When it comes to targeting big smallmouth bass in cold water, bigger isn’t always better. Smaller baits just trigger more bites, pure and simple. Downsizing your typical cold water baits, like tubes and hair jigs, makes every cast more productive in the winter months.
When water temperatures dip into the 30’s, using 1 ½ inch and 2 inch baits should be the norm. Contrary to what most anglers think, big smallies prefer crappie size baits when the water gets cold. Big baits do not necessarily mean big fish. The best baits are small hair jigs, tubes and split tails rubber worms. Color choices include green pumpkin, watermelon, brown pumpkin and black/blue. When the water is a little off color or even muddy, the black/blue combination works best. Chartreuse’s and Orange will also work in muddy water.
The best kept secret for river smallies is the “Split Tail”, in the 1 ½ - 2” size. This little rubber split tail will produce some large smallmouths in cold water situations. Perhaps this lure mimics small crayfish or baitfish, but to be completely honest I have no idea what the smallmouths think this lure imitates. The important idea is that they eat it! Fish split tails by dragging them on the river bottom or hooping them slowing in the gravel. Fish these split tails on 1/16 – 1/4 oz jig heads, preferably painted to match.
Tackle is also important in the winter and here size does matter. The best rods for fishing cold water are 7-7 ½ foot fast tip, with a good quality spinning reel. Spool fishing reels with a premium braid fishing line with a 3-4 foot fluorocarbon leader. With this combination, you will feel every little bump and bite.
Try going really, really small when the water plummets into the 30’s, and you will be surprised at the numbers and size of the smallies you will catch. Remember when it comes to large smallmouth bass, in cold water, bigger isn’t always better.
- Don Manning (FISH THIS)