Catching Fish Through the “Mid-Winter Lull”
Catching fish this time of year can prove to be a challenging endeavor. Who am I kidding; it can be downright frustrating when your favorite spots aren’t yielding the same results as they were earlier in the season. Fish can still be caught, but it may involve trying some new locations and different tactics that we will discuss in today’s blog post.
Location, location, location… This time of year it can make a big difference where you drill your holes. Just this last weekend we drilled out almost an entire lake to find fish holding in one key location no bigger than your living room. Sure you could mark a fish or two in other holes outside of this area, but good luck getting them to bite. There was a pile of fish holding in that one small area near some brush and luckily for us they were in the feeding mood. The area was so small that we could have easily missed that spot had our search holes been spread out any farther. That would have made for a long day of fishing, but fortunately for us we were able to key in on this area and put a nice pile of panfish on the ice. Many others during this time of year aren’t so lucky. Whether it is a weed edge dying off, a backwater bay suffering from oxygen depletion or the fish just more congregated in key areas of the body of water, the locations that are fished need to change as the season wears on in order to be successful. Early in the season there are lots of favorable habitats for fish. Food is plentiful in many areas of the lake and green weeds provide plenty of oxygen. As the winter progresses, these favorable areas diminish as less areas received sunlight and water temperatures continue to decline.
The good news is the fish have to go somewhere and when you find them you normally find a whole mess of them. The old saying “90% of the fish are in 10% of the water” bodes especially true this time of year. Areas with or very near flowing water can be good areas to target because they aren’t as affected by oxygen depletion. Deeper parts of a body of water will tend to hold more fish this time of year as well due to slightly warmer water and insect hatches. Deep mud flats and especially sand or gravel transition areas that meet up with these mudflats can be fish magnets in the dead of winter.
Ice anglers also need to adjust their tactics during this time of the season as well. The forage fish are feeding on and the attitude of which they are feeding both change dramatically. This is the time of year where simply putting a minnow below a split shot isn’t near as effective as earlier in the season. When the fish are sluggish they see chasing down and engulfing a minnow as a lot of work when they can eat the much smaller and easier to catch zoo-plankton instead. More than any other time of the year it is important to drill a lot of holes because fish aren’t as willing to travel as far for a potential meal. Hole-hopping is also more critical than other times because these fish aren’t moving around as much.
Jigging techniques also need to change. Instead of aggressively working fish to get a reactionary strike, you really need to finesse them and let them fully inspect your offering. When a fish comes to check out your presentation keep it in a constant subtle motion just above their face, don’t get frustrated and throw in a quick movement to try and trigger a bite because this will not only look unnatural, but also make your bait seem like a lot of work for that fish to eat. The fish may look at your plastic a long time before finally deciding to bite. The best thing you can do is keep working it right in front of them while slowly trying to raise them up in the water column. All that attention to detail we have mentioned in the past as far as lure spin, small jigs, light line, etc. play a huge role this time of year. Your presentation has to be near perfect because it is going to get carefully inspected before they will bite. That’s the next thing, feeling that bite. Rarely do you actually feel a bite this time of year, especially from a bluegill. They want to almost mouth the plastic instead of engulfing it. I am willing to bet many people not using a spring bobber or an extremely light-tipped rod are missing a lot of bites. Even with a spring bobber it is difficult to detect some of these bites so you have to resort to guessing based on the information you gather from your flasher or looking for the slightest change in movement on your line.
If you are using B-Y Baits plastics you have a huge advantage during these trying times. Our plastics are smaller, more detailed and have better movement than most others on the market. This is definitely a time of year where our plastics really set themselves apart from others on the market as well as live bait. We get a kick out of the fishing shows where they are always pushing their particular brand of plastics, but when the fishing gets tough, they have to resort to waxies/spikes etc because their big, gaudy plastics just don’t cut it anymore. We use B-Y Baits plastics every trip out and have yet to see a situation when they haven’t been effective.
So, if you are having difficulties filling your pail like you were earlier in the ice season, consider changing your location and tactics to help get you back on those fish. If that doesn’t work, warmer weather and better fishing is right around the corner, stay tuned!
- Darrin Anderson