Most fish are cold-blooded, which means their body temperature is regulated by the surrounding water. In fact, some fish prefer cold winter water to spring and summer. If you can stand the winter cold there are many species of fish waiting for you but you need to follow some advice from the guys that are on the ocean and on the lake’s ice no matter how cold it is because fishing won’t wait till Spring. What do you need to know for Cold Water Fishing?
- The Species of Fish you’re fishing for
- The Fish’s preferred H2O Temperature
- Know the Fish’s location in the Water Column
- What baits to use
- To use smaller 2-3″ Bait size
- The best Waders to use in winter
- How to layer your clothing to keep warm
- How to retrieve a lure in colder water to be successful
In the world of Winter Fishing not only is the water colder the fish use a type of hibernation that lots of animals use to get through the coldest of temperatures which will slow down their metabolism but they still move and they still eat making them a viable target on the ocean or the lake. Like they say “Any day on the water fishing is better than a day not on the water fishing” Let me get an Amen on that!
Winter Freshwater Fishing
For many years I did what every other fisherman did in cold water months stopped and waited for warmer weather. Ice Fishing demands a lot of expensive fishing equipment for spending time on a lake. As for the shore, or surf, the elements along with the wind coming off the ocean can make for extreme conditions. There is plenty of fish that can be taken during the winter months on lakes rivers or open ocean water if you can handle the cold temperatures then you have graduated to an extreme Angler.
Because some fish are cold-blooded, fish of different species react differently once the water temperature drops in the winter. For cold weather anglers, that’s even more distinct, as there are species like bass that virtually shut down once the lake freezes over.
Crappie-is a fish that is well adapted to frigid temperatures in a lake. It has to have an exact perfect combination of fertility, cover, and abundant forage, along with anglers willing to let a few grow. The crappie is a popular North American panfish related to the Sunfish There are two closely related species: the white crappie, and the black crappie. Despite the names, black and white crappies are similar in color, ranging from dark olive to black on top, with silvery sides and black blotches and stripes. The pattern of the dark blotches is different between the subspecies.
Northern Pike-The northern pike is a species of carnivorous fish of the genus Esox. They are typical of the brackish and fresh waters of the Northern Hemisphere. They are known simply as a pike in Britain, Ireland, and most of Eastern Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Walleye-The walleye also called the yellow pike or yellow pickerel is a freshwater perciform fish native to most of Canada and to the Northern United States. It is a North American close relative of the European zander, also known as the pikeperch.
Trout-Trout is a species of freshwater fish belonging to the genera Oncorhynchus, Salmo, and Salvelinus, all of the subfamily Salmoninae of the family Salmonidae. The word trout is also used as part of the name of some non-salmonid fish such as Cynoscion nebulosus, the spotted seatrout, or speckled trout. The most popular or at least one of the most popular freshwater fish.
Winter Saltwater Fishing
Striped bass: Year-round open season. Be careful where you fish for these fish; there is no closed season for saltwater striped bass in state waters, but it is illegal to possess saltwater striped bass in federal waters. Striped Bass, is also called Atlantic striped bass, striper, linesider, rock, or rockfish, is an anadromous perciform fish of the family Moronidae found primarily along the Atlantic coast of North America. It has also been widely introduced into inland recreational fisheries across the United States. Striped Bass found in the Gulf of Mexico is a separate strain referred to as Gulf Coast striped bass.
Winter flounder-Open season from March 1 to December 31, but these fish are typically found in New Jersey between November and May. The Winter Flounder, also known as the black back, is a right-eyed flatfish of the family Pleuronectidae. It is native to coastal waters of the western north Atlantic coast, from Labrador, Canada to Georgia, United States, although it is less common south of Delaware Bay. Baits, including bloodworms, clam, shrimp, and squid, should be fished on the bottom. Available all winter long. Using a chum pot or a device to stir up the bottom will often improve your success
Cod-Cod inhabits deep, offshore wrecks and reefs, usually during the colder seasons. Cod are generally taken on bait (clams or cut bait) on or near the bottom, but, at times, they can be enticed with a jig. Cod is popular as a food with a mild flavor and a dense, flaky, white flesh. Physically, the Atlantic Cod and its close relatives are noted for being the only group of fishes that have three distinct dorsal fins (along the back) and two distinct anal fins (along the ventral surface). Atlantic cod spend most of their time on or near the seafloor sometimes coming up the water column.
Mackeral- Atlantic mackerel is iridescent blue-green on the back with a silvery-white underbelly. They have 20 to 30 wavy black bars that run across the top half of their body, and a narrow dark streak that runs below these bars along each side. Their body is spindle-shaped, tapering at both ends. Their two large dorsal fins are gray or dusky. The pectoral fins are black or dusky at the base, and the tail fin is gray or dusky. They like to stay active in the coldest of water so it won’t matter what the temperature is to them anyway.
Fishing In Cold Water
As it gets colder, throughout the winter, fish will tend to migrate together in schools headed for deeper water. As the depth increases, the temperature starts to stabilize and it’s easier for them to do a fishes version of light hibernation. Fish steep drop-offs and underwater channels are the most popular spots for winter fishermen to hit on fish. As an added bonus, fish of most species typically hold in tighter groups when the water’s cold. So if you get a bite in a specific spot, you can expect that there are more fish to be caught nearby. This is an advantage for you not having to change bait for a different species of fish.
Like most people tend to be less active in cold temperatures because your metabolism changes the same is true for fish. As cold-blooded creatures, their metabolism dips when temperatures drop. On a frozen lake the layer of ice on the top will provide some insulation for the fish escaping those colder temperatures. Warm water sinks in very cold water so fish will gather together in groups near the bottom. Some fish will burrow into soft sediments and mud on the lake’s bottom floor and go dormant like frogs and other amphibians, but most fish simply school in the deepest pools and take a rest for the winter.
An Angler that is working a lure in frigid water temperatures needs to work the lure in a slower simpler retrieve that completely different technique that he would do in other warmer temperatures. Colors and materials used in the lures need to be different than other seasons but if done right the results will be the same- successful fishing no matter what the water temperature.
In this hibernating state, fish will slow their breathing down and the need for food and oxygen is less and decreases. The work that the fish lives in whatever the species like a Walleye or Nothern Pike slows down for this time period. Different species of fish, especially in freshwater, have different tolerances that affect how they react at lower and higher temperatures in water as shown in these preferred water Temperature charts.
Best Winter Fishing Baits
Because of the lethargic nature of fish, you may need to change spots more often than you would need to during warmer seasons. Sometimes the fish will move away from covered shore areas into open water where the temperatures could be higher and maybe getting some exposure to some sun. The fish often avoid being under trees where leaves have dropped into the water and rotted but you will still find them lurking in the areas where there were beds of reeds, lilies, and rushes showing in the better weather but not now when the water is especially cold.
Highly visible baits will attract a little better. Time of day will be more critical than it normally would because once the sun comes out you could see a double-digit rise in temperatures that work against you if you start out too early in the morning. Most anglers simply can’t fish slowly enough with artificial baits to accurately mimic the speed and movements of forage during the slow winter temperatures. Live bait will be more enticing. Minnows or shiners are a great choice; so are live worms. Smaller baits two-to three-inch lures are going to catch the most fish. Also, consider using attractants for soft plastic lures. Because fish aren’t as hungry in the cold, attractants will encourage them to bite and hold on once they do.
However, they somewhat limit the species of freshwater fish that may bite. If you do use artificial baits dress them up with feathers and hair that will create more movement. Stay away from soft baits that can get hard from colder water and don’t respond as well. Chose colors that mimic winter forage and will entice different species of fish that will be congregating near the bottom or where the water might be a little warmer. You want to go with a more natural white or silver when it’s cold to mimic the winter appearance of the environment on the bottom of the water.
Winter Clothing Layering
Whether you are on the lake in freshwater or on the surf or open ocean, in the dead of winter cold is cold and success is based on how comfortable you are. If your feet or hands are cold you won’t las. So dress for the weather the right way. Dressing for outdoor Winter fishing hunting or any other activity is called Layering start with:
- Base Layer-clothing the purpose of the Base Layer is not to keep you warm rather move moisture away from your skin and prevent heat loss through evaporation. Use a fabric that will keep your natural body heat in and from escaping and keeping moisture away from your skin allowing it to escape to outer garments to evaporate. Synthetic fabrics are great for moving moisture. You can purchase top and bottoms as a set.
- Mid Layers- The main objective of the middle layers is to insulate and preventing cold weather from the outside from getting into the inner Base Layer clothing and onto your body’s skin. The best material to do this is the Fleece. This is because Fleece will create a pocket of air much like a double glazed window that will retain any heat that is escaping from your body. There is a synthetic equivalent to Duck Down that can also be used in Mid Layers called Primaloft that can keep you warm even if you get wet.
- Outer Layer- The last layer of defense to protect you from the elements that can keep you fishing on the ice or the water. This layer will also protect the inner layers from rain and snow besides blocking wind and frigid temperatures. Waterproof, windproof, warm, and breathable, Gortex is a fantastic fabric to look for. Also, look for multiple layers of construction are elements to look for in the outer layers of clothing. Quick-dry recycled polyester insulation
- Winter Weather Fishing Gloves & Boots-Anglers can easily lose a large amount of heat through their hands and feet, so choosing the proper gloves and boots for winter fishing is crucial. Don’t try and skimp money on these cause you will regret it. In fact, a good tip is to bring 2 pairs of gloves in case one pair gets wet. With socks layer them with Base Layer Synthetic and 1 pair of wool over the outside.
- Waders– Neoprene is still a choice in extreme water temperatures. Places like Alaska where ambient water temperatures don’t really climb as with glacial melt off in some salmon-filled creeks. If you are standing in extreme temperatures for longer periods of time, exposed to an icy lake or river then neoprene should be a fabric of choice for you. They come in thick 3-5 mills fabrics to keep you away from the environmental elements keeping you fishing. Simms Men’s Freestone Waterproof Stockingfoot Chest Fishing Waders are highly recommended along with other Layer clothing they make check them out here on Amazon!
- Hand & Feet Warmers- Use synthetic fabric for your feet look for a fabric called Marina Wool that is considered a Super Fabric due to its thermal properties. It is also known to reduce foot odors over periods of time. This fabric will keep your feet warm under the coldest of conditions. No reason not to bring them along for any fishing trip outdoors in the winter. They can be a lifesaver and just add to the necessary clothing that you will wear.
Please! Always wear a Wader Belt whether you are in the ocean or the river and you slip and fall, your waders will fill up with water and make this a critical day of fishing instead of just a cold day of fishing.
Look for my articles about the art and basics of Ice Fishing here on MyWaterEarth& Sky called Ice Fishing Basics