Winter Fishing Takes a ‘Little More Patience’: Tips for Anglers to Take on The Cold

by Clayton Edwards

You don’t have to pack in your fishing gear just because winter is here. As long as you’re willing to be a little more patient and change up your strategy a little, winter fishing can be very rewarding. To make things a little easier, we’ve put together a few tips to make your cold water excursions safer and more successful.

Winter Fishing Isn’t for Everyone

If you hate being in the cold even with the addition of cold-weather gear, winter fishing definitely isn’t your best bet. The air gets frigid on the water. You’re probably going to get wet. It takes a special kind of angler to want to be out on the water in the winter.

According to Gavin Martz, manager and guide coordinator at Spearfish Creek Fly Shop in South Dakota, “The biggest thing is having a little more patience.”

At the same time, winter fishing has its perks. Popular fishing spots will see less traffic. So, you can take in the quiet beauty of your favorite fishing spot undisturbed. Winter can be a beautiful season and getting away from it all and experiencing that can be its own reward. A nice fish dinner doesn’t hurt, though.

Tips for Staying Safe

Even if you’re an expert angler it pays to be safe. Because of the cold temperatures, winter fishing can be dangerous. Take some precautions.

Let People Know Where You’ Will Be

If you’re fishing from a boat, lay out a float plan. Leave that plan with your spouse or family member. So, if you don’t come home, they know about where you were so someone can find you if the need arises.

If you know you’ll have cell reception at your fishing spot, plan to stay in touch. Shoot your contact a message or quick call every hour or two. This way, if something goes wrong, they will know sooner rather than later.

Boating Safety is Important

Boating safety may be more important while winter fishing than at any other time. You need to wear a life jacket while on the boat during winter. Even if you’re a great swimmer and the water is calm. Cold water can shock your system and cause you to cramp up. Hypothermia and frostbite set in fast.

Don’t go out alone. Take a fishing buddy with you. If something happens, you have someone there to help you out. Having an extra set of hands on board if things go south can make a huge difference.

Tips for Staying Comfortable

It’s hard to enjoy the splendor of nature or catch fish if you’re completely miserable. You’ve got to find ways to stay relatively comfortable while on your winter fishing trip. We’ve got you covered.

Winter Fishing Gear

There are a few incredibly important items to have if you’re going to give winter fishing a shot. Gavin Martz suggests wearing a down coat and dressing in layers to decrease bulk. You could also invest in waterproof gloves and boots. If you find that gloves limit your dexterity too much, get some hand warmers. They’re fairly inexpensive, fit in your coat pocket, and will keep your hands warm all day.

Avoid wearing cotton. Cotton soaks up water and will keep getting colder. Instead, go for synthetics or wool. Anything that can be waterproof should be. Your boots and gloves, if you choose to wear them, should definitely be waterproof as well as insulated.

Bring Plenty of Food

Being in the cold burns calories and saps your energy quicker than you might think. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks. Things like granola bars, beef jerky, or nuts are good to have on hand. Also, if you’re going to be out there all day, bring a thermos of coffee. A second thermos of soup would probably hit the spot around lunchtime. Anything warm will help.

Keeping your body fueled will help you stay warm and alert. Also, coffee tastes better out of a thermos in the cold.

Tips for Successful Winter Fishing

Getting out on the water is nice and all, but pulling in a few fish always makes it better. If you’re used to fishing in spring and summer, you’ll need to switch up your approach a little bit. You’ll also need to make sure your rod and reel stay functional in the cold.

Cold Water Changes Feeding Habits

The tactics that put fish in the boat during the warmer months won’t work while fishing in winter. Everything is moving more slowly, so live bait is best. It will react to the cold accordingly and get the attention of fish. At the same time, some fish will go deeper during the colder months.

If you’re using lures, go small and slow. Leave your top-water lures in the box. Use weighted jigs or spoons that will sink low enough to entice the fish. Remember that fish and their prey are moving slower because of the cold. If you start zipping a spinner through the water, fish will scatter. Take it slow and easy.

Time Your Trips

During warmer months, you can mostly follow your own schedule and do fine on the water. Winer fishing is much more dependent on weather patterns and timing. For instance, fish feed more just as cold fronts pass. If you watch the weather and get on the water just as a front passes, you’ll have better luck.

It is also important to note that fish move more when the water is warmer. So, you’ll want to be on the water when the sun is strongest. You’ll generally see the most activity from the late morning to mid-afternoon. After that, your chances are much lower.

Optimize Your Gear for Winter Fishing

If you’re not careful, your reel will freeze up. Before you hit the water, give your reel a tune-up. New bearings and oil or grease will go a long way in keeping the cold from seizing up the works.

Once you’re on the water, keep an eye on your reel and line. Any water that collects in a guide can freeze and stop your line from moving. You should also think about investing in line conditioner or cold-weather fishing line.

Study Your Spot

It’s important to know what species are moving in what body of water. Once you know that, you can decide on what you want to fish for and where. Be sure to tailor your bait to your prey’s diet. Fish are pickier about their food in the winter. So, be as enticing as possible.

To find all the information you need, check with whatever agency handles wildlife conservation in the state where you’ll be fishing.

With a little research and a handful of changes to your gear and technique you’ll be well on your way to some great winter fishing.