass fishermen. After the long wait, you then move the bait only a short distance at a time, slowly descending the lure down along the rock slide, inching your bait as if to land the tender little treat on every possible rock shelf. Hesitating at each stop, and even in some cases, allowing the line to go limp before you slowly pick it up and move the bait to the next spot.
Rockslides produce many natural shelves and crevasses. These structures make great hiding places and staging zones for bass to move up and down as water conditions change. Vertically changing their depth the bass maintain their security while following their comfort zone with the penetration of the warmth in the late-winter sunlight. Rocky shores facing south and the south side of fairly steep rocky points are good places to begin looking for wintertime bass schools. Also look for banks that are protected from the usual cold brisk north winter winds and that receive the longest hours of direct sunlight, which contributes to the warmer water conditions.
The last key to catching fish using this method is to be sensitive to the weight of your lure each time you pick it up off the bottom. Often a bass has taken the bait in its mouth without you even being aware of its presence, and the only way you will know is by the "heavy" feeling on the end of the line. If for any reason your lure feels like it just gained weight, "set the hook!" If you're like me and absolutely can't stand enduring the dreary gray skies of winter, then after a few bluebird days you too can brave the cold and test your skills against the hungry wintertime bass.