Can You Fish in The Winter? Yes, and some of the best fishing is during the winter months.
Winter varies in harshness from one location to the next, and even in the most frigid of locations you can fish if you prepare properly, and you understand your fishing targets.
A good example of extreme fishing in winter is ice fishing on frozen lakes.
What Fish Can I Fish in Winter
There is a long list of fish that are active in cold waters.
One of the biggest is Northern Pike, which can reach 60″ long.
Pike are very aggressive so when you set your hook in a trophy Northern Pike, you have a monster battle on your hands.
Another excellent choice for cold water fishing is Steelhead, which is sea-run (anadromous) Rainbow Trout.
Steelheads make their way to the ocean where they live for a few years and then migrate upstream like salmon.
Unlike salmon, Steelhead returns to the ocean after spawning.
Crappie and Bluegill are two other fish that you can catch in the winter.
You may access crappy and bluegill ice fishing with a flasher or in free-flowing rivers with pools.
If you are planning a winter fishing trip, consider targeting Trout.
Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, and Brooktrout are all options for winter river fishing.
Saltwater fishing is also a good option for fishing in winter.
In warmer areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, you can target Snapper, Cobia, Bonefish, Perch, Sea Bass, Black Bass, Spotted Bass, Redfish, and others.
How Active Are Fish in The Winter
Fish are less active in winter than they are in summer.
As cold-blooded creatures, fish slow down during the colder months of the year. By “slow down” we mean that they undergo a physiological change.
Their metabolism slows, their energy levels drop, and they require less food.
If you are a fish in a river, and it is winter, you will have to expend energy to remain in your current location.
If you stop trying to do so, the river washes you away.
So, fish still have to be active, and they still need to maintain a certain level of energy which they get from eating or living off of fat stores.
Will you catch fish in winter? Absolutely you will.
Also, consideration for winter fishing is the location.
The nearly frozen rivers of Alaska in winter are very different from the inshore fishing you’d find in Florida.
Winter waters in Florida are still fairly warm.
The winter water in Alaska if not frozen solid is very cold.
Where you fish and what you can target in winter is a big consideration for anglers who want to fish year-round.
If you go ice fishing, which is very popular, the ice layer on lakes helps to keep the water beneath it warmer than if the water was exposed to the air.
That layer of ice helps fish to remain active in winter.
Do Fish Stop Biting in The Winter?
Because fish are cold-blooded their metabolism slows down in winter.
They do not stop feeding, but they require less food. Part of the reason behind this is that many of their food sources are now found in smaller populations or non-existent.
For example, a trout who spends all summer gorging itself on insects is not going to find very many insects in winter.
There are aquatic forms of insects but the terrestrial flies and midges are gone.
What is available to many fish for food in winter are smaller fish and shads.
Thinking about how the fish feed in cold water also helps you select the best lures or flies for winter fishing.
A winter-run Steelhead is more apt to strike an egg-pattern fly than a midge pattern fly because salmon roe is more available in winter than are flying insects.
Another consideration for lure or fly selection is that winter waters can also be dirty or stained and full of turbidity.
It makes it more difficult for fish to see food. Brighter colors can help.
How Cold Is Too Cold for Fishing?
Different species of fish behave differently in cold water.
Brook Trout and Brown Trout fishing are at their best when the water is around 55 °F.
If the water temperature drops below 43 °F both Brook Trout and Brown Trout become inactive feeders.
Channel Catfish are most active in water that is around 80 °F but become inactive when the water temperature drops below 56 °F.
Largemouth Bass are most active when the water ranges in temperature between 64° F and 75° F but may become inactive if the water is too warm – above 75° F and if it drops below 49° F.
How cold is too cold for fishing? For many species of fish water temperatures below 50°, F is too cold. For fish that are found in colder regions, water temperatures below 43° F are too cold.
Another consideration for when it is too cold to fish is the water depth.
A frozen-over lake will have different water temperatures at different levels.
A lake in summer will have different water temperatures at different levels.
Some fish finders will target fish at specific depths based on water temperature.
Fishing for Lake Trout is a good example.
If you want to target lake trout you have to drop your lure or bait into the right temperature zone of the lake.
That magic zone happens to be in the 46° F – 59° F range.
When you can dial in the correct temperature range at the right depth, you can target almost any species of fish.
How Do You Catch a Fish in The Winter?
The strategy for catching fish in winter will change based on your location.
If you are fishing in tropical water where the temperature is still warm but nowhere near as warm as in the summer, you will fish in much the same way you do in the summer.
What will change is the speed at which you fish. Soft plastics and Jerkbaits are still a good option for tropical waters, but you want to fish slower – if you are jigging, slow down the jig rhythm.
The fish will remain active, but will likely remain slow.
If you are fishing for Steelhead on a -20° F day on a river that is trying to freeze over, you will want to use egg pattern flies and lures because that is what the fish are looking for in these waters.
You also want to target holes over riffles because the water in holes will be warmer than the water that races over a riffle.
Riffles tend to be shallow and fast-moving.
That means there is less heat in that water than in a quieter pool where the bottom layer of water will be warmer than the top layer.
If you are ice fishing, you will want to choose brighter-colored lures and you will move them in a slower motion.
Jigging is a good technique for ice fishing, So, just slow down the jig rhythm to account for the slower movement of the fish.
5 Tips for Fishing in The Winter
1 Stay Safe
Cold water fishing means you are exposed to the elements.
It also means you are more at risk of slipping on ice and getting wet or injured.
Always fish with a buddy. Remember that bulky winter wear can drag you underwater quickly if you fall in – and people do.
Be sure to dress in layers and stop fishing if you become cold or the weather becomes severe.
2 Go Bright in Winter
Winter water can be more turbid and that means fish have a harder time seeing lures.
Go brighter in color for lures – oranges, reds, chartreuse, yellows, and purples.
These are colors that will stand out against the myriad of debris in the water – fallen leaves, branches, etc.
3 Respool Line for Winter
If you are fishing on lakes, the water is often calm, but can also be rough.
If you are fishing in rivers, the water is often moving faster and there are more obstacles in the water, such as limbs and branches.
Also, fast water moves rocks, and all of these things can damage your fishing line.
4 Go for Reactions
The act of striking a lure or fly in winter fishing is a reaction.
The fish sees the lure and strikes it.
There is not a lot of enticement involved and everything happens quickly.
Reaction baits are your best option for predatory fish, such as trout and bass.
You can also use stinky baits that will draw in fish that are hunting.
However, most fish are somewhat stationary as they are trying to minimize exposure to faster-moving water and are trying to stay in the warmer water zone.
5. Shallow vs. Deep
On a bright sunny day in winter, the shallow water along the margin of a river or lake will warm up and that heat may draw fish to the shallows.
On a cloudy and cold day, fish deep as the warmer water will be deeper.