Whatever species of fish you most like to catch, following these suggestions can help you become more effective with the catching part.
Winter fishing is different. Simple as that. And if you don’t adjust for the season, winter can seem like a bad time to fish. The truth is, though, that winter fishing can be very good. You just have to account for changes the season brings.
Winter and the cold water it delivers can actually provide potential advantages. It reduces the size of most fish’s comfort zone and the amount of area with good feeding conditions. While that makes a lot of water less productive, it concentrates fish and makes their behavior more predictable.
Here are five practical tips to help you deal with winter’s angling challenges and to maximize opportunities to catch fish.
Watch Temperatures Variances
A water temperature variance of only a couple of degrees can make a major difference in the number of fish that use an area and how likely those fish are to feed. If you’re fishing from a boat and have the benefit of temperature gauge on your electronics, pay careful attention to water temperature as you move from area to area and even as you work your way up a flat or back in a cove and concentrate on the warmest water you can find.
Even if you’re walking the bank or fishing from a small boat, with no electronics, you can carry a thermometer. You’ll find them with fly gear at tackle retailers as trout fishermen commonly check water temperatures to gauge the likely activity level of trout and likeliness of various insect hatches.
With or without an actual temperature reading, you can make great gains simply by thinking about areas that are apt to be a bit warmer and planning strategies accordingly.
Warm-water discharges from power plants and other industry are obvious “hotspots” that hold more fish all winter. Also consider creek and river inflows and rainwater drainages and whether water coming in is likely to be cooler or warmer than the main lake. Think about the areas that get the most sun exposure, especially shallow stumpy flats and banks lined with sun-soaking riprap. Also consider that stained water warms faster than clear water when the sun is shining.
Specific areas vary by waterway and conditions. The key is to be intentional about thinking about temperatures and how they are apt to vary.
Go Later & Stay Later
Fishermen like to hit the water early, and usually this approach has great virtue. Winter is the exception, though. While you certainly can catch fish early and getting an early start can give you more time on the water, the fact is that the water is usually the coolest early in the morning, and the fish don’t like the early morning cold much better than people do.
Often, mid-winter fishing will get better a couple of hours into the morning, and fish will get more aggressive as the day warms. Even if the day remains cold, if the sun is shining on the water, that warms shallow areas.
Significantly, water temperatures change much slower than air temperatures. Therefore, even though the outside air often begins cooling again late in the afternoon, the water temperature typically remains around the warmest mark it has hit until after dark. Therefore, if you want to abbreviate the day in any way, it’s much better to cut time off the early part of the day than the end of the day.
Soften the Action
Fish are cold blooded, as are most things they eat. Both aspects add virtue to slower retrieves and softer, more subdued presentations. We’ll acknowledge that certain conditions call for reaction-trigging baits and presentations, even when the water is cold. As a rule, though, going light on action will entice more bites this time of year.
Winter temperatures slow the fish you are targeting. They don’t need to eat as frequently, and therefore are less competitive. They also won’t waste energy chasing anything very far. So, unless you can trigger a strike when the lure passes very close to a fish’s ambush point, a fast-moving lure typically will be rejected.
As importantly, baitfish, crawfish and other critters move slowly this time of year. Therefore, the same hard kick, erratic dart or fast swimming action that would trigger strikes at other times is like a red flag to the fish that something is not right.
Repeat Successful Casts
When you catch a fish or even when you miss a strike, repeat the exact cast and presentation before moving. That fish was there for a reason, and the same warm spot, current-breaking cover or ambush point might hold more fish. After that, work the immediate area before going far.
Repeating a cast is typically good fishing advice and a step that anglers too frequently overlook. It becomes extra important during winter, though, because the smaller comfort zone for most sportfish and congregations of batfish cause fish to stack up more than they do at most other times.
Sometimes that’s an entire cove or other broad area, caused by a warm spot or a big school of baitfish. Often, though, it’s a more specific bottom feature that provides concealment, causes an eddy or otherwise creates a prime holding spot for predators, and that key area might not be obvious from the surface, or it might appear similar to other cover you have been fishing.
Dress for Success
“Dress for success” might not sound like a fishing tip, but it is. In fact, it’s an important tip! Winter fishing is cold, by nature. Often very cold and sometimes cold and wet. When you start getting cold, it’s tough to turn things around, and typically you just get colder.
That often means thinking more about your discomfort than fish behavior and locations and lure presentations, and cold hands commonly affect execution of casts and presentations. Those factors result in lost efficiency and reduced opportunities to catch fish, and, ultimately, cold commonly brings a premature end to a fishing trip.
A few practical considerations, none of which are likely new but all of which are important to remember are to dress in layers; give extra attention to your hands, feet and head; and, if ANY wetness is in the forecast, be certain your outer layer is legitimately waterproof!
Looking specifically at hands, which are so important to your overall warmth, the warmest gloves in the world do minimal good if you can’t keep them on and fish efficiently. My go-to solution is a pair of fingerless gloves and handwarmers in my coat pocket to use as needed to warm my fingertips.
4 Fabulous Winter Lures