When the water is cold, a slow presentation is the key to catching bass. Bass are a warm-water species so the fish tend to move a lot slower in cold water throughout the winter and early spring.
Enticing a sluggish bass to bite in cold water requires using a slow-moving lure but not necessarily a jig or soft plastics. Cold-water bass will still hit action lures such as crankbaits and spinnerbaits if you retrieve them at the right speed.
Low And Slow
Relying on a baitcast reel with a low gear ratio will help you keep your action lures running at a slow enough speed to draw strikes from lethargic bass.
Gear ratios determine the speed at which a reel picks up line, so a reel with a gear ratio of 6.3:1 means the spool rotates 6.3 times for every 360-degree turn of the reel handle.
Cold Cranking: The Pro’s Know Best
Bass fishing superstar Kevin VanDam is noted for his high-speed fishing approach, but the pro has stated he would over fish a crankbait if he threw it on a 6.5:1 or higher gear ratio reel so he prefers a reel in the 5:1 gear ratio range. He notes it helps force him to slow down the lure while reeling.
Water temperatures in the 40- to 50-degree range prompt fishing pro David Fritts to slow down his crankbait pace to trick listless bass. A baitcast reel with a gear ratio of 5.1:1 is Fritts’ choice for cold cranking because it winds in 21 inches of line per turn. With the low gear ratio reel, Fritts can still wind his reel fast but he notes the reel will only move his lure 21 inches per turn whereas a 6.4:1 reel will move the lure 26 or 27 inches per turn. He suggests that 5- or 6-inch variance is a lot of difference in speed.
Medium Diving Crankbaits
A 5.1:1 gear ratio baitcast reel is also my choice for cranking medium-diving crankbaits and small finesse crankbaits in cold water. Using a higher speed reel can cause you to wind too fast and overpower the smaller crankbaits. Even when you barely wind a 6.8:1 reel you are reeling it faster than it needs to go for a slow crankbait presentation.
Slowing Down Your Spinnerbait
A low-speed reel is also ideal for slow-rolling a spinnerbait for sluggish bass in cold, murky water. Winding the reel at a medium pace will allow the spinnerbait blade to turn slowly and keep the lure down to bang into the rocky bottom, whereas a high-speed reel turned at the same pace will cause the blade to turn too fast and lift the lure too far off the bottom and out of the bass’ strike zone.