Knowing what bass eat during the winter is an important tool to us as fisherman because if we know what a bass eats, then we can select a lure that is going to best represent that bait.
Honestly this is a great question at any time of the year, because understanding what bass are eating is always going to allow us to choose the right lure to represent what a bass is eating.
Many times during the summer months you are able to tell what a bass is eating because the bass will spit up what it is eating when you are catching it. Bass will do this in the winter as well but sometimes it is harder to get that first bite to give you a clue as to what they are eating.
First, before we analyze what a bass eats during the winter it is important to know the transition a bass will go through in colder water.
Winter Transition for a Bass
Bass, unlike humans, or cold blooded creatures. This basically means that as the surrounding water temperatures fall during the winter, their blood temperature will fall with it. If the water is 75° then the bass’s blood is also 75°, but if the water is 45° in the bass’s blood is also 45°.
This has a huge impact on the day to day life of a bass. Think about what happens to humans when our blood temperature changes by just a few degrees. Now imagine what a bass might go through. Although a bass may not feel sick, it’s metabolism is going to slow down a lot.
So when a bass’s metabolism slows down a lot it is going to make the bass feel a little sluggish and not always willing to move extremely far or extremely fast to eat a meal. Also, as the metabolism of a bass slows down, it will process its food a lot slower.
This means that bass do not need to feed as much as they do during the winter. If a bass can get a good size meal it could last the fish a week or two, whereas in the summer a bass typically needs to eat almost every day.
Bass Are Opportunistic Feeders
With all that being said, you also need to know that a bass is an opportunistic feeder no matter what time of the year it is. Meaning if an opportunity presents itself for bass to get a meal, it is going to take it! So during the winter if a bluegill, shad or a crawfish happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a bass is going to take advantage of it!
Depending on where you live, during the winter, shad and crawfish or among a bass‘s favorite meal.
Bass Winter Food: Crawfish
Looking at crawfish (crayfish, crawdad, lake lobster), crawfish will move to deeper water during the winter to avoid possible freeze outs in shallow water.
Many people think that crawfish actually hibernate all winter and that is not exactly true. Some crawfish will burrow in the ground during the winter but others will simply move to deeper water.
Crawfish are also cold blooded creatures whose metabolism slows down tremendously during the winter months. So if a bass can take advantage of a lackadaisical crawfish during the winter, it will.
Bass, especially smallmouth, have been seen with their nose in the mud during the winter months trying to find crawfish to eat. So lures such as jigs or subtle bottom baits like Ned rigs can work extremely well during the winter because they mimic a crawfish perfectly.
Bass Winter Food: Shad
Bass will also eat shad during the winter, but they may not hunt down shad like we see them do during the summer months. During the summer you will see bass actively seeking shad and blowing shad out of the water.
Bass are not going to be schooling on shad during the winter like summer, but in extremely cold water, bass will wait for shad to die and then take advantage of them.
Shad are pretty fragile baitfish! They cannot really live in water temps less than 35 degrees. So in the cold winter months when the water temperature is hovering around freezing, many shad will die and as they die the bass will eat them.
This is the reason why a suspending jerkbait works so well during the winter months. Using a jerkbait slow with long pauses looks exactly like a dying shad and it will trigger bites from lethargic bass.
Where To Find Winter Bass
One of the biggest keys to finding bass in cold water months is to find areas where bass can move from shallow to deep very fast and easy.
Points, humps and other structures where the creek channel swings close by are very good places to look because these are areas where bass can move up on structure to feed very quickly.
Another great place to look is creek channel banks or bluff walls. Again, these are areas where bass can move up and down the water column very easily. So on warm days, when their metabolism starts moving faster, bass can move into shallow water to feed and then move back off into deep water.
Finding a mix of the areas above as well as tight schools of shad and you can soon start to establish a pattern of where the bass will be!
Next time you are fishing in cold water, remember what bass feed on and you will know how to catch them!