Small swimbaits are one of the most effective methods for winter bass fishing due to their lifelike appearance and versatility. From a traditional jighead to the more recent hover rig, small swimbaits are effective year-round but often shine brightest in the winter months.
Rigging swimbaits on a jighead is a tried and true standard, allowing anglers to fish horizontally by targeting different depths in the water column. Since suspended bass are common in the winter months in most clear water impoundments, a traditional approach like this has often been effective. The advent of forward-facing sonar has caused a resurgence in small swimbait techniques, since these are among the top lure choices for anglers harnessing this technology.
The HAZEDONG SHAD 3in and SPARK SHAD 3in are both excellent pairings to the OKASHIRA HEAD and OKASHIRA SCREWHEAD jigheads. The lifelike appearance of these heads combined with the hyper realistic swimbait, makes this one of the top choices for wintertime fishing in lakes with over 3 feet of visibility.
Two of the most productive winter areas to deploy small swimbaits are points and ditches. The target depth changes with water clarity, but in general most bass will suspend and relate to the bottom in these areas. An ideal small swimbait scenario often has water visibility between 4 and 8 feet and water temperatures between 40-53 degrees. Given this, one can expect bass to be suspended 10-25 feet down over deeper water, or on the bottom in 15-30 feet of water on both the points and ditches.
Making long casts along the point ends and sides and straight down the middle of ditches are great ways to find numbers of fish. Even if you graph fish deeper, pay attention to baitfish activity and use that as your target depth. A slow to medium retrieve with minimal change is an effective way to keep your bait in the desired depth range for the longest period of time. Strikes can often feel soft or “mushy,” especially in deeper waters when you have a lot of line out.
Many of the same insights can be applied to hover strolling with small swimbaits. A hover head (a rig where the weight is positioned internally in the body) is often fished like a traditional jighead for suspended fish, but with a much slower retrieve and the option to work in light twitches. This allows anglers to maintain near-perfect horizontal bait posture during the entire retrieve and extend the bite window over a traditional swimbait setup, which requires a faster retrieve to hold its depth. Also, when using a bait with more transparency such as GHOST SHAD in the HAZEDONG SHAD series, a hover head can be painted to give the bait a lateral line of a specific accent color (e.g. red or chartreuse), further increasing effectiveness in certain situations.
When fish are relating to the bottom or deep structure, a dropshot is often most effective. Dropshot rigging is determined by factors such as depth, cover, activity of fish, and size of bait. A great starting point is a 3in swimbait like the HAZEDONG SHAD nose hooked with a size 1 light wire dropshot hook. Either exposing the hook, or weedless nose rigging are great for many situations, but if you find fish short striking or need a better hook set, using a larger shank Neko style hook to thread the bait will push the point of the hook farther back and not sacrifice bait movement.
With sensitive paddletails that kick into gear with the slightest current, these small swimbaits do more than work a pinpoint target—slow dragging while maintaining bottom contact with the dropshot weight will set these rigs swimming. This is a deadly way to work a spot and then swim back to the boat, staying tighter to bottom with a slower retrieve speed than would be possible with a traditional jighead setup.
Swimbait color selection for the applications above can be broken down into more translucent/natural colors such as GHOST SHAD, GREEN PUMPKIN SHAD, and MOROKO in very clear water and colors like GREEN PUMPKIN CHART, DISCO STAIN, and GOBY on cloudy days or with slightly stained water.
The OROCHIXX F3-611XXS WHIPSNAKE or the DESTROYER P5 F3-611XS ADDERMINE are both excellent options for these techniques. For deeper water situations, lighter jigheads or hover rigs, a longer rod like the DESTROYER P5 F2.5-76XS FLYSSA will provide longer casts and better control the fight on light line. While some anglers prefer a straight 4-8lb fluorocarbon to take advantage of line sink in deeper waters, braid to fluorocarbon leader is also a great option, especially where cast distance is critical or in more vertical presentations where increased sensitivity and reduced line stretch are most appreciated.
Pack your handwarmers and hit the water armed with small swimbaits to tap winter’s full potential this season!