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DOCK TALK: Winter freshwater Fishing



But not you, you are the die hard, the rare breed, the one who is going fishing despite what that weather app, or your friends, or your own foggy breath tells you. Winter fishing is challenging. There is no way around it. The cold makes everything harder. For our friends in the north, it even makes your water harder, I’m looking at you ice fishing heroes.

But yours is a tale for another day. Today, we will focus on fishing in areas where merely being outside during the winter doesn’t make you second guess every decision you’ve ever made. It won’t be easy, but don’t worry, we are here to help. 

Now before you go trudging out into the elements let’s make sure you are prepared. We can’t talk cold weather fishing gear without talking about layers. Dressing in layers will allow you to adapt to any change in the weather you may experience throughout the day. Make sure you have a base layer that will wick sweat from your skin. Your mid layer will be your insulating layer that will retain body heat. Finally, your outer layer will shield you from any wind, snow, or rain. And don’t forget the waders for those of you brave enough to wade into the icy depths this season.

When it comes to winter fishing, patience and skill are paramount. Fish are cold-blooded animals and as temperatures drop their metabolism slows and bites can at times be few and far between. There are a few species that will allow you to scratch that itch and even provide some catch and cook opportunities. Bring home the bacon! Or, well, the fish anyway. Today we are going to focus on trout, crappie, walleye, pike, and bass. 

Let’s start with trout. When trout fishing in winter it is key to adjust tactics from what is done during the warmer months. Leave those aggressive gun slinger techniques at home. Time of day is key here. Unlike spring and summer where dawn and dusk are key hours, when winter trout fishing, you will want to try your luck during the warmest part of the day. Once on the water, look for deep, slow-moving pools. Fish will congregate here as the slower moving water allows them to exert less energy in their lethargic state. Ease of the chase is the name of the game. So, for your best trout bait, keep those inline spinners (rooster tails), spoons, and jigs moving slowly an inch from their face. Once you have corralled your limit, head home to fry, bake, or broil your well-earned feast.

Next up is a catch and cook favorite, crappie. These delicious little creatures are as fun to catch as they are to eat, putting up a great pound for pound fight. Your winter fishing gear will stay the same so bring that light/ultra-light spinning combo with a slow to moderate action. You may also want to tie on some lighter line to be a bit more subtle. Crappie, like the rest of the fish on this list, are going to have to be convinced to exert energy during these colder months. A slow presentation with your standard crappie jigs should be enough to draw them out. When winter crappie fishing, try hitting the water at dusk with the help of changing light conditions. Now break out the oil because it's time to pan fry, deep fry (cough cough, the best way), bake, or grill those bad boys. 

Next on this winter fishing excursion is walleye. If they are not on your list yet, ask your walleye fishing buddy to try a filet that has been snatched out of the chilly water and we promise you, they will be. Not immune to reduced metabolism, you will once again want to slow down your approach when targeting winter walleye. Most will be hanging out near the bottom around structure. Think of boulders, weed beds, and fallen timber. When casting for walleye, size down and attach a minnow or nightcrawler and slowly retrieve your bait ensuring it stays along the bottom. Throw in a twitch here and there for good measure to try and draw that reaction strike. 

On to pike. When open water winter pike fishing you will mostly want to locate weed lines, points, and steep drop offs in your local bodies of water. If fishing rivers, you will most likely find pike in deep backwater eddies (an area of swirling water behind an obstacle in a river that reverses direction). Your best chance of landing that large winter pike will involve using crankbaits, inline spinners (rooster tails) and soft plastics. Regardless of which you choose, be sure the retrieve is as slow as possible, often with pauses so your bait looks like an easy target. While pike are edible, we would not recommend making a meal of them due to the difficulty associated with the cleaning and preparation. 

Time to talk about winter bass fishing. To have the best shot at that big winter bass you will want to hang around dropoffs in larger bodies of water and in slack current areas in rivers. Along with keeping things slow, it is also best practice to downsize. That means lighter line and smaller lures. You want to convince that bass that what you are offering is an easy meal with absolute minimal effort on their part.

Jerkbaits, dropshots, jigs, and slow-rolling spinnerbaits will provide the best opportunity to catch those winter bass. It should also be mentioned that if you are not planning to keep the fish, be sure to follow catch and release best practices and don’t have the fish out of water any longer than necessary. 

Well, there you have it folks. Trout, crappie, walleye, pike, and bass. Five different fish you can target this winter to help battle that cabin fever. Whether they end up on a wall, or on a plate, it's all about making memories. So, get out there, have fun, and be safe. 

Oh, and don’t forget! We should all be good stewards of the fisheries we enjoy. Please abide by all local laws and regulations that have been put in place to ensure we can all continue to enjoy this amazing lifestyle for generations to come. 

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Shawn Smith, Author, Pure Fishing


Shawn Smith is a native of Northwest Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia. An avid outdoorsman, he was introduced to fishing as a child and has spent the better part of the last 25 years with a rod in hand while venturing throughout the United States. As the Ecommerce Marketing Manager for Pure Fishing, Shawn is able to put his passion into practice while sharing his knowledge and love for the sport with others.

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