I am often asked, "when is the best time to fish." Of course, my standard reply is "whenever you get the chance!". Winter fishing is actually one of my favorite times of the year. Many people neglect the winter season in favor of hunting or football, but there is still a lot of good action out there if you know how to fish a winter pattern.
During these colder months as the water temperatures drop, it is always best to work deep and slow. When you think you have slowed down enough, slow down some more. The biggest mistake people make when fishing during these colder months is that they work their lures or bait too fast. Many times when you think the fish aren't biting, it is more likely that they were biting, but unable to catch a bait or lure that is moving too quickly.
Finding areas to fish in the winter can sometimes be easier than finding summer hot spots. The key during this season is to work channels, guts, and holes. Use your depth finder if you have one to locate any drop-offs or deep guts you may have in your area. Once you have found some deeper areas in the 6 to 7 feet range, start your day by fishing the deeper water, and begin working the edges as the day warms up. If you are fishing on a day that is sunny and warm, the shallower water in the flats surrounding these guts and deep holes will begin to warm up by late morning. As this water begins to warm up, the fish that are holding in the deeper water will begin to come up out of the holes to warm themselves in the shallows. When these fish begin to move onto the flats, you will find that the area from the edge of the hole out to about 50 yards is going to be the most productive. Making long drifts across open flats will not be as productive as fishing the area surrounding the deeper holes or guts.
When using artificials this time of year it is best to work your lure or bait through the lower strike zones, meaning, from the bottom to about 3 feet from the bottom. Although some fish may be enticed to strike closer to the surface, when fishing deeper water, the lower strike zones will be most productive. Using a ¼ to ½ oz. jig will allow you to work your lure deep enough. Remember to retrieve slowly, and it is best to use a lifting or jerking action about every 2 to 3 feet ,and let the lure drop back down to the bottom. By lifting and dropping the lure along it's retrieve you will be popping the lure up and down through the lower strike zones, and increase your odds of getting a strike. If you determine that fish seem to be biting more at one depth than another, then you can try and adjust the angle and speed of your retrieve to keep it in that particular zone. This can be quite difficult, and can also make your retrieve become too fast. Remember, slow down, and then slow down some more.
If you are not a die hard lure fisherman, the use of live bait can make fishing in a particular zone or depth much easier. If you fish the bottom, your main target will be black drum, and red fish. Some trout will be caught on the bottom, but most will be caught 1 to 2 feet from the bottom. If you are using bait this placement will be easy. Eliminating any type of cork or float, and adding a small weight will allow you to fish the bottom quite easily. If you want to keep your bait 1 to 2 feet from the bottom, the simply make your leader long enough to reach the desired depth below your cork. If you are fishing in 6 feet of water, and want to be 2 feet from the bottom, then use a 4 foot leader under your cork. If you are not catching fish at a particular depth adjusting your leader length or cork placement will allow you to try different depths. You might also try using a live bait with a small weight and no cork along with the same lifting and dropping action used with the lure retrieve. Now that you may have some new ideas to try, get out there and take advantage of the less crowded waterways and catch some winter action. Good luck and Happy Holidays! Capt. Byron Hough.
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