Fish being cold-blooded creatures, when our water temperatures drop at this time of year we adjust our tactics to up the success rate.
What’s the biggest adjustment? Slowing things down to make sure the fish, which are low on energy in the cool water, have a chance to take the bait.
At this time of year, live shrimp is often the best choice, and until schools of sardines return in spring, perhaps the only logical choice. Fished under a float or free-lined, live shrimp are an ideal winter bait, as they remain somewhat stationary and are an easy target for trout, redfish, snook and other species.
On the artificial side, plugs, jigs and jerkbaits work well, though anglers need to downshift their retrieve speeds to ensure success. Cold fish aren’t nearly as likely to use what energy reserves they have to chase a lure, so the goal is to make it easy for them. Work baits with very short twitches of the rod tip, pausing for long spells. A fish that sees something moving slowly will make a calculation that they will not have to expend a lot of effort for a meal, which is exactly what you want it to believe.
As we try to cover as much water as possible the temptation to make fast retrieves can be difficult to overcome, but racing baits in cold weather doesn’t really tell you whether the fish are there. It could be that they are just watching that lure buzz by and waiting for something easier to catch to come along.
Combine these presentation tactics with working deep holes (which offer warmer water near the bottom), dark-bottom (which absorbs heat and warms the surrounding water), and you have an effective winter fishing pattern.