Most of the time, we talk about staying near the bait. You find the food and the fish are going to be somewhere close. Well, this winter has had such a strong impact that I’m taking a different approach.
Let me position this with an explanation of what’s happening in my area. Here in Oklahoma and southern Missouri, fishing was really good up until a couple weeks ago when we had that really, really hard cold spell.
I fished right up until that weather change, but then I hadn’t been since then, so I decided to go on Saturday. I’ll tell you, it was tough, and when I say “tough” I mean it was the first time in a long time that I’ve fished all day without catching a legal fish.
Before the big temperature drop, it was taking 19 to 25 pounds to win local tournaments, but last Saturday it took 8. This Saturday it took 12 and second place was 6 pounds. So, the fishing has been cut in half.
It’s like all the fish are gone, but what has happened is that all of the shad had been really deep and balled up tightly prior to the cold front. But since that temperature change, all the shad have gotten up in the top 25 feet of the water column. They’re spread out everywhere, and they’re dying from the cold.
You can’t look around your boat and not see shad. And I don’t mean a couple of schools back in a pocket; I mean from front-to-back, bank-to-bank on both sides it’s nothing but shad. If you throw a jerkbait, every three or four casts, you’re going to bring in two or three shad on your hooks.
This happens in the South and the central part of the United States whenever you have a hard winter, and it makes it tremendously tough to catch a fish. In the long-term, I think it’s good for fishing, but right now, it’s pretty sorry.
I was talking about this recently with some of my fellow Bassmaster Elite Series anglers, and they were telling me about what they were having to do to get bit in these conditions. For me, it starts with the mindset that, this time of year, you’re not likely to get a lot of bites.
You get a couple of warm days in a row, it’s 60 degrees and you think, “We’re gonna go out there and kill ‘em.” What you have to remember is that, even though the air temperature is warm, the water’s still cold. Because of this, I’d say a good day of winter fishing is 10 bites.
Now, I’ve had winter days where you get 20 to 25 bites, but those are rare. In fact, sometimes five or six bites a day is good.
So, what can you do to give yourself a better chance of catching fish during the really cold winters? For one thing, I try to find an area of the lake where there’s not a lot of shad. That may sound contrary to common logic, but I don’t feel like I can be fishing a jerkbait around all those dying shad and be as effective with one artificial bait. I just think the chances of getting that fish to bite are slim.
The other strategy I use — even if I do end up in a pocket with a lot of shad — is use a different type of presentation. Usually, that means I’m throwing a jig, but a crawdad colored crankbait is also a good choice.
They’ve been eating shad, so I want to show them something different. Maybe they don’t want a steak today; maybe they want a chicken sandwich.
I may start off with shad-imitating baits, but overall, I think I have to make my bait do something different. It’s hard to compete with the real thing, so do whatever you can to stand out, and you’ll make these tough winter days more productive.