Winter Fishing Tips and Tactics
Fishing through the winter months can be very rewarding for a number of reasons. Cold temperatures keep fair-weather anglers home and hunting seasons lead many anglers to trade lakes for the woods. Winter is also the time of year when most freshwater species group up. The result: more fish for cold-weather anglers. During the coolest months of the year, preparation, research, and the proper tackle can make for memorable fishing trips.
Pick the Perfect Spot
The first step in a successful fishing trip, no matter what species is being targeted, is to know where to go. The internet has a wealth of useful tools to guide anglers to fishing meccas. Department of Natural Resources or Wildlife and Fisheries are great resources for information about local lakes, and will detail what types of fish they have to offer, what times of the year provide the best angling for certain species, and any creel limits.
If the impoundment is run by the Corps of Engineers, they provide lake levels and current flow predictions. Both conditions can affect safety and success. Very high lakes or ones experiencing overflow conditions will limit your chances, especially during cold-water months. Avoid a lake or river with high current or predictions for high current. Not only will the fishing be difficult, but elevated currents can also be dangerous and generate debris in the waterway. Look for lakes and rivers that are in normal winter condition and have a stable or natural current.
Find the Right Time to Go
While many of us have to plan fishing around work schedules, the weather is another consideration. A look at the forecast can narrow down which days will be more productive. Keep in mind that, while the best fishing conditions may not be the most comfortable for anglers, some conditions are sure to improve catching odds. Weather fronts affect the activity level of all freshwater species. In general, fish are more active prior to a front and less active after it. Whenever possible, optimize your chances by planning fishing trips just prior to the passing of a cold front. Since, however, most anglers are limited to fishing on the weekends, regardless of the weather conditions, here are some tips for fishing post-front conditions.
Low barometric pressure always precedes a front. After the front passes through, the barometric pressure will be high, bringing winds from the north or northeast and preventing clouds from forming in the sky. This will create picturesque days but not always the most fruitful fishing conditions. The bright sun, however, can be used to anglers’ advantage. During winter months the sun’s global position is further south in the sky. This allows it to shine very strongly on northern banks. A northern bank also prevents the cold, north wind from hitting the water. Wind protection and bright sun mean the water will warm faster during the day in these areas. For this reason, concentrate efforts on these northern bank lines.
During the winter, the best fish-catching times are typically between 10 am and 4 pm. That’s not to say a couple won’t bite at daybreak and dusk – they will just be few and far between. Take the opportunity to sleep in and enjoy a more comfortable fishing experience with the warming day.
Gather Your Equipment
In general, winter fishing puts extra strain on fishing equipment. After determining where to go, make sure all your equipment is up to the task. To start, make sure the reels are in good working order. A reel bearing that was noisy or stiff under warmer conditions will completely fail in the cold. Old grease and oil will thicken, making reels difficult to use. To prevent frustration, clean and lubricate them. That way, when the perfect fish is hooked, you’ll be able to land it. If you’re not comfortable disassembling and cleaning reels, repair shops will perform this service for around $25 a reel – money well spent.