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winter fishing 101 1/2


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Anytime you can figure out where the fish are it solves about 90 % of your fishing problems. The getting them to bite, hooking and landing them is the fun part.

I still have a lot to learn about cold water fishing but focusing on small eddies was the turning point for me. Small eddies are easy to cover with a few casts even with a slow retrieve. If you fish enough of them you'll eventually catch a "mercy" fish who hit s your lure as it falls to the bottom so keep plugging away. The biggest problem with small eddies is finding enough of them. If you can cover enough water walking the bank or using a boat you're fine. I have a couple shore lines that have 10 to 15 small eddies in a half mile when they're biting good I think about quitting my night job.

Water levels are always a major factor in river fishing and this holds true in winter too. As levels rise or fall eddies will be created or covered over. Eddies will get bigger or smaller. A basic rule might be" down and out/ up and in". Water going down fish move out from shore toward faster water. Water coming up fish move in closer to shore and calmer water. This is a generalization. Some eddies always exists no matter how high the water gets { example eddies formed by stone bluffs } some are water level dependent. So pay attention to water levels so your fishing spot is there when you go and if it's not we'll work on finding where the fish went. Up next big eddies, small pools and isolated holes and finally big pools.

Philf

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Phil-

 

Good advice on the up/in.

 

I like the big eddies, as they hold more fish. I'd rather sit on a few good ones waiting for fish to circuit by than to walk a bank hoping to hit the lotto.

 

For my waters, it doesn't generally pay to stray out of larger pools for equivelant time spent. Time better spent in transit to the good spots. Like you said, there is limited time during Cold months. Scouting is best done when its warm.

 

Find your areas of bass concentration in the warm months, then backtrack bass to their Winter homes. I don't Winter fish an area I haven't already found good smallie populations in the Spring, Summer, or Fall. It helps with the confidence to know you are tracking actual fish, than theoretical fish.

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My sister and now my wife are calling me A.D.D. boy so it may not be possible for me to work a spot for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Maybe if I changed lures a lot. It does take time to find fish in a big pool. Bring your fishing buddy along to help. Also you stay warmer if you move, but with the new high tech clothes I've been really toasty.

So how big is a big pool? If it's so big that I can't cast across it or reach a really good looking part than that's where I'm sure the fish are. Seriously you just have to hit what you can hit.

One thing that's cool about a float and fly the way I fish it is that I use an adjustable float to map the pool. I get a stick float take the spring off replace it with surgical tubing and you can change depth without nicking the line. If you've waded a river you'll note how the depth changes throughout a pool. Fish will hang out behind the areas where the river shallows up and then drops down. Changing depth a lot might be an ADD thing.

I've just started fishing a carolina rig but one of the benefits of this rig is when you drag the slip sinker along the bottom you get a real good feel of what's down there. Also if you use a heavy weight and not too long of a leader and light line you can really throw the long ball and reach that spot where you're sure the fish are. Hooking and landing them might be a challenge.

So back to location here's some random stuff. When water's low and clear fish the backs of pools "the lift areas" with jerk baits. I just throw a few casts especially if there's some boulders for the fish to hold on.

Always work the seam where the fast current meets the slow. When I've used a camera through the ice the fish would be laying on the bottom on the shallower saddle or bar that ran parallel to the current there were no bass in the deepest part of the eddie or along the bank. Now I have caught them along the bank and in the middle of eddies so I know they hang out there and feed there. The few times I used the camera however they were close to fast water. A nice place to rest and who knows maybe some food will come along.

If this was a small eddie you could test the seam, the middle and the edge all in one cast. In a big eddie I might focus on inside edges,the middle and than the seam. In the slower areas light jigs, float n fly rigs, jerk baits and light dropshot rigs would be used. Out on the seam in faster current heavier jigs,carolina rigs and heavier dropshot rigs would be used. If fish are feeding up on minnows jerkbaits float n fly and dropshot rigs work. If fish are glued to the bottom jigs and carolina rigs work.

Back to location. Don't miss the obvious boulders or wood in a pool. These are easy to find. Ask yourself why this boulder or tree hasn't been washed down stream in a recent flood. Chances are the bottom of the river either has a ledge it's fallen behind and the current doesn't hit it strong enough to move it or there's a bar that rises up and the current can't lift it over. Either way there's more to the spot than meets the eye.

We've got a lot more to cover in this big pool.Bterril Thanks for the reply any Big Pool advice is appreciated as I panic in any pool bigger than 10'x10'. Might be slight exaggeration.

Philf

Here's a question; What's the best casting pattern to use to cover a pool? Fan cast? Crisscross ? Parallel? How much space between casts? Do you line up shoreline objects so you can hit the same spot? Do you go over or cast to the same spot more than once?

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Here's a question; What's the best casting pattern to use to cover a pool? Fan cast? Crisscross ? Parallel? How much space between casts? Do you line up shoreline objects so you can hit the same spot? Do you go over or cast to the same spot more than once?

 

I like to cast so I am on the slow side so the current line doesn't move the float at all, they just don't hit the fly if it is moving too fast. Or cast upstream on the slow side. Map the pool at different depths. Work different cadences over the likely spots. There is a definate current speed at which I feel the fish will hold in. Your eyes get trained to it. It's hardly any- with some depth to remain out of sight depending on visibility.

 

Mapping is not just a Winter thing, but also wading low Summer water and late Fall with clear water. Remember drop offs, etc... You absolutely have to be thorough. I've sat 4 hours on one spot and pulled 10-15 fish out of the spot. Fisherman's own worst enemy can be impatience. I steadily work an area thoroughly, typically 3-3.5' down (close or on the bottom). Try different cadences. I'll say this too, if you are on a good spot the first strike on the fly is within a few minutes, often the first cast.

 

On new Winter stretches (if the going is really rough), where I'm not sure where the bass are, I'll intentionally crash a hole on foot or on kayak in Winter. Hopefully, I find a big school of fish shoot out. From there on out, I know the fish are there in the general area in Winter. It doesn't take much to extrapolate after that. Up and in like you say. Fish it next time through. May not pay off that day, but the knowledge gained will pay off down the road.

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I approach areas the same as Mr. Terrill - I don't move quickly. When I get on an area that holds winter fish (usually a large hole that is not only deep but is big in surface area), I keep on them for 1-2 hours. Many times it takes that long to cover the whole area with one to three different offerings. If I know they are in the spot, I am going to keep changing baits, depths, cadences, etc., etc. until I figure them out or finally realize they are just not going to bite when I am there.

 

I normally spend all my time in large eddies rather than smaller ones. Smaller eddies do not seem to hold any fish on the Mack. Probably because the smaller eddies are rarely, if ever, very deep. Deep for me is over four feet. The Mack has alot of water that is over four feet deep, thus the fish can be selective and only winter in perfect areas that have little or no current and are over four feet in depth. Some of my wintering area have cover (rocks or wood), but others do not have any cover, but just a sand bottom.

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Hope fully all this winter fishing discussion will get me catching more fish it's been tough sledding in Champaign. I like the idea of classifying different winter spots and we should do it with river types. If we start way upstream we'll find ourselves most likely on a gravelly mud sand feeder creek ,if you stand in the middle you might touch each bank with the tip of your pole or we're in a channelized feeder creek. While most fish leave these smaller flows for winter if a deeper hole with protection from strong current can be found you might find a few hold overs. Here's where I look for holes, sharp bends,bridges especially railroad bridges, rip rap, anywhere tile or another source of water comes in and anywhere a tree falls in. If you can see where dredging ended and the natural course of the stream begins there's usually a good hole there. Over all I don't mess with small creeks too much in the winter, but if there's a nice spot next to the road I'll throw a cast. I did this earlier this winter there was a perfect dogleg bend next to the road got a 16" on the second cast should have left right then hiked upstream couldn't find anymore holes.

Going down river the creek gets bigger and does the pool rifle thing or gets bigger deeper and slower is full of wood. The bigger deeper slower full of wood is my favorite. Often it doesn't even look like smallmouth water but if there's good spawning habitat above it, these areas produce. The depth and stability allow fish to grow big.

The pool riffle pool area is what I think John and Brenden are doing so well on. I can't seem to find that many deeper pools but if I fish them more thoroughly I might not need to. Next up would be the sandy lower stretches near another river system here again your lookinfg for depth and wood. I always wonder when fish in these areas if the fish have left the river I'm in for the bigger one it flows to.

Now if you take this river progression and quadruple it's size you have the Kankakee or the Fox. I know some big eddies on the Kankakee and some deep spots, but give me a day when the water is just about to go out of it;s banks and the fish will pull in tight to the shore and be easy to find.

I haven't done much fishing on the Middle Fork in years but this might be a place to find bigger pools and get a bunch of people out without access issues. The introduction of river otters and muskies seems to have hurt the river a little. Is anyone fishing the middle fork? I'm going to try to hit the Kankakee more also. I just ordered a new kayak so this should open things up a bit. Thanks for the interest in winter fishing.I would never have believed we could catch anything after October years ago. This has really been a learning process and I still have a lot to figure out so anyone should feel free to jump in.

Philf

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Phil, sounds like you are on it. The largest variable is always where we fish.

 

Think about the big eddies compared to small ones. They are also good spawning grounds as well as places to survive the Winter. No wonder there are more fish there. The food thinks the same way.

 

Water inflows are a really good spot to fish, I'm glad you mentioned it. I may have to hit some this weekend. :)

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What I have found interesting is most of my best wintering areas on the Mack are large, deep holes that end in a very shallow riffle. Somedays the fish are in the deepest part of the hole and the next day they may be on the "lip" where the bottom starts to come up to make the riffle. Seems once you find what part of the hole they are using, most of the fish will come from that little "spot on the spot".

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What I have found interesting is most of my best wintering areas on the Mack are large, deep holes that end in a very shallow riffle. Somedays the fish are in the deepest part of the hole and the next day they may be on the "lip" where the bottom starts to come up to make the riffle. Seems once you find what part of the hole they are using, most of the fish will come from that little "spot on the spot".

 

Definately large pools with shallow riffle. Often with just enough of a bend to send the current forever to the other side, regardless of water height. The same bend/riffle combo works on a small scale too.

 

The article from ESPN/BASS isn't bad, there are a number of things that jump out at me. Super cold water smallmouth bite cutoff being mentioned at 39F, maybe throwing jerkbaits alone, but....

 

I don't know how the cold water was pushing ice flows off to sea and catching fish is, but I am certain smallies bite very well in 33-38F water. In my experience, it's the weather, direct light, and current height(CFS)that matter most in 'super' cold water.

 

Example 1, say you have 36F ultra clear water (4'+ vis),low flow, bright sun, and plenty of ledge rock for smallies to hide under. They aren't going to be easy to catch because of the low temps. They'll be hard to catch because the cover allows them to hide under things that prevent any sort of proper presentation. These fish are lethargic and not at all confident in their abilities to hide from percieved predators above! I'd fish a Winter pool in this situation with little cover and enough depth that you cannot fully see bottom.

 

The same weather with stained water, the same fish are now quite catchable as they are up and moving somewhat in the current of the slow water. Smallmouth are paranoid, light shy, probably never more vulnerable than when their metabolism is so low. The seek the security of darkness/shelter. If they cannot find it, will hunker down. These clear water/bright light situations lead to more 'the fish aren't biting' days than anything. Maybe they are biting, but under undercut banks and such-inaccessable.

 

Fishing creeks and seeing to what length smallmouth will go to hide from light in low clear water on a small manageable scale (you can eliminate behaviours based on less behavioural options in a smaller stream, the behaviours at least locally translate on a larger scale)- under sycamore trees in the hollowed out banks beneath the roots, under those hanging carpets of small roots dangling the stream banks, wedged under rocks, in drain pipes, laying in leaves,etc... smallmouth bass have the complete ability to disapear if they are inclined. In Winter, this all happens still with the caveat the fish have to be able to survive high water events. There are more days when the big fish is plum in the middle of a eddie and catchable. That hog is probably limited in it's activity hours compared to warm months when you have a smaller chance of catching it feeding and liklier chance it'll be hid.

 

It part of what makes them so fascinating to target.

 

Example 2, medium flow or greater, good green stain, 36F water, snowstorm, and decent water visibility. The color cuts down on the light penetration, Mr Smallmouth feels safe. Uses the slight current of the eddie or slack pool to hover about the circuit looking for an easy meal. Bigger fish have more energy reserves, while small minnows do not. Must be easy pickings. The incoming storm warns the bass that they should feed or risk not having the energy to survive possible high water event to come (storm).

 

So why do smallmouth diehards fish the Winter bite? The opportunity to learn about stream bass is at its greatest in Winter. We can get a sense of just how much energy a cold blooded stream bass has, another glimpse into how it thinks.

 

Which leads onward to catching the elusive brown whale. :D

 

BT

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Lots of good stuff to digest, right now I have a killer headache from work so I'll try to formulate something coherent when it passes.

 

Pushing the envelope on what is known about smallies is definitely one of my prime motivations in getting out in nasty conditions.

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