What Is Open Water Fishing In The Winter?

Tony Roach caught this big walleye

Tony Roach caught this big walleye

Open Water Fishing In The Winter
by Bob Jensen

What strange winter weather we’ve been having across much of the Midwest, and as I understand, much of the country. It’s warm in areas where it should be cold, and it’s colder than normal in areas where it’s usually warmer. And snowfall is down substantially.

The ice cover on many lakes is weird this year also. On lakes that have good safe ice, the bite has been outstanding. You may have to travel farther that usual this year to find safe ice, but if you’re willing to do so, chances of being successful are very good.

But, if you don’t have the time or inclination to travel farther than normal to go ice-fishing, this warmer, drier than usual weather gives us another fishing opportunity. The medium to large rivers across the Midwest are providing some outstanding walleye and sauger action. The larger rivers will probably require a boat for the best chance at success, but wading anglers can take advantage of walleyes in the smaller rivers. Here’s why the fishing is good in the smaller rivers and how you can get in on the action.

Because conditions have been so dry across the Midwest for an extended period of time, rivers are running lower than usual for this time of year. For that reason, the fish are grouping up even more in the deeper holes. Fish generally like to be in deeper water in these small rivers in the winter, and because there are fewer deeper holes because of the low water, the remaining deep areas have more fish. In smaller rivers, there aren’t as many deep stretches, just deep holes. Find a deep hole and you’re going to find fish. The key is to make them bite.

In winter the water usually runs clearer, and fish in clear water can be finicky. Early and late in the day will be more productive, and night fishing can be explosive. Cloudy days will be better than bright days.

Our catch will consist mostly of walleyes, but smallmouth bass, northern pike, and even muskies will inhabit these deeper areas. A jig/minnow combination will do best most of the time, but at night a jig/action tail soft bait will be better. During the day throw a Fire-ball jig with a three inch fathead or shiner minnow, at night use a Slurp! Jig with a three inch Power Grub. Crawl the jig/minnow combo, swim the jig/Power Grub set-up.

We often hear how you need a slower presentation in cold water, and that’s a good starting point, but you can still catch walleyes on a crankbait in the winter. A Flicker Shad is a good choice: Use the larger, deeper running #7 size during the day, experiment with different sizes at night. At night the fish will move to the shallower water at the edge of the deep holes. When they move shallower, they will be biters, but a smaller, shallower running bait will often be better. Don’t hesitate to try the new #4 size Flicker Shad in the shallows at night.

It’s kind of a bummer that it’s harder to go ice-fishing this year than in past years, but that’s just part of the deal. I’m sure that there will still be plenty of ice-fishing opportunities this year, and late ice always provides some of the best ice action. However, while we wait for good ice, make the most of the low water in the rivers near where you live. You just might find some pretty good warm weather fishing in the winter.