By Daniel Quade

As fall marches toward winter, the number of anglers afoot and afloat ebbs to one of its lowest points of the year. Yet great fishing awaits for a variety of species including largemouth bass, which can provide solid action across the Midwest, both before and after freeze-up.

Much of what’s been reported on late-fall and early winter bass location hinges on finding the few remaining stands of green weeds. To be sure, weedgrowth can be a factor, as bass often relate to the last vestiges of healthy vegetation. But not always. In fact, the need for salad is often vastly over-rated, because some of the best concentrations of bass roam far from weeds and shallow water.

Often, featureless terrain holds the key. On a number of northern natural lakes, fall bass filter away from weeds and contour lines into deeper water, where they prowl soft-bottom basins in 10 to 30 feet of water. Here, they hunt juvenile bluegills, crappies and other small baitfish that also take up residence in the abyss.

The pattern is especially prevalent on stained lakes lacking well-defined weedbeds, and where the deep weedline lies in 8 feet or less of water. In such cases, ’gills and other bite-sized bait seek the relative security of deep, dark water, where they’re harder for predators to see.

Flats can be dynamite, but slight depressions created by holes or a wandering drop-off entering the area can concentrate predators and prey. In a similar vein, natural bottlenecks such as deep, soft-bottomed narrows between basins are also worth checking.

Even on clear lakes with ample vegetation, you can often find largemouths in deeper water. The fish are typically deeper, closer to 30 feet than 20, and loosely related to some type of structure. For example, a hard-bottom point that protrudes into 20 feet of water before fading to soft bottom at 30 can be a lightning rod. Look for bass roaming the deep mud just off the point.
rattlin flyer spoon
On lakes clear or cloudy, the fastest way to find offshore bass is scouting with sonar. This is easier before freeze-up than after, but can still be accomplished once winter’s icy cloak covers the surface. Look for clouds of baitfish rising from bottom. And keep in mind that even though young panfish commonly suspend, broad-shouldered largemouths typically remain within a couple feet of bottom, perhaps to take advantage of the slightly warmer water temperatures found closer to the substrate.

In open water, you can also fish your way out from the deep weed edge, lily pad beds and other cover, eyeballing sonar as you go. Wherever steep breaks connect cover to the basin, don’t be surprised to find bass a short cast from their summer homes.

While conventional wisdom dictates dainty lures and finesse presentations for tempting cold-water bass, spoons like Lindy’s Rattl’n Flyer and Frostee Jigging Spoon are also deadly weapons. Tippings such as a single, downcast minnow head or trio of waxworms adorning the treble tines sweeten the pot. Top colors vary, but glows, silvers and shades of perch shine in clear water, while red or firetiger glows and brassy patterns are hot in lower-vis environs.

Though you can cast, twitch and snap spoons in search mode, vertical jigging in the sonar cone is ideal since it allows you to watch how bass respond to different strokes and tailor your presentation accordingly.

When set up over a ball of baitfish, drop the spoon to bottom and execute a few sharp lifts to attract cruising bass. When the sonar lights up with a thick red line or large arc, seal the deal by shaking the rodtip side to side a few inches or so to lightly jingle the treble and its tippings.

Lindy’s Slick Jig is another fine option. Tip it with a small minnow hooked to flutter on its side, or a pair of juicy waxworms, Both setups excel when waved in front of a finicky largemouth’s nose. With Slick Jigs or spoons, don’t be afraid to pound bottom to stir up sediment and add a little excitement to your sleight of hand.

As for timing the bite, daytime tends to be best on stained waters, while clear lake largemouths often feed in late afternoon, right before the walleye bite heats up. The pattern holds in late fall through first ice, and often lasts to mid-winter. At late ice, bass filter back toward shallow weedbeds, but that’s a story for another day. For now, focus on enjoying the seasonal solitude and solid bassin’ basins provide.