PRE-SEASON MIDWEST FISHING PRIMER
A Quick Look at Early Options Before the Main Fishing Season Begins
By: Colby Simms with Ray Simms & Andrew Veach
Photos by: the Colby Simms Outdoors Team
As a new year begins, we look forward to fishing that will be starting in earnest soon. For most anglers, spring, summer and fall seasons are contemplated, the best times on most waters. Winter is certainly not the most pleasant time to hit the water looking for hot action, at least in most places. But, for the cabin fever crowd, there are options to shake this dreaded illness and stay in good fishing shape and practice, before everyone else hits the water. Some big fish are caught in early season, and you’re likely to have the place to yourself.
During the coldest time of year, some species are more apt to bite than others. Catfish, for instance, are typically a poor choice to target in winter. Not to say that they’re not occasionally caught because they are. But, catfish are most active in the warmer months, and tend to really slow down when water temperatures drop below the 50s. Cold water species that thrive in northern climates, like muskies and walleyes, are good choices in winter, because their activity usually remains higher. Widely distributed prolific game fish often found in abundance in most Midwestern waters like bass and crappie are also good targets that happen to be more active than some fish at this time.
I’ve been fortunate to spend many years working as a full-time sport fishing pro, on the guiding side, tournament side, media side and more, and I get to spend around 250-300 days a year or more fishing. Putting in that kind of time allows the opportunity to thoroughly test techniques in various seasons and conditions. While it would not be impossible to catch wintertime fish with an aggressive high speed presentation, the odds are stacked against that tactic at this time of year. What my staff guides and I tell our guide service clients on wintertime trips is, when you think that you’re fishing slow enough, cut that speed in half. Wintertime fish can be extremely sluggish and usually will not respond to anything that’s moving even at a moderate speed. Most people I share the boat with, fish way too fast in winter, and I have to constantly remind them to slow down. There’s one of my staff guides who fishes slower than I do in winter, and probably slower than just about anyone. He’s had tremendous success at it too, winning many major wintertime tournaments with this molasses tactic, dead sticking suspending jerk baits, but with longer pauses than normal, up to a full minute or more. It requires more patience than any other tactic I’ve used, but it works.
Suspending jerks are great for black bass and walleyes. Larger versions produce muskies, while small ones tempt crappies. Long pauses are usually the hot ticket, although conditions don’t always require one as long as previously mentioned. Pauses of three to ten seconds can be very effective in the cold. Spoons and blade baits are classic cold water lures that take a variety of fish. Averaged sized offerings work well on bass and walleyes, while the small ones will take crappies, bluegills and other sunfish. Another must have wintertime lure is the jig. A jig and pork chunk can work, but scented plastics produce too. Bulky skirted weed less jigs are a staple of bass and muskie fishermen in winter.
Slow spinnerbaits is another hot tactic for wintertime. Spinnerbaits are versatile lures that often produce larger than average fish. Big spinnerbaits are deadly for muskies and stripers in winter, while average sized models are red hot for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass and even for winter walleyes and saugers. The spinnerbait is quite possibly the best wintertime lure for all these species. The best tactic is to make a long cast, allow the lure to hit bottom and slowly crank it back to the boat, with an occasional pause allowing it to drop back to bottom. Vertical jigging spinnerbaits can also be effective in winter. A few years ago at Colby Simms Tackle (colbysimmsoutdoors.com), we developed a new breed of spinnerbaits, incorporating the highly unique hatchet blades. These revolutionary lures produce a completely different vibration and action than any other lure, and for those of you who catch our many national TV shows, you know that we catch more and bigger fish on them than anything else. The single and double blade skirted Hatchet Spins, and the triple blade Hatchet Shads, sporting swimbait tails, range in sizes from a little 1/4oz model to a massive 4 1/2oz’er, catching everything from bass, walleyes and crappies, to muskies, pike lake trout and stripers, and are deadly for wintertime fishing.
Most predators spend winter in or near deep open water areas on or near main lake basins or main river channels, on mid-depth or deep structures. Creek channel edges, bends and intersections are hot. So are humps, flats at the bottom of bluff walls, and tips of points. Weeds hold few active fish in winter. Rock and wood cover however, can harbor the mother lode. Boulders, chunk rock, ledges, timber, stumps and brush are magnets for all species now. When weather has been mild, you can sometimes find some fish moving into the shallows for short periods. This usually happens in the afternoon on sunny days, and can produce the fastest fishing of winter.
*Get Out There
Keep yourself in good fishing shape for the feverish seasons that will begin in just another month or two, by making a few trips out this winter. You’ll be ready when the hot fishing does begin, and who knows, you just might land your biggest trophy of the fishing year, before everyone else even starts theirs. Nothing makes up for time spent in nature doing what we love, so get out there…
Be sure to book springtime guided fishing trips & vacations across the Midwest with Colby Simms Outfitters now, as dates are already filling up.
COLBY SIMMS is a highly accomplished & internationally renowned record holding sport fishing pro & media personality, working as a TV and radio show host & star, champion tournament pro, tackle designer, outdoor sports writer & photographer, and a famous public speaker & award winning fishing guide. He’s the Founder & President of the Colby Simms Outdoors group of companies. Get unique top quality American made lures, find articles, reports, photos & more, set up media work, seminars, sponsorships & public appearances, and book guided trips & fishing vacations in the United States, Canada, Mexico & Costa Rica with COLBY SIMMS OUTDOORS at: www.ColbySimmsOutdoors.com : 618-521-0526 / 573-358-5948 or firstname.lastname@example.org .