Guide provides hot winter bass action on Juniata
LEWISTOWN — Bass fishing is more than shirts with sponsor patches to rival those worn by NASCAR drivers and 150 mph professionally rigged bass boats.
At least, it is for anglers living in the northeast who try to be on the water a minimum of 10 months out of the year.
For professional fishing guides like Jason Halfpenny, whose Shallow Water Guide Service is based out of his native Lewistown, only a complete ice over on the Juniata River keeps him from busman’s holidays — and booking clients — during the winter months. It matters not to him that the uniform of the day requires layers of clothing that consists of long underwear, turtlenecks, wool sweaters and insulated outerwear.
During the winter Halfpenny’s jet boat is rigged for warmth and comfort in mind, with portable heaters actually making winter bass fishing seem a good — if not normal — activity. And because all bass trips are catch-and-release there is plenty of room on board because there is no need for coolers to keep drinks and sandwiches cold.
“There was a time when many anglers shared a common belief that bass shut down during winter months.” Halfpenny said. “Some even thought the fish go into hibernation, therefore getting them to bite lures was nearly impossible.
“That theory has since been put to rest by Northern anglers who have discovered that winter can be a great time to catch fish, however, it’s not always easy. Winter bass can be a little more fickle, as the feeding periods may not be as prolonged and most of the places and methods that produce during fair weather seasons aren’t as reliable.
“On the upside, the areas where you find wintering bass tend to be a gathering place for lots of them. Understanding seasonal patterns is critical to bass fishing success any time of year, but it is especially important during winter months. And while bass tend to act similarly regardless of the water you fish, those seasonal patterns may vary in different bodies of water.”
Halfpenny said it is important to note that winter cannot be easily defined by time of year or water temperature because there are times Northern anglers begin fishing winter patterns in late or early November, but Southern bass are just beginning to move toward fall haunts. Conversely, a 48-degree surface temperature may appear in the peak of a Northern fall pattern, yet it indicates winter on many Southern waters.
One of the best times to fish a river for winter bass is after a rain because it brings new water into the system. Bass tend to school in area protected from the current and because they prefer to hold shallow there is not a wide range of water temperature in depths between 4-10 feet.
Even the slightest warming trend over a few days is enough to trigger bass activity off banks and in cover. Here again, it is best to target slack water because bass want to conserve energy by not having to battle the current.
Some of the best and often overlooked bass fishing on Northern waters are lakes before they ice up. Even when water temperatures drop into the 30s bass will still hit lures and can often be found holding in deeper water.
Lures that have the appearance of action of small panfish and crawfish are effective because these are the major food sources for bass. Also effective are tube jigs, small blade baits and even spinnerbaits worked slowly and allowed to drop into cover.
“With cold water slowing the metabolism of bass and decrease their need to feed as much it doesn’t mean they will forgo feeding while it is cold,” Halfpenny said. “They will simply feed less, but no matter where they are some will engage in feeding behavior simply at a lower percentage than there would be during warmer times of the year.
“Still, some fish will found that are behaving as they do in summertime, actively pursuing food, willing to chase fast-moving baits, but as a whole, they are not showing that aggressive behavior. In rivers, bass will migrate to sheltered areas to avoid moving water that tends to be colder, but in lakes will move to deeper portions and school-up in the same pockets.”
If bass are to be caught, Halfpenny is up to the challenge in any season. He has no plans, however, to weld an ice-breaking blade on the bow of his boat.
Contact Jason Halfpenny about guided fishing trips at www.shallowwaterguideservice.net.
Doyle Dietz is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.