Winter a great time for catching smallmouth bass


Smallmouth bass are one of the most prevalent game fish in North America. Often regarded as the toughest fighting fish around pound for pound, these aggressive bass are found in lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams from Maine to Montana and Alabama to Oregon.

Indiana has its fair share, too. Although smallmouth may grow larger in reservoirs, many smallmouth anglers prefer chasing them in rivers. Smallmouth are a warm-water fish, but winter is the time to stack up numbers.

Chances are there is a smallmouth river within a short drive of your home. If you are not aware of any, explore the DNR website or call your local fisheries biologist. They will clue you into the best smallmouth waters around.

Locating smallmouth in rivers during the winter is fairly easy. Since most rivers are fairly shallow, finding deep pools of water is your key to success. Deep water can usually be found on the inside of a bend, behind boulders and around large fallen trees. Once you have located prime holding spots, you’ll want to thoroughly work these pools from the outside in. This way, you can cover the pool in its entirety.

Smallmouth are active throughout the year. The pre-spawn period generally starts in late February when water temperatures push into the upper 40s. Largemouth are still lethargic, making smallmouth the bass to seek during this time period. The pre-spawn smallies congregate on points and in deep holes, especially those consisting of a pea gravel bottom near cover.

Smallmouth begin to spawn once water temperatures reach the 60-degree mark. This is typically around the middle of April. They’ll bed on gravel flats, while generally associating with some sort of structure, such as fallen logs and boulders. Females spawn out and leave the beds to recuperate in deeper water, leaving the smaller but more aggressive males to guard the nests.

Any lures retrieved near enough the nest to pose potential danger have a good chance of being hammered.

Strikes can be subtle during winter. Pay attention to your line, as there is a good chance you will see strikes before feeling them. Experiment with speed and retrieves but keep your bait on the bottom. Make numerous casts through prime areas and over promising points before abandoning hope and moving on. The action may not be fast, but during the winter you can find a bunch of smallmouth bunched up in a single deep hole.

All right, I’ll give you one tip on where to go. It’s my favorite Indiana river, the Driftwood. Formed by the confluence of the Big Blue River and Sugar Creek, and terminating at its own confluence with the Flatrock River where the two join to form the East Fork of the White River, the Driftwood essentially operates as the neck of an hourglass connecting two larger courses of water. It’s loaded with smallmouth bass, and chances are, this time of year, you’ll have it all to yourself.

Winter is a fantastic time of year to fish for smallmouth bass in rivers. Give winter fishing for smallmouth a try this winter. No matter what happens, it’s going to be more fun than sitting on the couch. Catch a few, and chances are you’ll be hooked.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on or anywhere podcasts are streamed.

No posts to display