By Dan Grulke
Although the numbers of fish caught per outing decrease during the colder months of the year, the cool temperatures provide the angler with a better chance at a trophy fish (for some species).
Fish in area waters that are still active include the smallmouth bass, walleye and musky. In addition, the larger-sized members of these species are generally the fish that are more active. These aspects are what provides the angler with a trophy of a lifetime opportunity.
Although these three fish all have different preferences for locations in streams, rivers, and lakes, there is one preference that becomes more prevalent than others, that all three share in common during the colder months: finding food easily without spending energy.
All three of these fish will begin to move to their cold-water locations during the fall. All three of these species will be looking for a secure, low stress, comfortable spot in the water that has easy access to a food source. Look for areas that have some type of cover, very little to no current, and some type of structure that allows them to change depths in an easy manner (should water temperatures become uncomfortable).
During this time of year, fish with a very slow presentation. Use something that looks like what the fish you are targeting is feeding on. For smallmouths this will be a tube or creature bait, and for smallmouth and musky it will be swimbaits. There are two schools of thought on what size lure to use: very large or very small.
For smallmouth I use 2 ¾-inch tubes; and for musky and walleyes, I generally throw 4-inch swimbaits. The 4-inch swimbait is very productive because it appeals to all three species when they are living in the same waters. I fish these lures as slow as I can possibly stand.
When fishing in colder weather, it is important to prepare for your outing in a manner that ensures your safety. Always tell a friend or family member where you are fishing and when you expect to be finished. In addition, dress appropriately. Dress in layers, so that you can peel off clothing as the weather warms. Wear a wind breaker as it will block out most wind that will penetrate regular jackets. Do not use cotton in your base layers or outer layers, as it becomes ineffective at retaining heat once wet. Have your boat, safety gear and life jackets in the proper mechanical and working condition. Be aware of changing weather conditions.
Although fishing in the winter can be slow, it is often one of the best times for catching a trophy of a lifetime. However, during the colder months, the margin of error is a lot smaller when concerning your safety. As a result, you will need to be more cautious and prepare appropriately for the colder conditions you will be fishing in.