winter bass fishing
Here’s what to do when lunkers hit the nitrous button. Courtesy Flickr/USFWS Mountain-Prairie

It’s not very often that a largemouth or smallmouth will completely overpower you like, say, a huge bonefish on a fly rod or a massive salmon hooked in a small river. But big bass do hit the nitrous button on occasion and can be hard to stop, especially when your gear is scaled down. Early winter is one of those times of the year that this always seems to happen to me. I usually arrive at the lake equipped with light line and small baits as my primary means of extracting a few bass. But the extracting part becomes a little tough when the 6-pounder hooked on 6-pound line feels like a freight train headed the opposite direction of the boat. That’s when you have to ask yourself if you chase the fish or let it run far out.

I’m a big proponent of getting a fish to the boat as quickly as possible and trying my best to keep it within a reasonably close proximity. That said, there’s a fine line between acting quickly and being overpowering with light tackle, which will just result in a lost trophy. That’s where I feel the chase comes into play. If you want to land a big salmon or bonefish that overpowers you out of the gate, you often have to go where it goes. The same goes for a big bass, which is why I get on the trolling motor right away when a fish puts the screws to me.

The shorter the distance between you and the fish, the better your ability to control that fish and steer it away from dangerous obstructions like dock pilings or tree limbs. You also have a better chance of changing its mind about a jump by burying the rod tip if you feel it jetting toward the surface. You’re also more likely to keep positive tension on the fish if it decides to run right at you. The trick, however, to the chase is remembering to keep up the tension as you move toward the bass. Don’t let the rod tip get too far above your head as you panic to reel slack in. That just means you’re advancing too fast. Find the balance between reeling speed and trolling motor speed, and you’ll put the fish in the boat.