Category Archives: Winter Fishing
It’s been too long since last posting new material on my Blog but the past few months have been extraordinarily busy. A heavy book signing schedule from Labor Day through Christmas produced high book sales and kept me on the move. I always enjoy meeting new angling friends at signing events, reliving outdoor experiences and learning things from others. However, many book signings, travel, visitors and get-togethers kept me off the water during much of autumn and the Christmas Holiday season. No complaints, because every minute spent with family and friends was enjoyable. Yet when time, weather and my schedule permitted, I reveled in some fine fishing for trout and bass. The late-fall and early-winter periods are good times to pursue big fish including our most popular game fish; largemouth bass. Fishing for the big largemouths can be rewarding during the cold-water period because fishing pressure is lowest, shallow cover is much less and bass often concentrate in predictable, easy-to-fish places. I caught some nice bass the last few months and learned some things about them that increased my interest in larger fish.
One afternoon, after some productive jig and pig fishing for largemouths, I pulled in at a launching ramp and ran into an old friend. The gentleman’s name is Doug Harper, a coworker from the glass company where I worked for many years. He also is a fishing addict and though we have never fished together, we competed in several bass and walleye tournaments, are longtime acquaintances and have always taken time to swap fishing news and experiences when meeting. I smiled like a Cheshire cat after recognizing him because the rumor was Doug had caught a huge record-class largemouth and it was going to be my first opportunity to hear about his experience firsthand. After asking about the fish, he confirmed the rumor was true and began telling me about his encounter with a very special fish.
Doug was fishing alone on the Holston River drainage north of Knoxville last May on a day he’ll never forget. Conditions were not the best; the water was off-color and well into his day the bass had refused to strike everything he’d thrown. But Doug remained focused on each cast because he’d caught a largemouth above twelve pounds in the same area a month before. Anglers in another boat confirmed fishing was poor so Doug decided to downsize his lure and slow his presentation. He switched to a spinning combo filled with twelve-pound test P-Line and began rigging a small finesse-bait, a four-inch straight-tailed worm in green pumpkin. Soon after, a small bass confirmed he’d made a good choice when it swallowed the worm. Then a disturbance along shore attracted Doug’s attention so he cast to the spot and began working the worm slowly back to the boat. Soon he felt a barely perceptible tic and the line began feeling heavy. The giant bass had picked up the small soft-plastic bait so lightly that a subtle tap and increased tension were the only indications of a strike. Doug knew it was a monster soon after setting the hook because it ripped line freely from his reel and was difficult to work back to the boat. His heart nearly exploded when the big largemouth finally surfaced. He knew it was his largest bass and close to a state record, so after landing it he carefully placed the fish in his livewell and left for the closest certified scales. With several witnesses present, the fish was weighed at a local market and pulled the scales to exactly fifteen pounds, clearly surpassing the long-standing Tennessee State Record of 14-pounds, 8-ounces that was set in 1954. The fish’s length and girth were not recorded because Doug was concerned additional handling would threaten its survival. Doug was given a weight-verification certificate at the market and left for a local TWRA office for further verification but found it closed when he arrived. With increased concern for the fish, he decided to pass on further recognition and left for a ramp close by to release the giant. After his grandson arrived and took some pictures with an inexpensive cell phone camera, the big bass was released and disappeared into water not far from where it was caught. I admire Doug for refusing to kill such a special fish in favor of watching it swim away to perhaps be caught again. It takes a special kind of outdoorsman to do that. And on a personal note, it will greatly increase my focus and enjoyment when fishing that area, knowing such a fish was released there.
Hearing Doug’s story was a highlight to the beginning of my winter-fishing season though it was not the only news I heard about giant largemouths caught in Tennessee. Last month at the East Tennessee Fishing Show in Knoxville, another angler told me about a giant bass caught in Lake Chickamauga that challenged the current state record. It was not the first big-fish story I’d heard about the largemouth-factory that lake has become, but that story raised my interest. Tales of bass above ten pounds and five-fish tournament weights approaching fifty-pounds are becoming more frequent on Chickamauga so I decided to do some research and learn what was behind the lake’s surge of big fish. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency began stocking Florida-strain largemouths in several small Agency-owned lakes in 1998 as part of a pioneer program. In 2000, Chickamauga became the first large reservoir stocked with the Florida-strain, with goals of increasing Florida genes in the population to at least 15% and growing larger bass. The latitude across the southeast where Chickamauga lies is a natural integration zone where Florida- and northern-strain largemouths native to Tennessee overlap; average annual water temperature is the feature that identifies that zone. Other factors TWRA considered when deciding where to stock Florida bass included: the presence of ideal habitat and abundant aquatic vegetation, productive shad populations as forage and acceptance by a trophy-management-minded angling public, which equates to a higher commitment to catch and release. After several years and some adjustments to the stocking-program, TWRA testing in 2013 confirmed the Florida-strain genes present in Lake Chickamauga had increased to about 45% and by then there was no question stocking had increased the number of larger bass in the population. The lake has become such a dynamic fishery for largemouth bass that in Bassmaster Magazine’s list of Top 100 bass lakes for 2014, Chickamauga ranked 7th best in the country. Furthermore, yesterday I stumbled across an announcement while doing further research that the Tennessee state record for largemouth bass has now officially been broken. On February 13th, Gabe Keen landed a 15.2-pound largemouth from Lake Chickamauga that smashed the long-standing record by more than half a pound. I’m not surprised the monster bass was caught during the cold-water period in mid-February. If you enjoy fishing for big bass, or have aspirations of catching the trophy largemouth of your dreams, you too should be fishing for them during the cold-water period. A trip to Chickamauga has already been added to my bucket-list of largemouth bass fishing destinations for next fall and winter.
Though noteworthy, my fishing adventures this winter have not been limited to the pursuit of largemouth bass because I’ve enjoyed some good river fishing for big smallmouths. The Holston River where I fish has had lower than normal flow this year because of reduced water generation upstream at Boone Lake Dam. Nonetheless, the smallmouths are still in the river so adjustments to the reduced current have produced some beautiful fish. Throughout the cold-water period, I prefer fishing in rivers for smallmouth bass when water flow is highest because it concentrates fish in eddies, often close against the shoreline. When river bass are pushed into places with reduced current, they’re easier to find and catch rates are higher when the correct lures and methods of presentations are employed. In low current, fish scatter, so it’s more difficult to find and catch them. Most times when fish are scattered, it’s best to use high-speed search baits to find them. However, the best way to find and catch smallmouths during winter in a cold river with reduced flow is to use a slow-and-steady horizontal retrieve, a method of presentation that requires discipline and patience. I’ve learned that small, slim-profile swimbaits make excellent search baits in cold-water rivers but using the correct retrieve speed is crucial to success. A variety of swimbait brands work well but those in three-and-a-half to four-inch lengths work best. Vary lure color based on water clarity, depth and light penetration. Less-visible, natural colors draw more strikes on sunnier days in clear water so smoke- or clear-colored bellies with some flashy metal-flake and green or brown backs are top choices. Brighter colors are more visible to fish and draw strikes under overcast skies or in stained water. Even so, with the best color, a tight line and slow, steady retrieve strikes are often difficult to detect. Many times there will be a light tap when fish strike, often engulfing the lure from the rear, but it’s equally common for the line to gradually become heavy from the fish’s weight. It takes practice to tell the difference between a clump of weeds and a strike so when in doubt, set the hook until you develop a feel for a river smallmouth grabbing a swimbait in cold water.
Trout fishing is another top choice during winter because trout are a cold-water species and active in lower temperatures, more than other game fish in southern waters. During brief warm-ups I may slip away to fish for bass but during the cold-water period, I fish most for trout. Furthermore, it’s a good time to catch big fish because browns spawn from late-fall through early-winter and larger spawners are active. Rainbows spawn in early spring so they are at peak bodyweight during winter and many become beautifully colored as the spawning period approaches. Similar to river smallmouths, some adjustment in lure selection and presentation will reward you with some of these beautiful salmonoids. As with any game fish, water temperature below a trout’s preferred range slows its metabolism so slower presentations are often best. Trout become less willing to move far to strike lures in lower temperatures so repeated casts or trolling passes are often necessary to make fish strike. Therefore, midwinter trout fishing is often a lower-numbers game but the possibility of catching larger fish can offset the decline in numbers. Lure selection during winter in the waters I fish is simplified because of shad die-offs. During the coldest period of winter, generation below dams spews dead and dying shad pulled through intakes into the tail-waters below. Trout, stripers, catfish and other predators become so focused on this regenerating supply of easy-to-catch food they may ignore other food sources. Take a close look at shad or alewives you see floating along the surface below dams you fish and it will simplify lure selection because choosing the correct lure size is often more important than color. Color and flash draw attention and determine visibility at distance; lure size sells the offering. All three are important when dialing in the best choice in lures but most times lure size trumps the other two.
Though I’ve also fished less for trout this winter, I took one special trip to fish for them that was most memorable. My good friend John Flanagan called one dark, wintery day and asked if I’d like to join him for an afternoon of fly-fishing for trout on one of his favorite streams. I had never fly-fished but eagerly accepted the invitation. I met John at a book-signing event in Abingdon, VA last summer and we quickly became good friends. John is a highly skilled angler and serious fly-fishing enthusiast whose credentials include appearances on my friend Curtis Fleming’s television show, Fly Rod Chronicles. So I couldn’t have been more honored to join him and receive some hands-on training from such a talented fly-fisher. We scheduled our trip on a day when the air temperature was forecast to bump fifty-degrees, set a time and place to meet and our adventure was set.
When we arrived at the stream, the water was high and stained but our enthusiasm was little affected. John chose flies he believed would produce fish and rigged our fly rods for battle. For the rookie, John set up the fly-fishing equivalent of a bobber and nightcrawler; a float called a Thingamabobber and a fly that looked like a tiny garden redworm called a San Juan Worm on a 3x tippet, known among the uninitiated as eight-pound test line. After an extended but patient class that armed me with a clumsy roll cast and traditional delivery, serious fishing and further casting practice began. I was all thumbs when casting but was very familiar with the quarry, comfortable fishing a small stream and experienced when selecting spots that should hold trout. And the mental image of casting a bobber and nightcrawler increased my confidence. Soon I was attracting strikes and follows from hungry rainbows and in little time landed my first trout. I was most impressed with the battle on that long, limber rod and John had the drag set perfectly on the reel. I gained the greatest confidence in my tackle after hooking and landing a beautiful four-pound rainbow. The big fish charged downstream to the far end of the pool like a torpedo but with patience, I had little trouble working her back upstream to the net. By the end of the afternoon I had proudly landed five nice rainbows, though I’m sure it was not a graceful thing to watch. So I enjoyed my first fly-fishing trip immensely though I expect it may be a long time before Curtis Fleming asks me to be a guest on his show. However, I hope John invites me back soon for more casting practice and great stream-fishing for rainbow trout.
If you’re setting at home wishing for an early spring so you can go fishing, you’re missing some good fishing now. Bass, channel catfish, walleyes, crappie and others are grouped together in high numbers this time of year and offer exceptional fishing after you find them. If you prefer fishing streams and rivers, trout and smallmouth bass await. And there are few periods during the year when your chances of catching a trophy are better. If you need help getting started, pick up a copy of my book, The Weekend Angler’s Guide To Good Fishing and you’ll find the information needed to help you catch big fish throughout the cold-water period.
Be safe and good fishing!
The Christmas Holiday Season has arrived along with some snow, incredible food, shopping, and special time with family and friends. It’s a busy time filled with anticipation and excitement mixed with last-minute rushes, ill people in long lines and aching feet. I love it all and elbow my way in wherever I can. With so much going on time passes quickly but soon after the Holidays, dark days, cold weather and lack of college football starts feeling like imprisonment. Most days it’s too cold to fish on large reservoirs during winter, except on infrequent mild-weather days, but brief trips to fish smaller waters can produce fine fishing and welcome breaks from winter doldrums. I’m feeling good about my prospects this season because I recently had a chance to sample one of my favorite winter pastimes; fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to test and recommend new colors of one of my most productive cold-water lures for river smallmouth bass, slim-profile paddle-tailed swimbaits. It was a brand I’d tested in a sample color in the past, made of hand-poured plastic in an ideal size for river fishing; the River Rock Custom Baits RR Striker. On River Rock’s Web site, Strikers are listed under the jerk-bait category as 3.75-inch baits, though in a side-by-side comparison they’re the same length as most four-inch swimbaits I’ve tried with similar diameter bodies. However, when comparing RR Strikers to other swimbaits the similarity ends when the baits are seen in motion. The hand-poured plastic of the Strikers makes them come to life as they swim, including the tail and the undulating swimming action of the body. You can find a link to River Rocks Web site further down in the sidebar column of this blog. So with the test Strikers in hand, with a box of proven favorites and the necessary rigging components, I hooked-up my boat and headed for one of my favorite smallmouth rivers on a warm, sunny afternoon.
I was a little surprised when I reached the boat ramp because the river was low and clear, much like early-fall conditions, although my temperature gauge displayed water temperatures in the low-50’s. So I knew it would be a challenge to find active, feeding bass. I had chosen four colors to test; two clear-water patterns and two brighter colors for stained water. It was obvious the bright colors wouldn’t be needed so I stuffed them in my tackle bag, grabbed those I’d chosen for clear water and prepared to start fishing. On my primary rod, I rigged a Striker in Green Pumpkin w/Pearl on a 1/16-ounce Owner Ultra Head in the Bullet Style; a lighter head with a more subtle color of plastic for shallow work. On a second rod I rigged a Striker in Watermelon w/Pearl using a 1/8-ounce head; a slightly more visible color with increased weight for deeper areas. After searching several spots, I learned the smallmouths were still relating to shoals but were positioned along current breaks close to the deepest water available. On classic-looking shoals with no deep water close by, repeated casts drew blanks, even on spots that frequently hold good bass during warm weather. After narrowing my search and catching a few smaller fish, I moved upriver where a larger shoal swept into an extended area of deep water. As I moved into position to begin fishing, I found much of the area below the shoal ran from seven- to ten-feet deep so I backed away and changed to heavier heads on both rods; from 1/16- to 1/8-ounce on the first rod and from 1/8- to 3/16-ounce on the second rigged with the same two colors of Strikers. Where I fished the seam along the shallower edge of the drop I cast the 1/8-ounce, Green Pumpkin combo; along the deeper face and base of the drop I cast the 3/16-ounce, Watermelon combo. In the next hour-and-a-half, I caught several smallmouths including my largest of the day and finished with eight to ten fish landed for the afternoon. I’m often guilty of losing count of fish caught when the action gets hot and I get excited, though most times I guess to the low side. Also, I lost a couple bass and had several more strikes including a few tail bite-offs; not uncommon when fishing small swimbaits for river smallmouths.
In summary, I found the RR Strikers in both colors good choices for clear-water smallmouth bass in rivers though I can’t say either was best because each caught a nearly equal number of fish. Furthermore, considering water clarity and temperature during testing, I’m confident these baits will continue attracting strikes throughout the cold-water period and beyond. Strikers are a little more expensive than some swimbaits I use in rivers but their action is unmatched and they’re more durable than most. So in a day of fishing, it’s realistic to expect to catch more fish on the same number of baits used. If you haven’t tried fishing slim-profile swimbaits in rivers for smallmouth bass, the RR Strikers would be a good first choice for learning and building confidence in this method of catching fish. After my first day of testing them, they’ve earned permanent space in my river-fishing toolbox. With a couple baits left in each test color, I was determined to visit the river again soon under better conditions to see if I could fool some larger bass. So one afternoon when I found some free time, I grabbed a rod and reel, my river-fishing toolbox and ran for the river to fish from shore for a few hours. What I found when I arrived changed my plans completely.
Before leaving, I checked the water generation schedule on the primary river that flowed into the area I planned to fish and knew the volume of water would be greater. But as I drove over a large feeder river upstream of my planned fishing spot, I noticed that water was high and stained. When I arrived at my destination, the water level there was very high, moderately stained and the river was full of floating debris including trees large enough to create boating hazards. After having a good talk with myself about not thoroughly checking conditions, I realized I was well equipped to catch fish; just not with swimbaits. So I removed the Striker I had rigged, changed spools from braid to ten-pound-test monofilament and tied on a Texas-rigged plastic crawfish with a 1/8-ounce bullet weight pegged to the lure. My attitude changed quickly as I re-rigged because I knew it was an ideal setup for fishing eddies along shore; one of my favorite ways to catch good river smallmouth bass during winter. Further testing of the Strikers would have to wait for another day. Before I was much more than a cast length from my car, I caught my first smallmouth bass. In the next two hours, the action was nonstop and I finished the afternoon with nine good fish. My largest bass of the day weighed more than two-and-a-half-pounds with only two fish less than a pound; a good day anytime but especially so on a cold late-fall afternoon of fishing from shore.
After adjusting to the conditions, I enjoyed a productive afternoon of smallmouth fishing on a day most anglers wouldn’t consider good for catching fish. When the flow is high and swift, fish jigs, Texas-rigged soft plastics or similar weedless lures in eddies close to shore. When the flow is low to normal, try retrieving slim-profile paddle-tailed swimbaits in areas of reduced current, close to or through the deepest water in the area. And if you haven’t tried River Rocks RR Strikers, order a pack or two and give them a try in your favorite smallmouth river. I’m sure River Rock Custom Baits will appreciate your business, and I’m equally sure you’ll be impressed with these baits. Merry Christmas to all my angling friends and I hope you have a safe, enjoyable Holiday season. And don’t forget, stop by and see me in mid-January at the East Tennessee Fishing Show in Knoxville and let’s talk fishing. You can find me there at the R&S Bait Company booth and can check dates, times and the address by clicking the Book Signing Schedule tab at the top of this page. I hope to meet you there.
I enjoyed a busy holiday season filled with good food and time spent with family and friends. Shopping, book signing events and travel filled most of my remaining time and the heart of winter passed quickly, though a nasty battle with that new strain of flu could have passed more quickly. Here in East Tennessee, we had frequent snow with record rainfall during January and February followed with much of the same. My friends and I enjoyed fine fishing for trout and bass in local rivers and reservoirs before the rain and snow began. But as my schedule filled with Holiday activities, book signings, then midwinter weather restrictions, my time on the water became all too limited. Nevertheless, the many signing events I scheduled kept me from lapsing into fishing withdrawal and provided opportunities to meet many new friends who share my passion for our sport. I enjoyed meeting and talking with them all, from newcomers to seasoned veterans and industry business professionals to fishing celebrities. Also, I was intrigued by many new products I saw including electronics, an array of new lures, other tackle and creative local artwork. However, some people I met left the most memorable impressions.
Before the doors opened at the East Tennessee Fishing Show in Knoxville one morning, I bumped into Hank Parker on the show floor as he stood admiring a new boat. I enjoyed the most pleasant, relaxed conversation with him and confirmed he is the likeable down-to-earth gentleman I’d always thought him to be. My most surprising encounter began when I got into a lively discussion with a young man, a tournament angler who I did not recognize, about smallmouth bass. He had an obvious out-of-town accent, from Michigan I learned, as we discussed the differences between longer Tennessee smallmouths and the thick-bodied smallmouths found throughout the great lakes. I’m sure he enjoyed our conversation as much as I did, a discussion born from shared admiration for one of North America’s greatest game fish. We talked until he was called away and I was drawn to others waiting to chat. Later, I learned he was Jonathan VanDam, the hottest rising star in professional bass fishing and nephew of all-time money winner and legendary tournament angler Kevin VanDam. I was most entertained by a fellow fishing fanatic I met less than two weeks ago at a boat dealer open house in Morristown, TN. I recognized him immediately because I’d read about his past tournament success with BASS and enjoyed his humorous antics on television. During our conversations that day, I learned that Fish Fishburne and I share a special interest in catching smallmouth bass in rivers. We once cut up like ten-year-olds as we laughed and talked about setting up a trip to run up a local river we’ve both long wanted to fish in my jet-drive G3 boat; a model similar to one he’d recently sold. I hope we make that trip sometime because anyone with that much energy and such a great sense of humor would make an entertaining companion for a day on the water. So it’s not been a boring winter because I’ve been very busy, studied a variety of new angling tools and talked with many experienced anglers. But with the earliest spring flowers blooming and average air temperatures beginning to rise, my mind has shifted back to the sound of water lapping along a shoreline, cool clean air, and the thought of a sudden bend in a fine graphite rod. It’s time to get back on the water and enjoy some good fishing.
In the last few weeks, area lakes and streams have started clearing and water generation rates have decreased. Trout are one of my preferred target species throughout the cold-water period and a couple visits to the closest tail-water confirmed they’re adapting well to the clearing conditions. Both rainbow and brown trout remain active in cold winter water though the lowest temperatures of the season reduce movement and feeding. Browns have recently finished spawning and should be feeding more frequently to regain strength and body weight. Rainbows are active, will spawn soon and should be at their heaviest weights of the year. However, I found trout fishing a little too slow in the tail-water I checked. There’s no question the recent flooding affected fish location and cold, snow runoff slowed their metabolism but I quickly discovered why they weren’t hitting as well as expected. The winter shad die-off must be peaking because the water I fished was littered with dead and dying shad in various sizes. With so much nutritious food available, trout feed less often because they can quickly fill their stomachs with little effort or movement. I don’t consider that a problem, but a promise of things to come. As the shad kill diminishes and the water begins to warm, the trout will continue to focus on that limited but easy to catch source of protein. So, tail-water fishing will soon be excellent for some beautiful pot-bellied trout using shad-imitating lures and I’ll be there to enjoy it.
A check of the local smallmouth bass population produced better results. A single trip to a highland reservoir confirmed most smallies there were still deep and suspended. After many hours on classic winter structure I caught only one nice bass on a silver buddy and inquiries at the ramp later confirmed fishing was poor with several zeros reported, though one boat reported a few fish caught on Damiki Rigs in fifty-feet of water. However, the river smallmouths I checked were much more cooperative. I fish for river smallmouths throughout winter, focusing on periods of high flow when they’re pushed to shoreline eddies and easier to find. But with the recent drop in water generation and little rainfall the last two weeks, many of my most productive eddy areas were so shallow I could see bottom. I caught a few bass but concluded they were scattered and holding behind larger scattered structure or in deeper holes, sheltered from the cold, swift current. So I replaced my Texas-rigged soft plastics with something I could fish horizontally to cover water; swimbaits.
If you’ve read my book, you know I’m a match-the-hatch kind of angler. Therefore, when fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers I prefer long, slender swimbaits that mimic shiner, chub or darter minnows. So I grabbed several packs of skinny swimbaits, hooks and other gear and went to my favorite local river do some testing on a cold, breezy afternoon. Thirteen smallmouths later, I was convinced I’d found the right formula. A few days later, a friend and I caught sixteen more including several two-pound-plus beauties. I’ve tried several brands, sizes and colors of swimbaits in the last two weeks and found the best choices share some common traits.
Slender plastics in three-and-three-quarter to four-inch lengths have been equally attractive to smallmouths. Natural minnow colors with grey, light-brown or green backs and white or pearl bellies have all caught fish. Silver, gold or other colors of fleck in the plastic added flash to the bait’s lifelike appearance though I’m not convinced the fish showed a preference. Also, I’ve tried various rigging methods including Owner Ultrahead Bullet Rigs and weighted EWG hooks in 1/16 and 1/8 ounce models and found all equally effective, and weedless, when properly matched to the size plastic used and water depth. I’m sure screw-lock or other similar weighted, weedless hook designs will also work well; I simply haven’t tried them. Finally, I always use an attractant or masking scent when presenting slow-moving plastic lures. When my friend and I went, he used Yum F2 Spray in Shad and I used Berkley Gulp Attractant in Shad, and we each caught eight nice bass. But the most crucial variable common to all the lures we tried and places we fished was the need for a painfully slow, steady retrieve. Get a little excited over the chunky fish you’d just released, increase retrieve speed and you’d quickly go from hero to zero. With the proper choice in hook weight, the lure should tap bottom frequently during the retrieve. When the lure starts dragging bottom, lift the rod tip to raise the bait but continue the same slow, steady rate of retrieve. If you live close to a river that offers good smallmouth bass fishing during summer, don’t wait, grab some skinny swimbaits and weedless hooks and go catch some nice fish. But remember; use a slow and steady retrieve speed to catch river smallmouth bass in cold water.
Soon, good fishing will be available everywhere. As longer periods of daylight begin warming the shallows, bass and crappie will move to sheltered shorelines to begin their prespawn ritual and offer good fishing. And rivers will soon fill with white, striped bass and other river spawners; walleyes are already there and scheduled next on my list for a visit. So if you haven’t prepared for early-spring fishing, it’s time to get your boat out of storage, spool up with fresh line and get tackle ready to go because we’re about to begin another promising new fishing season!
I take pleasure in the additional minutes of sunlight each day brings during winter. The extra fifteen minutes a week becomes noticeable by early February. However, winter is what it is. Each new day promises a few added moments of daylight but is often accompanied by bitterly cold weather and cutting winds. Like all anglers, my available fishing time is not well synchronized with the weather forecast so many times my only choice is to fish when conditions are extreme. Nevertheless, I’ve found a window of opportunity that produces good fishing throughout the cold water period despite the weather. The only condition required to capitalize on it is increased water flow in a river close by that holds smallmouth bass. In the heart of the TVA system where I live, heavy generation from dams is common throughout winter because of increased power demands. So when generation and water flow increases, despite the weather, I visit a local river to catch a few smallmouth bass.
A few hours in the afternoon when temperatures peak is enough to enjoy this fishing experience. If it is cold and windy, add an extra layer of clothing. When it snows, add heavier, waterproof outerwear and boots. But don’t let cold weather stop you if the river is full and running swift, although there is a limit. The river shouldn’t be so high the water is out of the banks; high and swift is ideal, flood stage is not. Good water clarity isn’t crucial although heavily stained water limits the fish’s strike zone and may negatively affect success. Under high-water conditions, smallmouth bass move out of the cold, swift water to shoreline eddies. Find safe access with secure footing along the shore and you’ll be a short pitch-cast away from some fine fishing. Use weedless lures you can fish slowly through slack water and you can find fish willing to strike. Strikes are often subtle, detected more by line movement than by feel. So cover water slowly and thoroughly as you watch your line. You will be sold on this method of fishing the first time you set the hook, the rod bows, and a big smallmouth bass begins thrashing on the surface. Access to a river is easy to find where walking trails, city parks, and highways are present or permission can be obtained to cross private property. If it’s a river system you fish during warm weather, focus on sections that attract and hold smallmouth bass during summer because many will produce good fishing during winter.
I discovered this method of catching smallmouth bass in rivers during winter many years ago. Though I’ve never seen it described in a sporting publication or on television, I have met a few anglers who enjoy catching bass this way. If you live close to a river that holds smallmouth bass and would like to learn more, there’s a feature story in my book in the chapter on winter fishing that describes the tackle, lures, and methods of presentation I employ to catch these great game fish in rivers when the snow begins to fall. If you try it, let me know how you do and anything new you learn because information about his type of fishing is extremely limited. Be safe and great fishing!