Visit your local boat ramp or marina, and you’re likely to find a crowd in spring, summer and fall. This time of year, though, most parking lots are deserted. If you like catching great big fish — and having a lot of peace and quiet while doing it — fishing on a cold winter day can be the perfect cure for cabin fever.
Fish are cold-blooded, meaning their metabolism slows down when the water gets cold. Basically, that means fish have to eat less in the winter, and they aren’t actively feeding very often. However, even on lakes that freeze, fish still must eat. And with many species like bass, pike, walleye, bluegill, catfish and crappie spawning in the spring, fish eat up and gain weight in winter to prepare.
For my favorite species, bass, warming trends bring fish shallower and make them more active. This means better bank fishing if you don’t have a boat. Areas with shallow water near deep water are often best.
The best bite is often when a cold front is passing through. Cold rain, sleet and snow normally make bass bite aggressively. If you’re willing to bundle up and overcome cold hands and feet, your odds of catching a lot of nice fish — or your very biggest ever — improve greatly on these nasty days.
Patience is the key in the winter. Think quality, not quantity. Try starting out with lipless crankbaits — also known as rattle baits — like the Berkley Warpig. One-fourth and ½ oz. Warpigs work well, because they make a ton of sound to call in active fish. They also have a great fluttering action if you pause them while reeling in. If the fish won’t chase or stop biting the Warpig, I slow down with a weedless jig or soft plastic worm like The General from Berkley. Use a 3/8 oz. jig or wacky rigged General and drag them around as slowly as you can stand — with lots of pauses. Sooner or later, one of the fish won’t be able to resist eating it!
Last winter, I went on a fishing trip to Alabama on the coldest week of the year. Some of the lake froze, but I was able to launch my boat despite the snow and ice. The wind was cold, but the bite was hot.