Choosing the Right Winter Lures
Lure choice in the winter months can be difficult; however, a few basic tips will greatly improve success. Live bait is the best choice, because it will react to the water naturally. Typically, anglers work artificial baits too quickly for the winter conditions. Both forage and predators are cold-blooded creatures and the cold water slows their metabolisms, making them move slowly. Bait that moves unnaturally quickly will turn fish away. Anglers trying to mimic these forage species should slow down their presentations to a methodically sluggish retrieve. Most anglers simply can’t fish slowly enough with artificial baits to accurately mimic the speed and movements of forage during winter temperatures. Live bait will be more enticing. Minnows or shiners are a great choice; so are live worms. However, they somewhat limit the species of freshwater fish that may bite.
Select artificial baits with hair and/or feathers. These provide more action in cold water than soft plastic baits, which get can stiff and lose the built-in action when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees. Hair and feathers don’t respond like this to cold water and, instead, maintain excellent action with little movement. Hair and feathers also move with water currents. Even when an angler imparts no action to the bait, it can still move very naturally, remain in the strike zone of the fish longer and mimic live prey.
If catching fish on lures is the goal, choose lures that will catch multiple species. Shad, herring, or yearling sunfish/perch will be the primary winter forage for all freshwater species, so match these forage species with lures. Most other forage species, crawfish, and other vertebrates will be hibernating and will emerge only after an extended warming trend. Soft plastic baits, including straight-tail worms, grubs, and tube baits, can be very effective. Choose colors that mimic the winter forage: anything white, silver, or transparent in color will work well, especially if they contain colored flakes. Hard baits such as crankbaits, spinners, and spoons can be very suitable on warmer days. Color choices for these baits should include chrome, silver, or gold.
In winter, it is important to use a reduced lure size. Cold temperatures drastically reduce a fish’s metabolism and the fish don’t need to feed as often. Smaller prey is easier to catch and digest. Presenting something small and slow best mimics the natural feeding habits at this time of year. Baits in the two- to four-inch range are perfect. If the goal is to catch the biggest fish in the area, use three- to four-inch baits, but if the goal is to catch the most fish possible, select baits in the two- to three-inch range.