Winter Fishing Can Be Harsh in the North
If you live in southern Florida or southern California, winter is something you read about. But if you live in northern Minnesota or North Dakota, it's a numbing reality so bad you don't want to stick your nose out the door. You can still fish even under some of the worst conditions, but some winter fishing is much more comfortable than others. You also must take some safety precautions during the winter in most places.
Freshwater Fishing When the Water Gets Cold
In the winter when the water gets cold, freshwater fish slow down. At cold enough temperatures they become almost totally inactive, feeding very irregularly. Fish are cold-blooded so their body functions slow down and they just don't need as much food.
Largemouth bass get very inactive in the South when the water hits forty-five degrees, but in the North smallmouth bass may be very active at that temperature. Big bass seem to feed more in the cold water, so winter is often the best time to catch a lunker. Fish slowly to match the metabolism of the fish; offer an easy meal right in front of their face and you can catch one worth mounting.
Panfish will feed even under the ice, so fishing for them can produce some fresh fish as well as a good excuse to get out of the house in the winter. Yellow perch, bluegill, and crappie can all be caught during the coldest weather in the North and feed all winter long in the South. Walleye also feed in cold water, and winter is the best time to catch them in the southern-most parts of their range.
Northern pike are often caught through the ice and big ones seem to feed more than smaller fish. In the South, hybrid striped/white bass are active when the water is in the forties and fifties, often schooling on top chasing shad during the winter there. Catfish gather in the deepest holes in ponds and rivers in the winter and you can catch them if you present the right bait to them.
If you live in very warm climates, winter can be spawning time for fish. Bass often spawn in southern Georgia and Florida in January so you must consider the climate when talking seasons of the year. Don't think you have to fish the same way no matter where you fish; you need to adapt to local conditions. Take advantage of fishing opportunities where you live during the winter. Fish for bedding bass in Florida, or through the ice for pike in Michigan — go for whatever is available to you in the winter.
Hypothermia is a danger to fishermen in the winter. You can quickly lose control of your muscles in cold water so you must be extremely careful not to fall in. Wearing floatation devices at all times is even more important this time of year.
Saltwater Fishing Is Great, Depending on Where You Live
Some species of saltwater fish may winter out of your area but others may come to you this time of year. Conditions may get too bad to go fishing in the winter in northern climates, so all you can do is head south or clean tackle and wait on better weather. A winter fishing vacation to warmer beaches might be just what you need.
But don't overlook good surf-fishing and inshore fishing near you. Some kinds of saltwater fish feed actively even during the winter. Record cod and tautog have been caught in New York in January. Be very cautious of the weather when fishing waters up North in the winter.
On the West Coast, southern California waters produce big Pacific mackerel in January, and big California halibut can be taken during the winter. Giant sea bass also feed during the winter in that area, and striped bass move into bays and river mouths. Going after them in those waters would help you escape colder weather, too.