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Deciding to get out on a river during the winter months is not for the faint of heart. It takes a whole lot of dedication, patience, and added safety measures. Before I even begin to talk about baits and tactics, I need to address the most important part of winter kayaking and that’s safety. It goes without saying that you should always wear a life jacket. For winter kayaking, the next most essential part of your gear should be a dry suit. I know they are expensive but they will save your life if you happen to end up in the water. I would not even consider going out on the water without one. Next you’re going to want to wear warm layers underneath the dry suit. Fleeces, wool, or other synthetics. Warm boots and socks are also a must have. Fleece or wool gloves along with a toboggan should round out your gear. Avoid any cottons. The key is to be as warm and comfortable as possible so you can enjoy your time on the water in as safe of a manner as well.

River smallies are fickle in the winter. Their metabolism is low but they still need to eat to survive. If your local river is mostly shallow water just look for the deeper pools and areas that have deeper water with little to no current. In areas that have plenty of deeper and slow moving water look for submerged ledges or chunk rock. Smallies love to winter in submerged ledges so that’s always a key spot. In the event of a high rise in water levels, look for large and deep shoreline eddies. The best eddies will have a steep bank and rock with a gravel bottom.

Slowing it down for winter river smallies

I like to keep my bait selection very simple in the winter. A suspending jerkbait that is dead sticked. You cast it out and jerk it till it gets down to its maximum depth and just let it sit for minutes before slowly jerking it again and repeat. I don’t throw a jerkbait a lot just because I don’t have the patience for it but dead sticking one in the winter can be deadly. One of my favorite moving bait choices is a blade bait in 1/2oz. Cast it out and let it sink to the bottom. Then raise your rod till you feel the bait vibrate and let it sink again. Slow is the ticket here and they’ll usually grab it on the fall. For bottom finesse baits my two favorites are a 2 1/2″ tube and a hair jig. I make my own hair jigs but anything small and dark in color will work well. You don’t want anything weighted too heavy, just enough to maintain contact with the bottom. Small movements or drags are the key. Just like the fish, their food will be lethargic and slow moving so try to replicate that speed. Another thing I really think is important for winter fishing is to add scent to your baits. The hits are going to be light so adding scent to your baits can increase how long they’ll hold onto it.

Give winter river fishing a try, it will help alleviate some of that cabin fever. Just be sure to do it as safely as possible. Hypothermia can kill you in minutes so invest in a dry suit, your life is worth more than the price tag of the additional safety gear. Be safe out there and enjoy some tight lines.