Fish don’t bite in the winter. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.
I am not a biologist, nor do I possess a doctorate degree. So, what I am about to share lacks scientific data and research. However, what I do bring to the table are hundreds of hours of on-the-water experience chasing and catching fish in water temperatures between 33-50 degrees with lures and plugs. With all due respect to biologists, what I possess is the knowledge anglers want most of all: how to catch fish in the winter. Here is an experienced angler’s perspective on the topic.
Do fish eat in the winter? Emphatically, yes!
Fish are cold blooded creatures, which is crucial to consider. They differ from humans because our internal body temperature is 98.6 degrees, while theirs changes accordingly to the environment. Their body temperature is similar to the temperature of the water. Dependent on age, environment, and activity level, humans need about 2,000 calories per day. We need them because our bodies burn them to make heat. That is how many calories we need to maintain 98-degrees. Now, consider how many calories a fish would need to maintain 40 degrees? The answer is not many, and it changes their behavior dramatically.
How this impacts an angler is it dictates how to present baits and bait selection. Since fish do not need as many calories as they do in warm water, they are not willing to chase down a meal. This is why traditional summer baits often do not work. It burns too many calories to chase a crankbait or attack the surface for a topwater plug. Simply put, those offerings are not worth the effort. But make no mistake, fish eat in the winter.
What do fish eat in the winter?
Bass are predators and will not turn down an easy meal. It is crucial to select baits that can be placed directly in front of them and stay in the strike zone for extended periods of time. As discussed in “Winter Bass Fishing Natural Lakes: Winter with Bite,” my favorite cold water baits are a blade and swimbait. That’s because they are strategically placed in a fish’s face to get a reaction.
I’ve caught over 70 smallmouth bass in a single outing in water less than 40 degrees. I’ve broken ice with my boat to get to the honey hole and caught bass in 33-degree water. Just make sure your boat is protected with a KeelGuard first! In fact, some of my best days each year is when water is ultra-cold. Bass have annual wintering haunts and remain there throughout the winter because their food source remains there. Each winter I observe with my own eyes pike, bass, bluegill, and crappie swimming right next to each other without a care in the world.
When do fish eat in the winter?
The predators underwater are not savages, they are opportunists, and eat only when necessary or when provoked. Quite frequently, I catch bass with weeds or leaves attached to the hooks, which lie in their mouths. I’ve caught bass with mud on their bellies. What this tells me is fish do not spend much time moving around. Rather, they wait for something to come by to suck in. Something easy. So, make it easy.
Where do fish eat in the winter?
Most often, fish are on the bottom. I believe that’s because the mud and weeds are slightly warmer than the water. This makes the blade bait and swimbait perfect because they are kept in at or near the bottom and are worked slowly. They are kept in the strike zone.
Any ice angler will tell you that fish move under the ice with regularity. There is no disputing this, but they do not travel miles, they remain in the general area. The predators stay close, but do not move near as frequently. Again, they are waiting for their opportunity – an easy meal, or blade bait, to come by their face in a fashion that is irresistible.
Fish bite year-round, but winter is like any season when adjustments are necessary to reflect their mood, metabolism, and location. Find where they winter up and don’t worry about the cold. You’ll be amazed at how warm you get when a big bass is bending your rod.