Dear anglers, before you contemplate on putting away your fishing gear, here is a guide on how to get the most out of the winter fishing season.
CALIFORNIA— While winter comes up fast and the temperatures drop low, anglers may be compelled to pack away lures and fishing rods until next spring. But fishing in cold weather can be as great as it is in the summer, especially since the weather keeps most anglers cozied up next to their woodburning stoves. Winter is a particularly great time to fish because freshwater species group up, meaning more fish on your lure. But winter fishing takes some prep.
Like any fishing season, location is essential. Picking the right spot to cast your line is pivotal. If you aren’t sure where the good fishing spots are during the winter months, check out your state’s (or the state you’ll be fishing in) Department of Fish and Wildlife website. They have all the up-to-date information on what fish are in which lakes, what time of year offers the best catch, and any limitations you will need to heed.
The CDFW offers an updated map of legal fishing locations, Quagga infested areas, and legal boating locations. Currently in California, ocean salmon, giant sea bass, and red abalone are all closed fishing seasons, however, there are over 26 open fishing seasons including lingcod, California sheepshead, seabass, tuna, and Dungeness crab.
CDFW has created a fishing general guide highlighting great places to fish in California. The online map-based fishing guide can help anglers plan fishing activities and it contains a variety of information including fish planting locations, freshwater sport fishing regulations, marine protected areas, and much more. The CDFW also shares its R3 program to encourage and advises anglers on all things hunting and fishing.
During January in California, the best fish to catch are sturgeons. Surrounded by San Rafael, Vallejo, and San Francisco, the San Pablo Bay carries the reputation of a wintertime sturgeon Mecca. A combination of moving tides, bolstered by rainfall-induced freshwater flows from the Petaluma River, Napa River, and Sonoma Creek, churn up the estuary, providing ideal conditions for concentrations of feeding “diamondbacks.”
Halibut begin to arrive in sheltered bays in February, from San Diego to Eureka. This aggressive bottom feeder is a popular target for anglers working in these California waters during the winter, and is a popular menu item for restaurants during this season; these fish prefer vast expanses of sandy bottoms. The “flatfish” typically range between 10 to 25 pounds, with some approaching 40 pounds. Regulations require anglers to toss back any that don’t meet the 22-inch, minimum-size length restriction. Notable hotspots include Oceanside Pier, Morro Bay, Monterey Bay, San Francisco Bay, Tomales Bay, Bodega Head, Shelter Cove, and Humboldt Bay.
Spring of 2022 will begin March 20, giving anglers one more chance for winter fishing. In Yuba County, Collins Lake grows largemouth bass that feed on a healthy forage base (including stocked rainbow trout). Good electronics help locate bass suspended in deep water, off points, humps, and the main-creek edges. Pitching jigs or plastic worms are effective but must be used in deep waters and presented slowly. As the water temperatures rise, bass seek food, and topwater action improves. Reaction lures spur aggressive strikes with larger fish preferring spinnerbaits and crankbaits, while others are hooked by anglers “frogging” over the increasing weed growth.
For strictly freshwater winter fishing in California, here is the winter season’s best four offers:
- Black crappie: Black crappies fare better in deep, clear reservoirs in the northern part of California.
- Yellow perch: Yellow perch are mostly found in the weedy backwaters of lakes and large ponds usually in warmer waters in Northern California. Those that are found in colder water usually have stunted growth.
- Bluegill: To catch a winter bluegill, it is suggested that anglers use an ultralight freshwater fishing rod and jigs tipped with minnows and waxworms around beds close to the periods of dawn and dusk. Bluegills are mostly found in warm, shallow lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and sloughs at low elevations. Bluegills thrive in Northern California.
- Channel catfish: Channel catfish are found mostly in the main channels of large, warm water streams with sand, gravel, or rubble bottoms but can also be found in farm ponds, reservoirs, and turbid muddy bottomed rivers. Channel catfish are often found in the Balboa Park reflecting pond in San Diego.
The best locations in Southern California for winter fishing according to active.com:
- Southern California lakes: Lake Perris in Riverside County is the best lake for using swimbait, along with Lake Casitas in Ventura County. The two lakes are worth visiting from November through February as it is prime time of the year for bass fishing.
- Pier fishing: Pier fishing isn’t only for warmer weather. During the winter, pier fishing in Huntington Beach and neighboring beach cities offers the strong possibility to catch halibut, surfperches, and more.
- The California Delta: The California Delta is a rare location that make bass fishing in the winter a possibility. Near Sacramento, Stockton, and San Francisco, this 1,000-mile waterway is flowing with different species of fish, making for very exciting fishing.
- Eastern Sierra: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife keeps the Eastern Sierra’s stocked with golden trout, rainbow trout, bass, and catfish. Inyo and Mono counties host year-round open water during the winter months when attendance is typically low.
- Lower Sacramento River: Just below the Shasta Dam, the “Lower Sac” is known as one of the best tailwater fisheries in the U.S. Winter is the ideal time for enthusiastic fishermen who want to avoid crowds, to continue their fishing hobby throughout winter. Massive rainbow trout and the late-fall salmon are plentiful during the cooler months and because of low river flow, wade fishing is also an option from December throughout February.
- Trinity River: Spanning from Lewiston Dam near Weaverville to Klamath River at Weitchpec, the 100-mile-long Trinity River is one of the most recognized steelhead trout streams on the West Coast. For steelhead fly fishing, the upper 40 miles of the Trinity near Lewiston is perfect because of its deep pools and ledge rock shelves that sit between canyons and lush evergreen forests.
As for baits, there are seven that anglers should have in their tackle box during the winter fishing season. Anglers should remember to start using brightly-colored or lightly-colored lures when visibility is low. Softer light makes it harder for fish to see, limiting where they can see your lure. A bright-colored lure will have the most significant reach for fish to see it. It’s helpful to start with white-colored lures and then try other bright ones if white isn’t working. According to Karl’s Bait and Tackle.
The seven lures fishermen need are:
- The jerkbait: A suspending or slow sinking jerkbait can work well when the water temperatures drop, and the winter fishing season commences. Don’t forget to change your cadence often and alternate jerks and the length of pauses.
- Underspins: This lure is all about presentation. First, rig it up with your favorite swimbait body and let it sink to the bottom of the water column. After that, you can slow roll your underspin across the cover or even jerk it off the bottom and let it sink back down.
- Blade baits: This lure is often underutilized but can catch some big fish in the winter months. It’s most often fished by vertical jigging, but anglers can do any variation they want. As the bait sinks, it slowly flutters and flashes to the bottom, making it irresistible to bass.
- The jig: The finesse jig, casting jig, or even a football jig will suffice. It works best when it is cast out and slowly dragged across the bottom. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different-sized trailers. Consider downsizing by trimming up the skirt if you’re not getting any bites.
- The drop shot: This lure offers the ultimate finesse technique for winter fishing. Bass anglers love throwing the drop shot when the bite is tough. The natural colors work great during the winter months. Don’t forget to continue to adjust your leader length until you find those suspended fish!
- Grub: A jig head and a grub can be a killer presentation when the fish are hard to catch. So please don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
- Spybait: This new bait has gained much attention since the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Lake St. Clair. The spybait is perfect for suspending lures for winter fishing and can be fishing slow or fast in almost any depth.
Whether its ice fishing for walleye or lakeside bass fishing, winter fishing is just as rewarding as summer, but dress warm and head out to the water prepared.