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Winter Redfish and Bass Fishing in the Delta with Cliff Pace

Another tournament season is about to kick off for Bassmaster Classic and MLF Bass Pro Champion Cliff Pace, but before he hits the road, Cliff is doing what he loves the most – winter fishing in the Delta for redfish and bass. Check out some suggestions from TFO Advisor Cliff Pace on how to maximize your time on the water this winter.

TFO: Talk about your fishery back home and why winter fishing is one of your favorite times of year to fish.

CP: Winter fishing back home has always been special to me. To me, home is considered the coastal deltas along Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s where I grew up and learned to fish.

There are several advantages for fishing in the Delta in the winter. First, like many places, there is less boat traffic and fishing pressure in the winter. Unlike other times of year, you can go out and have a day to yourself and just enjoy the solitude that the great outdoors has to offer. Winter is also the easiest time of year to fish (to me), if you understand it well.

During the winter, there’s obviously going to be cold fronts that come through. Cold fronts can be detrimental to the fishing. When it comes to tidal fisheries and cold fronts, some of the Northwest winds that stem from the fronts actually blow the tides out to their lowest points. What that does, essentially, is it bunches up fish from hundreds of thousands of acres of shallow water into whatever deeper water that is nearby by for them. It’s the best time of year to target fish that tend to group up.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Locating Fish in Winter

It can be a little bit difficult to locate fish in the winter. They aren’t as scattered out and you really need to find those precise locations where they group up. Once you get them dialed in, you can essentially have a chance at catching all the fish in that area within a square mile.

So to me – it’s that time of the year where those fish are going to pull to a little bit deeper water. They’re going to be bunched up on really hard spots – anything that’s in the water from a curb standpoint – maybe some grass that’s a little deeper than anything in the area.

When I say “deep” I’m not talking about 20-30 feet deep. I’m referring to water that is 4-7 feet deep. That might be the deepest water in an area.

The other aspect is a lot of our fishes’ food source is actually salt water based. We have shrimp and other food sources that migrate into the marsh in the fall and in the summer. These winter cold fronts push all those food sources back out into the gulf.

You have these fish that have bunched up that don’t have a meal sitting around the corner just waiting for them. It just makes them very susceptible to be caught. It makes it easy for the angler.

There are many situations where areas that contain bass will also have redfish, and will also contain speckled trout, flounder, and lot of varieties of other species. You can catch all these different types of species in the water in an area the size of your truck.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter Set Ups

TFO: Talk about the your favorite setups for fishing in the winter.

CP: There are two main techniques for me when fishing during the winter on the Delta: one is a crankbait, and the other is a jig. You can pretty much take those two techniques and get a fish to bite when you find those concentrated locations of fish.

Winter Crankbait Set-Up

Typically, I’m fishing crankbaits on a Tactical Elite Bass 7′ Medium Cranking Rod (TLE LW 70CB-1). I’m fishing relatively smaller baits for targeting those 3-8 feet depth range areas where the fish can be concentrated. I’m usually using a 12lb test line.

For baits, I usually go with Black Label baits. I also really like the flat sided baits – especially when the water is really clear. If I’m in a situation where I want something that has a little bit more feel or noise to it in dirtier water conditions, I’ll often times use some of the Jackall baits.

Winter Jig Set-Up

As mentioned earlier, water this time of year is really low, so typically your shorelines are mud banks with basically nothing up shallow to target fish. You’re normally fishing little hard spots.

Therefore, for my jig setup in the winter, I’m casting (rather than flipping) a jig. I’m using the Tactical Elite Bass 747 (TLE SC 747-1) with 15lb test line.

I usually go with one of my V&M jigs – something subtle rather than a jig that has more kick or flap to it. I’ll pair it up with a chunk style trailer. The weight of the jig is usually somewhere between 3/8 oz. and 1/2 oz. depending on the depth I’m fishing and the tidal flow we have that day.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Positioning the Boat For Maximizing Success

TFO: What other tips do you have for making the most of your time on the water in winter?

CP: It’s important to position the boat in a way that you can present the bait to the fish with the tidal flow. I’ve found it definitely makes a difference more so on these lethargic fish than what it might on other times of the year. Presentation anytime of the year can be everything.

Once you learn an area and know where the fish are positioned, it is important to set up (to me) on the downstream side if possible, and fish your way towards the fish upstream. Typically, those fish are going to be facing upstream. These fish are very tough. They’re going to be on something like a hard spot or a piece of cover – it could be anything.

After you catch one, nine times out of ten, there’s more than one there. If you’re fishing with the current and you catch a fish, by the time you unhook that fish and release it and fix your gear – the current is either directing you right on top of or past that location. So, by fishing into the current, you can catch a fish while holding you boat position, and you can make the same cast twenty or thirty more times if you need to in order to fully maximize the potential of that spot without disrupting it.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter’s End

TFO: When does the winter season typically transition into spring for you? What are signs that you look for or notice on the water?

CF: Every year is different, but there’s always a drop dead date when this stops. I’ve seen it end as early as the first of February, and I’ve seen it as late as March. It just depends on what Mother Nature gives us.

Spring fishing revolves around when these fish decide to move up and spawn. Other factors include the length of the day, as well as weather patterns (temperature, precipitation, etc.). A lot of fish will spawn based on the moon.

Photo: Cliff Pace

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for early Spring tactics!

 

How to Fish for Winter Bass

Largemouth bass are known as a warm-water species, but this is not to say you should pass on winter fishing. TFO Ambassador and two-time junior world bassmaster champion Joey Nania provides six tips to make your time on the water more productive during those chilly stretches.

Expand Your Strategy by Going Deep

“I would say one of the biggest mistakes people make is not being versatile in the winter. On any given day of fishing, whether it’s winter, spring or summer or fall, there are a lot of fish that are shallow and there are a lot of fish that are deep. Deep-water winter fishing is one of the more forgotten techniques. What a lot of guys do is fish a crankbait and a jerk bait, and those are two techniques that always I have ready to go in the winter time, and the little SR 7 shad rapper, crawdad color, is a great crankbait. Also (I use) a jerk bait. A jerk bait is a great way to catch them shallow. In the winter time, I always give those shallow fish a chance.

But a lot of times with your numbers, a lot of times where your bass are living is out deep. Learning how to fish deep is important for fishing success throughout the year, because shallow fish do not bite every day. No doubt about it. You can catch them up shallow, but normally you’re not going to catch a ton of fish. You’re not going to get a consistent bite or numbers. The majority of the population is deep.”

Lures to Use and Where to Fish for Bass

“For deep fishing, there’s a couple different baits I like to use. One of the main ones is a 6th Sense Divine Underspin, with a fluke-style bait on the back of it. That’s good to be slow rolled on the bottom for deep schools, and then my second favorite is the bass Underspin and Nedmiki rig. The Nedmiki is (for) a vertical technique.”

Structure. Structure. Structure.

“What I do is use my depth finder. The key in the winter and the summer when it’s warmer is bass are going to be holding in current-oriented places in the structure. They’ll be right on the brush pile or right on the tip of the point or right on the brink of the ledge. But in the winter time, they lay in the holes and depressions and pretty much in the valleys and troughs between structures. They lay in the deeper holes, because that’s a softer bottom, a mud bottom and they’ll lay out there in the cold with their bellies in the mud and they eat shad. I like to locate those fish with my Underspin fan-casting in those deep holes and deep depressions. I’m talking 16, 17 out to 25 feet deep. A lot of times it will be near a creek channel, but a lot of the times, they won’t be on a creek channel, they’ll be in holes in the pocket, in the deepest part of the pocket, something like that, a pre-spawn staging deal.”

Use Your Technology

“The easiest way to find these fish is with your depth finder using your side imaging looking for those white dots. In the summer when I’m graphing deep, I like to use my down imaging. I still use my side imaging, but the down imaging shows me where those schools are sitting. In the winter, those schools will be scattered 5, 10 feet apart. It’s harder to see them on the down imaging, but on the side imaging you’ll see fifty to a hundred dots between two pieces of structure pretty much with high spots on the bottom.”

Pay attention to Water Temperature

“They pretty much do the same thing all year long. It just gets a little bit tougher. The colder the water is the less they’ll eat because their metabolism is slower. The colder the water the slower it will be. That’s why it’s important to do that vertical fishing out deep. You’ve got to drop a Nedmiki or Damiki rig or a jig head with a minnow. You’ve got to drop it right on their head and jiggle it in front of their nose. It’s really important to have a sensitive rod when you’re doing that. It’s important to feel those bites. I’d say it’s important to have a (TFO) 6-9 GTS Tactical, Drop-Shot rod, medium light. You want that light, soft rod for vertical fishing. It’s almost ice fishing from your boat. You’re pretty much ice fishing. You’re vertically dropping it on their head, and a lot of times once you catch one, more fish will come into the area to investigate.”

Patience Pays and Here’s Why

“Their feeding zones are a lot smaller. They’re not going to feed all day long like they do in the hotter months. It’s going to be a narrower window, when they actually do eat. The key is finding those places the fish are using and looking for life and activity using your graph. The other way you can find fish is birds. If you see birds diving in a certain area and you look on your graph and see if their diving between two holes or whatever. I look for that a lot. But when the water temperature gets down to 48 (degrees) or so you don’t see as much of that bird activity, either.

“I still think the winter bite is really good in the morning time, but in the afternoon, there always seems to be a spike (in feeding too). In the winter, if you have a front pushing in and you can get out there pre front, those fish will feed a little better. That barometric pressure makes a difference than it does in other times of year. If you’ve got a good day with a front pushing in, that can be really important. Wind can push those fish a lot, too, if the wind blows and moves the water and bait fish, those fish might hold closer to wind-blown structure.”