Early Season Bass Fishing Tips for Cold Weather

Angler posing with smallmouth, while early season bass fishing
Bob Popp admires early season smallmouth bass taken with swimbait.

Early Season Bass Fishing in New York State

With the long cold winters here in New York, cabin fever often sets in early and seems to last until the first time we get out on the water in the spring.  New laws on bass fishing in New York allow early catch and release in many areas. Be sure to check New York’s DEC regulations on bass fishing in your favorite waters because there are some areas that do not allow this.

Don’t Wait for the Warm Weather

Some anglers wait until the warm weather arrives in May. However if you are one of those anglers you are missing out on some of the best bass fishing of the year!  Since the new laws for bass fishing were put in place I have been on the water shortly after ice out and just before ice over and can say cold water bass fishing is when I have caught some of the largest bass I have ever caught in New York State! 

Bundle Up

When you decide to try your hand at early season bass fishing, be prepared for the cold weather and dress for the occasion or your cold water bass fishing trip will not last very long.  I am often amazed that anglers have no problem spending $500 for a rod and reel; however they buy the cheapest warm weather clothing they can find.  A good insulated Gore Tex suit and warm boots are a necessity.  

Understanding how the Cold affects Bass Habits

Early in the spring you will find some of the coldest water of the year, usually around 40 degrees once ice out occurs.  I find that cold water bass have specific habits until the water temperature reaches about 54 degrees.  I believe that the change in the amount of daylight triggers bass activity more than the water temperature when you are early season bass fishing.  

Find the Deepest Water

The first thing I do on a lake or river when I am early season bass fishing, is find the deepest water near the area I select to fish.  Please remember that the word “deep” is relative to the water you are fishing.  Remember that I said the deepest water near the area I’m fishing, not the deepest spot in the body of water.  Once I have selected an area I will try to locate the structure that will lead bass to shallow water yet still have deep water nearby.  This area will usually have a hard to semi-hard bottom which is a requirement for cold water bass fishing early in the year. 

I have not mentioned at what depth to start fishing since bass can be located shallow, deep or somewhere in between. This past year I was on the water a couple of days after ice out with the water temperature  around 40 degrees and I found the bass in 3 feet of water near some old lily pads! 

Look for Cover

Another requirement for early season bass fishing is some sort of cover such as vegetation, rocks, wood or docks the bass will relate to.  Remember when we do select the area we are going to fish it is critical to cover the entire water column.  We not only need to fish shallow and deep we also need to cover the entire water column from top to bottom.  This is when the selection of bait and technique will become critical!

Fisherman poses with largemouth while early season bass fishing
Bob Popp proves that cold water is no deterrent to catching largemouth while early season bass fishing.

Fishing in Shallow Water

The Baits for Shallow Waters

I usually start my early season bass fishing in shallow water.  In depths under four feet I usually use a shallow running crankbait.  I like the square lip models since they deflect off cover the best.  In five – ten feet of water I use baits that can cover the entire water column, such as a small (three – four inch) suspending jerkbait.  This bait works at any depth depending on how hard you jerk the bait. 


I usually throw this on a six foot six inch Daiwa rod and a Daiwa reel spooled with 10 lb braided line and a long 6 lb. fluorocarbon leader.  The braided line makes it easier to rip the bait free from any vegetation. I use a natural color like white or silver in clear water and brighter color like table rock shad in dingy water. 

With both the crankbait and jerkbait I replace the stock hooks with a quality treble hook like those made by Daichi.  Just make sure that the front hook is replaced with a Bleeding Bait Hook (red).  Nine out of every ten fish I catch while early season bass fishing will have that Bleeding Bait Hook in their mouth!

Fishing in Mid-Depth Water

The Best Baits for Mid-Depth Waters

For five to ten foot depth my favorite is a swimbait like the three and one half inch Bear Paws.  These baits resemble the Sassy Shad made by Mister Twister.  The difference is these swimbaits are hand poured giving the bait an unbelievable action when rigged on an exposed 1/4 ounce head.  I use basically two colors: white back/silver belly or purple back/pewter belly.  There is something about the color purple that smallmouth bass cannot resist. 


I fish these baits using a countdown method, counting until the bait touches bottom.  Then I begin an excruciating slow retrieve, fishing this swimbait the way you fish a plastic worm.  One my next cast I will begin my retrieve one count sooner and this will enable me to cover the entire water column.  I feel that the jerkbait and swimbait are two of the best cold water bass baits you can use.

Fishing in Deeper Water

Swim Drop Technique

For water deeper than 10 feet I use one technique that combines the best of the drop shot and swimbait techniques, that I call the “swim drop”.  I use a seven foot rod and spinning reel spooled with an 8 pound fluorocarbon line.  This is tied to a size 1 “Stand Out Hook” made by TTI-Blakemore and a tungsten drop shot weight between 1/8 and 3/8 ounce weight which will be determined by the amount of wind and current.  

The Best Baits for Deep Waters

The of the best early spring cold water bass baits, is a two and a half inch Bear Paws Ribbed Swimbait.  What is different from a normal drop shot is this bait begins working as soon as it hits the water enabling you to cover the entire water column.  Many times the bait never makes it to the bottom.  It is always a good idea to use the countdown method with this technique as well.  Once the bass bait hits bottom I will usually only work this about three to five inches before I reel in and cast again.  It’s a great technique to catch those deeper bass that are reluctant to move shallow in the spring.  

Get Out and Enjoy

These are just a few ways that I use to catch early and late season bass.  They are just as effective on both largemouth and smallmouth.  So instead of waiting for the warm weather, get out on the water early and catch some cold water bass.

Original Article By Bob Popp

About the Author

Bob Popp, professional bass fisherman from Minetto, NY is a radio and TV show host.  


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