When the water is cold, it’s a key time to consider lighter line, smaller baits and finesse tactics when the fish aren’t aggressive.

Because of the water temperature, the bite can be very subtle. A lot of anglers struggle with that because the bite can be hard to detect. Oftentimes the bass spit out the bait before they realize it.

I’ve seen it happen when I’m catching fish and less experienced anglers aren’t. It’s not because they weren’t getting bites, but rather they weren’t recognizing them.

If you’re one of those anglers, I have some suggestions on how you can sharpen those skills.

This may surprise you, but panfishing is a great way to develop a better feel for bites. I use light line while fishing for panfish through all months of the year. It’s taught me a lot.

Panfish are delicate biters, especially in cold water. They have taught me the importance of line watching and how to detect those not-so-obvious bites – knowledge I have parlayed into my finesse bass fishing.

Obviously, when the fish are aggressive you feel the tell-tale taps through your rod. But that isn’t always the case.

Lethargic, cold-water fish will suck in a bait and may not move enough to send a signal up your rod. You have to watch for subtle clues before they reject the bait.

I’ve seen that many times when ice fishing with a highly sensitive spring bobber.

When panfishing in open water and tiny tube baits, I use the wind to my advantage. I will hold the rod slightly above me and turn a bit into the wind where it puts a slight bow in the line and I can watch it closely.

The same strategy applies when fishing a jig on 20- pound line. The bite isn’t always a line jumper. You have to learn to see, or even feel, those delicate bites.

There are spongy bites that occur in vegetation that may feel like weeds but are actually a bite. There are times the weight of the bait suddenly vanishes when you pick up slack, an indication a bass has grabbed it and swam at you. Again, line watching can help.

I always set the hook when unsure. That doesn’t mean I use a bone-jarring hookset for finesse baits, but I do a reel/pull set until the rod loads. I reel up slack until I feel what’s at the end of the line and sweep gently the side if I think a fish has it. That’s my favorite way of setting the hook on most finesse plastics.

Rods matter, too. I use a longer, medium action, high modulus Lew’s spinning rod, say 7-2 to 7-6, with good backbone but a soft tip. It not only enhances bite detection and hooksets, but I can cast lighter baits farther.

In most finesse situations, I spool my reels with bright-colored, small diameter braid and tie a long, small diameter fluorocarbon leader on the business end. The bright-colored braid makes line detection easier; the longer leader is imperative because of the clear water, but also because it doesn’t hinder the fall or action of a finesse bait.

The braid/fluorocarbon combination has minimal stretch and provides better feel than monofilament. You also get more direct hooksets without having to use a power hookset.

Learning to identify bites through line watching can be as important as being able to feel them. Don’t underestimate what you can learn from fishing light tackle for panfish and how it will make you a more productive bass angler.