If you’ve read articles like this, you know that I am a believer in the chatterbait. It’s a top 5 bait for me in almost any condition and always catches great fish.
But like many baits, the chatterbait works best in spring and fall. You can even use it in summer with some success. But what about the dead of winter when the water is ice cold?
The short answer is no, you shouldn’t use a chatterbait in winter or cold water. Fish are not active enough to chase bait which means a chatterbait is not likely to be effective. But you can fish a chatterbait in a way to make it suitable for winter conditions – keep reading and learn exactly how!
What most fish do in winter
First lets start by talking about what all fish do in winter and cold water.
Fish are cold-blooded, meaning their body temperature is regulated by the temperature around them. When it’s hot, their body temperature rises which makes them much more likely to swim around. When it’s cold, their body temperature lowers and they don’t move much.
This means that bass and the like aren’t going to be chasing around baitfish like they do in the summer or fall. They’re much more likely to hang out in deep water where there is still some warmth and sit there until spring comes and the water warms.
Of course bass still have to eat though, they don’t just hibernate. Predators will feed heavily in fall to prepare for winter. But they don’t just stop eating completely when it gets cold.
Instead, bass feed more heavily on crayfish and other slower moving creatures that live in the bottom of lakes in deep water. Eating crawdads don’t require the energy expended to chase around bait fish.
And they will eat some bait fish too – remember the bait fish also are moving slower. So if a stray bait fish ends up in deep water with a bass they’ll still use their limited energy to eat it.
Why a normal chatterbait retrieve doesn't work in cold water
So now you might be thinking – well a chatterbait can mimic both crayfish and baitfish. Why isn’t it a good bait in winter?
The answer is that a chatterbait is a mimic of an ACTIVE crawdad or baitfish. Not one moving slow because the cold water has lowered their body temperatures.
Bass won’t be feeding on the bait fish that are moving around a bunch. Or crayfish jumping around the bottom. They’re looking for slow moving bait. A typical chatterbait retrieve doesn’t move slow enough.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t fish it slow
How to fish a chatterbait in winter
This is where we get into how you can make a chatterbait work in Winter. You just have to think about how to fish it a little bit differently.
Instead of a constant reeling pattern to mimic a baitfish moving through the water, you have to change up your retrieve. You have to make it mimic a crawfish on the bottom of the water moving slowly instead.
The reason for this is simple – a chatterbait sinks. If you want to mimic a baitfish standing still in water, you’ll have to go for something that suspends. Which is why jerkbaits work so well in cold water.
So first thing to know when fishing a chatterbait in cold water is you’re mimicking a crayfish – not a bait fish. That changes a lot in itself.
Chatterbait trailers in cold water
First, it lets you know you need to use trailers that mimic crayfish. Throw out your swimbait trailers and get your craws out instead!
But specifically you want to get your craw soft plastics that don’t have a ton of action. I’m a believer in rage tail plastics, but this is not one of those cases where you want to pull something out with claws that move a ton and create lots of movement in the water.
Remember – it’s cold. Everything in the lake is moving noticeably slower. So is it natural to have a crayfish with its claws flipping around like crazy? Nope. A bass will notice that and not bite.
Instead go for a trailer like the Netbait paca craw which has a very subtle movement that matches the condition. You want to mimic a craw just barely moving in the bottom of the water.
Color is a factor here too. Crawdads don’t normally get their bright orange and green colors until the sun comes out in summer. They are much darker in the middle of winter – so stick with dark colors. Black and blue is my favorite.
How to work a chatterbait in winter
Now you have your chatterbait ready with a good craw soft plastic trailer. But how can you fish a chatterbait and make it seem more like a cold-water crayfish?
Put most simply, you’re going to need to fish your chatterbait like a jig.
After all, a chatterbait is basically just a jig with a metal blade coming off it’s head. That blade just creates a little bit of vibration which can get a bass’s attention.
So throw a chatterbait out into the deeper parts of your lake and let it fall all the way to the bottom. Then move it very, very slowly across the bottom of the lake.
Almost painfully slow. You don’t ever want to move it quickly enough you lose contact with the bottom. It should just look like a crawdad slowly walking across the lake.
This is absolutely not the most fun way to catch fish – and you’re going to freeze waiting for a fish to bite. But when it does, hold on. Cause it’s a great way to catch giant winter bass.
As the water starts to warm just a little or maybe you have had a more mild winter, you can experiment with moving the chatterbait more quickly. Even small hops that make the chatterbait head do it’s action. The added vibration can bring bass into the area.
But if it’s the middle of winter or extremely cold – keep it slow and don’t worry about making that chatterbait do it’s normal action. It’s not needed and will scare off more bass than attract them.
Considerations for fishing a chatterbait in winter
So if you’re fishing a chatterbait like a jig, why not just throw out all your jigs and only fish chatterbaits since they’re so versatile?
Chatterbait heads are much more likely to get stuck on the bottom of a lake. In winter, bass can be in brush piles in the deepest part of the lake. Throw a chatterbait in them and see how many casts it takes before you’re stuck. My guess will be one.
It’s why fishing a chatterbait in winter is not ideal. I do want to make that clear. But if you don’t have a jig or really want to fish a chatterbait for some reason, you can do it.
Just be careful to not throw a chatterbait somewhere it could get stuck easily. Or admit that you’re just going to lose some.
I’m not going to suggest you purposefully try fishing a chatterbait this winter. It’s just not the best bait you can use. Instead, tie on a jig or a jerkbait and use something that matches the conditions.
But, if you have to use a chatterbait for whatever reason you can catch bass on it even in the dead of winter. Just make sure you’re using a craw soft plastic trailer and fishing it extremely slowly. It will still catch you cold water bass if you do!
Read this article for more information on chatterbaits including which ones you should purchase!