I’ve mentioned several times previously that timing is more critical nowadays than ever. Quite often as I’m wading along waiting for the bite a song will pop into my head. A tune that comes to me frequently is the Kenny Rogers hit, The Gambler.
"You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run."
The metaphor of this song may be about handling what life gives you, and whether you study your fishing conditions and formulate a game plan, or just go fishing, fishing will always be a gamble. However, the better we understand the factors that influence feeding, combine these with our experience and skill, the better we can play the hand we are dealt.
Fishing in winter requires some study to catch fish consistently. First, if you haven't already noticed, the tides are at their lowest levels of the year. This means that fish will likely not be found where they were a month or two ago.
Second, like the tide, the water temperature is much lower. As the water drains from a flat the fish retreat to deeper guts and holes that hold warmer water. Knowing the location and shape of ledges and drop-offs the fish are forced to inhabit is of great importance. The best way to learn this is by wading, probing with your rod or Power Pole, and watching your depth finder.
I have observed that any time the water temperature falls to 50⁰ and below the fish will become very reluctant to take a bait. As water temperatures climb into the lower to mid-50s they will take a bait, but mostly when it is in their face. As the water temps rise between 56-62⁰ and above, they begin to feed normally.
Everett Johnson, our editor, ran an article in this magazine a few years ago about the importance of knowing the water temperature in the winter. He mentioned carrying a thermometer when he waded to measure temperature changes. Like Everett, I believe a critical ingredient to finding fish that will eat is placing yourself in an area where water temperature is conducive to feeding. A handheld thermometer works for him; I use the gauge on my GPS/Depth Finder. When the conditions are right, it’s time to stay put and allow the “feed to develop.” As the song says, "Know when to hold ‘em."
The barometer is another great tool. Atmospheric pressure soars right behind a front and, for whatever reason, fish are very reluctant to feed. Long about the afternoon of the second day and certainly by the third, the pressure returns to normal and fish begin to feed.
Mud boils are another clue. During winter, when fish spook and dart away leaving a muddy puff taking off, this tells me they’re lying on the bottom and not very active. Though I might not be able to catch them in that inactive state, it tells where to be when the water warms and/or the pressure moderates.
I have mentioned birds in previous articles. Pay careful attention to feeding birds, any birds, especially an osprey or white pelican diving in the area. I cannot tell you how many times during winter a single osprey or pelican has tipped me off to bait presence I could not see, and found feeding fish under the bait.
Fishing has been outstanding, especially on miserable conditions/low-pressure days when most anglers stay home. Redfish have been plentiful and are taking KWigglers Willow Tails in Mansfield Margarita and Bone Diamond. Waist-deep, I prefer the KWiggler Ball Tail Shad in Plum-Chartreuse. Several days after a front, redfish can be seen roaming skinny flats and hanging in potholes. The cold weather has them schooled up and it's not unusual to find them so thick you can wear your arms out.
Our winter trout fishing is currently better than the last couple of years. Again, the nasty days have been best. We have been into schools that average 5- to 7-pounds on an almost daily basis. We are also noticing their weight-to-length ratio increasing as they grow winter fat. From what I have been seeing the past month I believe February is going to be a great month for heavyweight trout.Fishing is challenging, even when applying all your knowledge and experience. That’s the beauty of it. Like the song says, “You got to learn to play it right.”