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No hibernation for this angler

Often, I get asked around this time of year if I fish during the winter. I do fish during the winter, but I’m a little pickier on when and where I fish. When I was younger and couldn’t travel as much, I primarily stuck to one body of water all year long. The nice thing about living in the Central Valley is that more than one species of bass can be found in many of our local lakes and rivers. My tournament season kicks off on Lake Shasta in January. In preparation for Lake Shasta, I plan on fishing the baits that I plan on using, hopefully, gaining confidence in the different colors and techniques, mainly targeting spotted bass. Spotted bass and smallmouth bass thrive in colder water. Some of the coldest days of winter are often great days to target spotted bass in our local lakes. ■

The Lakes

New Melones, Lake Camanche and Lake Don Pedro are all excellent lakes to target spotted bass this winter. They all fish pretty much the same during the winter. Anglers who struggle to catch fish are usually fishing too shallow as the fish move out deeper in pursuit of the schools of bait that have also went deeper. It’s imperative that you target fish while using a fish finder. Most of the time they’re going to be setting up on main lake points, submerged islands or where there is slightly warmer water. If it’s raining, this is a good time to look for run off. Sometimes if you’re lucky, the water running into the lake can cause the fish to move shallow. This is a great time to tie on a reaction bait like a spinnerbait, jerk bait or slow rolling an Alabama rig. For deeper fish, some of my favorite baits have been a shaky head 6-inch strait tail worm, skirted twin tail grubs rigged on a football head, a standard football jig and a smallie beaver fished on a Frenzy Whack a Sack. For those fishing for trophy bass, winter is known as the time when some of the lakes’ biggest fish fall for large swimbaits. Admittedly, I’ve never gotten onto a good swimbait bite. It’s well known though that as most of our local lakes are being stocked with trout that the bass are not far behind. Every so often there’s a story of an angler fishing for trout who ends up getting their trout taken from their line by a trophy bass. 

The Delta

Wintertime fishing on the Delta can also be good for anglers who know where to go, unlike the fall when current is the key. Winter bass fishing is best for those who avoid the current. As the water cools the fish become lethargic. To conserve energy, they often set up in places where they don’t have to work as hard to stay in one place. Dead end sloughs and areas away from the main channel are places that I like to target. There are very few baits that I like better this time of year on the Delta than a brown pitching jig fished on 20-pound test fluorocarbon line. The bass aren’t going to be shallow and seem to prefer high tide during the winter. Two of the biggest bass I’ve ever caught on the Delta were in December while fishing a black jig in Buckley Cove and in nearby Smith Canal. Come to think about it, they were both out of the current and near rock and wood. December through January can be hit or miss for a lot of anglers targeting striped bass. Early to mid-December seems to be the best for me while tossing swimbaits and lip-less crank baits around current. Unlike largemouth bass, striped bass thrive in the current and can be found stacked up around points, bends and current breaks. Anglers that like to troll usually like to troll with deep diving broken backed Rebels or Yozuri Minnows. When trolling it’s important to speed up. My best luck has come when trolling between 2 and 3 miles per hour. Anglers fishing with bait do well while using a variety of baits. Live mudsuckers are a great choice but can be difficult to get. I usually prefer to drift a live bluegill hooked through the lips with the current.  

Wintertime fishing isn’t the easiest time of the year to be outside. As a result, a lot of anglers put away their fishing gear until spring. I’ve had many days when I wished I would have just stayed home by the fireplace. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t since there’s nothing that warms me up more than a hot winter bite.