Summer is over and it’s starting to get cold out. Many fishermen consider the fall to be the best time of year to catch fish. Migratory species like king salmon and coho salmon swim upriver in massive quantities to spawn – which presents easy opportunities to catch big fish. But after November when fall turns to winter, is there any good fishing to be had? Is fishing in the winter good?
The answer, as with most things, is that it depends. In many regions, the issue isn’t that fish won’t bite, it’s that the weather prohibits many fishermen from even trying. But that being said, fishing can be quite good in the winter depending on where you live, the species of fish you’re going for, and your resilience to cold weather.
In this article, we’ll go over our top tips on how to catch more fish in the wintertime. We’ll also go over what you’ll need to succeed in fishing in the winter, as well as what species to target and how to target them. Fishing can be very good in the winter if you know what you’re doing! Let’s get started.
What are the Best Fish Species to Target in the Winter?
While almost all species of fish can be caught in the winter, certain species are either much easier to get your lure in front of or are actively feeding more often in the winter. Let’s outline which species we like to catch the most in the wintertime.
Probably the most common species of fish fished for during the winter, walleye ice fishing in the winter is quite good. Depending on where you’re fishing for them, you may need to bust out the proper ice fishing gear. This means getting an ice fishing suit or jacket, a drill to use with an ice auger (to drill holes in the ice), as well as a solid ice fishing reel.
We recommend checking out the above guides for our favorites of each, as well as our guide on the best walleye jigging rods.
Author Note: Walleye are notoriously hungry during the winter, so if you can get your bait in front of them you’ll do well. We like fishing for walleye in the winter during the golden hour, or several hours before and after both sunrise and sunset.
Musky and Pike
Other common species to target during the winter months are musky. Musky are active hunters even when the temperature drops, and can be a ton of fun to catch during the winter. If the body of water your fishing doesn’t have ice, we recommend fishing with musky bucktails and topwater lures. If there is ice, use a similar ice fishing setup to walleye except with heavier test line. Musky can often grow over 20 lbs, so you’ll need to be prepared in case you hook into a monster.
Pike are very similar to musky, except they don’t grow as large. Use the same techniques for pike as you would for musk in the winter months.
If you live in the northwest, a great species of fish to target during the winter months is the steelhead. Steelhead can be caught in the winter months on the fly, with spinners, nymphing, and bead fishing. Bead fishing is when you use a simple bead and hook as your lure. The bead simulates fish roe – a common meal for steelhead. Steelhead also attack foreign fish roe to protect their territory.
Since catfish are bottom feeders, they don’t really care what season it is. When you live on the bottom of a river or lake, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate that much. Fishing for catfish in the winter can be very good, compared to other species. Catfish tend to feed at all times of day during the winter. We recommend using the same types of catfish dough baits you would use in the summer, as well as a similar fishing setup. Catfish tend to not live in regions with lots of ice, so stick to a normal baitcasting reel or spinning reel. Check out our guide on fishing for catfish in the winter from shore.
Perch are another common species to target in the winter. They enjoy living in cold climates, so you should use the same equipment as you use when fishing for walleye. Perch don’t grow as big as walleye, so you could consider using an ultralight fishing reel or stick with a traditional sized reel.
Having bonefish on this list may be cheating since you can only catch bonefish near the equator. The weather near the equator hardly changes at all between summer and winter and is warm year-round.
Author Note: This means that fishing for bonefish in the winter is almost as good as it is in the summer. The factors that really determine if you can catch bonefish is the wind and surf levels. As long as it isn’t too windy, you’re in business.
As with many tropical pelagic species, marlin can be caught year-round. They tend to be easier to catch in the summer, but we have also seen guides catch plenty of striped marlin in the winter.
What Should I Bring When Fishing in the Winter?
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most common species of fish you can catch during the winter, let’s talk about getting the proper equipment. Having the right gear to fish during the winter can be the difference between a great time and a bad time. It can even be unsafe to fish during the winter if you go out with the wrong gear. Let’s cover the basics.
Having warm clothes may seem like a no brainer, but we’re always surprised at how cold we get when sitting still out on the water or ice. We recommend over layering that way you can take stuff off if you get too hot. We start with a solid base layer – get insulated moisture-wicking underwear.
On top of that, we like to wear an ice fishing suit or insulated overalls. Match that with an equally warm jacket or parka, wool socks, and a warm hat. We also like using finger-less gloves. The finger-less gloves allow us to still be dexterous when tying knots or adjusting lures but keep our hands warm from the cold. After that, all you need are some warm boots and you’re good to go!
Proper Winter or Ice Fishing Gear
We wrote several articles on our favorite ice fishing reels, but if you don’t want to get an ice fishing specific reel, we recommend getting a medium-sized spinning reel. Pair this with a decent-sized trout rod and you’ll be ready for most types of fish.
General Tips for Winter Fishing
By now we’ve established that fishing in winter is good. But there are several things you can do that will help increase your chances of catching fish significantly. Follow these tips and tricks and you’ll end up catching more fish in the winter. Let’s go over them.
Use Common Lure Types
We like to use lures that appeal to many different types of fish. Since many species of fish tend to hibernate or are not very active in the winter months if you do get your lure in front of one you’ll want it to be something enticing. This means you should stick to lures that appeal to many different types of fish. This can be Powerbait, common colors of spinning lures, silver spoons, or Rapala lures. These types of lures attract many different species and increase your chances of catching fish.
Pay Attention to Weather
Not only can bad weather ruin a bite, but it can also be dangerous. In the winter months, bad weather can be hours of snowfall and brutally cold winds. Pay attention to the weather forecast where you plan on fishing and don’t go if it looks like it’s going to be bad. You should plan your fishing trip just before a cold front passes. The low barometric pressure that comes before a cold front is ideal for fish, which makes it ideal for you.
This is when the weather is the mildest and is often when fish feed the most. You should also focus on fishing on the northern bank of the body of water your fishing. This water receives the most sunlight and will have the most fish.
Author Note: That being said, we often have the best luck on overcast days. During days with direct sunlight, fish tend to get spooked easily and are hard to entice with lures. Overcast days have the ideal combo of soft light and optimum weather that makes fishing the easiest.
Use Light-Colored Lures
Whenever visibility is low, you should start by using lighter colored lures. This is because lower light makes it harder for fish to see, which in turn limits where they can see your lure. A bright-colored lure will have the greatest reach for fish to see it. We like starting with white-colored lures then try other bright lures if white isn’t working.
Use Tentative Action
While we recommend starting with high visibility lures, we don’t recommend aggressive tactics with your presentation. Reeling your lure in too quickly or with too much action will scare away tentative fish during the winter months. Reel your lure in slowly and only add minor jerks/movement to convince a fish to bite. This is why live bait works very well in cold water.
Live bait will react slowly in the cold water (like the fish you’re trying to catch), which is the most natural reaction. If you can use live bait in the region you’re fishing, we recommend using minnows or shad. Remember, most fish rest and sleep much more often in the winter – so you’ll need to coax them into biting.
Is fishing the winter good? Most definitely! You now know what the best species to fish for are during the winter months, as well as our top tips on how to catch more fish in the winter. We hope that these tips help you catch more fish this winter than ever before. And remember, always layer on the conservative side! You can always take off layers if you get too hot.