Original Article Written by Dan Johnson in Our Fall/Winter 2019 Union Sportsmen’s Journal
Quick-trips Can Still Produce Big Fish
When hard-working union members dream of fishing, many envision epic getaways spanning a weekend or more. Unfortunately, extended adventures can be tough to pull off. Carving out a full day on the water can even be a challenge.
No matter your shift or zip code, opportunities abound for quick fishing trips. And there’s no time like the present. The following tips will help make this your best winter yet.
Preparing For Quick-trips & Fast Getaways
“Having everything you need ready and waiting makes it infinitely easier to hit the water on short notice,” says veteran ice and open-water fishing guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. “If it takes you three hours to wrangle gear, your window of opportunity will close before you leave home.”
Brosdahl guides in the Northwoods of Minnesota. He also tours the country conducting fishing clinics, working sportshows and showcasing the wares of top tackle manufacturers including Union Sportsmen’s Alliance national conservation partner Plano Synergy.
Even on the road, he finds time to fish for an hour or two. “I call it the minuteman system,” he says. “Here’s how it works: Limit gear to the bare necessities and keep it ready to go. You won’t be running all over the lake, figuring out different patterns. Quick trips are all about hitting high-percentage hotspots with one or two top techniques. Two or three rods and a basic tackle assortment are perfect. Anything else only slows you down.”
Ice fishing is Brosdahl’s winter strong suit. His hardwater bug-out gear includes a trio of Frabill’s Bro Series spinning or straight line rod-and-reel combos—one each in ultralight panfish, medium- and heavyweight options, to cover everything from jumbo perch and hungry ‘eyes to sag-bellied pike.
He stashes a handful of key lures inside a Plano Edge 3600 utility storage box. The box, his portable sonar, small underwater camera and rods are tucked in a Frabill Sit-N-Fish bucket with Strato Seat cover.
“For fast, easy hole drilling, I use a Milwaukee M18 FUEL brushless, cordless drill paired with 6-inch, convertible auger,” he adds.
Brosdahl hunkers down in a Frabill Sentinel 1100 1-person portable flip-over shelter, though he notes hub-style houses are perfect for outings with family or friends. “Host a few buddies in a hub house after work and you’ll be a hero,” he promises. “Especially when the fish are biting.”
Brosdahl recommends choosing locations wisely. “Pick the best lake in the neighborhood,” he says. “Then hit the best spot on that lake for the conditions and time frame you have available.”
Evening walleye trips do well over small shelves and stairsteps along breaklines, which walleyes follow from deep water up onto shallow feeding flats. High spots on humps can be good, too. Crappies tend to roam deep basins but often gather along structures such as steep walls at the edge of deep holes.
Catching Big Bass in the Winter Season
Top bass fishing pro Justin Atkins, of Florence, Alabama, shares Brosdahl’s appreciation for quick winter getaways, though the surface of his favorite fishing hole is decidedly softer.
“A lot of anglers stow their gear for the season, but you can enjoy some really good bass fishing in the wintertime,” he says. “Four key lures will cover most situations, so you can pack pretty light. The trick is to pay attention to water temperature and know the type of lake you’re fishing.
“Anytime the water temp is above 53 degrees, bass may be actively chasing baitfish,” he continues. “The fish will be high in the water column, even busting bait on top. Don’t be surprised to see bass breaking the surface or birds circling above it.”
What is the best bait to use for winter bass fishing?
In such scenarios, Atkins’ go-to baits include a 3.3- or 3.8-inch Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer, rigged on a ¼- or 3/8-ounce jig with a 2/0 to 3/0 hook. When bass and baitfish churn the ceiling of their underwater world, he swims the lure at a steady, brisk pace, just below the surface. Slower surface action dictates a deeper retrieve, typically at the bottom of the baitfish school, above the noses of the hungry bass lurking below.
“If bass follow the bait to the boat but don’t bite, try spicing up the retrieve with pauses and bursts of speed,” he notes.
Atkins also throws the Berkley J-Walker on top. “It’s a classic walk-the-dog topwater,” he says. “It’s a blast to fish when bass are actively breaking. Cast it out, point the rod down, and move the tip six to 10 inches per walk. Keep the bait moving at a pretty fast pace; you don’t want the bass to get too good a look at it.”
Interestingly, Atkins never sets the hook when a bass strikes the J-Walker. “I use 30-pound-test Berkley x5 superbraid on a 6-foot, 10-inch, medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier casting rod for topwaters,” he says. “On this gear, the bass basically hooks itself, and the cadence of my retrieve drives the hook home.”
Where is the best place to fish bass during the winter?
Water temperatures below 53 degrees tend to push bass deeper. “They set up along bottom in places where the baitfish come to them, like the deepest part of a pocket or channel swing,” says Atkins. “In river-run systems with a little current, anything that breaks the flow, like a laydown tree or rocks, can be bass magnets. Fish the current seam between slick and slack water.”
Atkin’s favorite deep threats include a 6-inch Berkley PowerBait Bottom Hopper Worm on a ¼-ounce shaky head jig, and a 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw on a ½-ounce, compact skirted jig. He typically drags both baits along bottom. “In current, cast upstream and let the flow wash your jig back downstream,” he says. “Move the rodtip from the 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock position, with a little bow in the line so you can see light bites—which you often won’t feel because the bass is swimming toward you.”
With all techniques, Atkins advises experimenting with speed and cadence until the fish let you know what they prefer at the moment. “Once you figure it out, you can catch as many bass as you want,” he says.