Old Man Winter has finally arrived to the Middle Coast after a considerable delay. Back in late-summer I couldn’t have been more ready to see some cooler temperatures, but the downright chill that we have been feeling for days lately makes me almost miss the summer heat. Not really…but a little bit warmer weather wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all. Now that we are in more of cold mode when it comes to fishing, there a few things that you will want to consider before heading out into the chill.
One of the great parts of fishing in the wintertime is that an early start is not nearly as important as during summer. On the coldest of days, look for fish to feel more like feeding during the warmest time of the day, somewhere between 10 AM and 4 PM, especially in the shallow back lakes. And because the weather drastically affects fish activity level, some of the best conditions can be right before a cold front passes through. If you happen to be fishing post-frontal, keep in mind that fish tend to be less tide dependent and more sun dependent this time of year.
Unlike summer months when water color is almost always off, during the winter months clear water (think aquarium clear) will quite often be the norm. That might not sound too bad but, honestly, fish are at their absolute wariest in clear water. Always remember that if you can see the fish they can see you, which quite often leads to them tending to stay just out of casting range. This is one of the many reasons I will look for water that is somewhat off-colored or even slightly muddy this time of year.
Strong wind is the most obvious reason that water will become muddy in winter and most of the time this happens along windward shorelines. I get asked often which shoreline is windward and which is leeward. A windward shoreline is the one being impacted by wind. The leeward shoreline is the one protected from the wind.
In mild to moderate wind, I will typically opt for fishing the windward shorelines because the water there will have a bit of “color” rather than perfectly clear, which can greatly improve your catching. You see, most baitfish that haven’t ventured out to the deeper waters will be looking for some type of protection and/or structure. In this case, the structure that helps them hide is the off-colored water. The grass they usually hide in is greatly reduced in our area due to colder temperatures and shorter days.
If it’s one of those days when the wind is howling 20- to 30-mph from the north then I will choose to fish the quiet “leeward” side seeking protection from the wind gusts. This leeward side will also have better clarity and less turbulence so baits that are more buoyant with slower action are a good call. In clear water, they can see much better and as such become pickier in what they eat. In dirty water, your darker baits get bites because it provides an excellent shadow for the fish to chase.
Noisy lures are also a good bait to have in your arsenal when fishing off-colored to dirty water. Opt for baits that have rattles in them, lures with paddletails and spoons like “Nacho Daddy” that has a rattle built into the spoon itself. MirrOlure’s Pro Catch 2000 is a suspending twitchbait that emits a low-frequency vibration and greatly mimics an injured baitfish in shallow water. In clear water though, opt for baits in more natural colors like whites, bones and translucent, these will be more effective than blacks, blues, and chartreuses – for all lure categories.
On those really cold days, when fish tend to move slower you can expect them to be a little more hesitant to accept what you are offering. This is when scented baits can really be effective in their ability to encourage strikes and for the fish to hold onto the bait when they do.
I want to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. While I still feel like I have so many blessings to be thankful for, as crazy as last year was, I think I will double up on all the good luck food on New Year’s Day…just to be safe!
Proper Redfish Release