It’s here again; that time of year when any given trip to the local lake or river is as likely to result in an empty-handed angler-cicle as it is to yield photos of smiling people holding sizeable fish. At this time of year, the fish become as notional as the weather. Some strategies can be employed by anglers to increase their likelihood of success.
1. Plan your outing for a bit later in the day. Let the sun get up and on the water to warm it a bit and possibly spur some fish activity. This yields the additional advantage that the sun will usually keep the angler’s extremities above freezing. There is one notable exception to this pattern. Saugeyes and walleyes, especially large ones seem to prefer to go nocturnal this time of year. This may be due to the very shallow water they frequent during the winter months.
2. Fish slowly. One of the best tactics for largemouth bass at this time of year is to use deep-diving lures which can be cranked to the bottom and then worked back in a slow, crank and rest pattern. Most strikes will occur on the rest as the lure hovers or slowly rises. Watch the line closely because bass will tend to gently grasp the lure rather than the crashing strikes of Summer. Crappies will most likely fall to live minnows. Smallmouth and spotted bass in lakes will often fall for a float and fly presentation in the Winter months.
3. Go big! This seems counterintuitive but it is often true that late-season fish are hesitant to expend much energy to catch prey unless they think it is big enough to provide calories for a long period. Local anglers have reported in the past couple of years that winter trout on the Mad River have fallen for Clouser Minnows tied on size 2 hooks, a size usually associated with fishing for bass.
4. Be opportunistic! Keep your favorite cold weather fishing gear in your car as often as possible! This is especially true given the havoc that Winter weather, both good and bad, and holiday activities can have on your ability to get on the water during the fleeting periods when decent weather coincides with the odd available half hour.
Anglers who persevere through the Winter months can garner rewards for their persistence. Gamefish caught this time of year often tend to be larger than the average summer catch. The downside is that, while quality is up, quantity is usually down, so more patience is needed to fish this time of year.
Successful local anglers have been targeting smallmouth bass on the local rivers in the past six weeks, especially the larger rivers such as the Great Miami River and Little Miami River and saugeyes below low-head dams and in the local lakes. Bear in mind that the Five Rivers Metroparks people release trout into the ponds at Possum Creek Metropark on the first Friday of each month through the winter. Anglers will have to wait until the following day to fish for those fish since the ponds are closed on the days that fish are stocked. Anglers searching for solitude will wait at least a week after that.
Whether you decide to go out and give it a try or stay in to tie flies and sharpen hooks for next season, Winter will always be a challenge!