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Wonder About Winter?

After flipping the calendar over to a new year often kayakers are faced with what to do about winter. Gone are the 80-degree days, gentle summer breezes, water is clear and cold. Depending on your geographic location you may be drilling though the ice in Minnesota or swatting mosquitoes in Florida but for the sake of conversation lets say you aren’t battling “hard water” aka ice, you’re paddling in a place that enjoys four seasons and year round open water.


Your kayaking equipment should include cold water gear. Number one on the list is a life jacket that you wear 100% of the time. Your kayaking clothes should focus on warm and dry, that means wool and wicking materials, a great under garment is a one piece “onesie” from Immersion Research. Footwear is critical my choice is the Boundary boot from NRS. Wool socks and fingerless wool gloves are highly recommended. Pair up if possible, with other paddlers.

Where to Go

Moving waters stay warmer in the winter (cooler in the summer) and are good targets for early year fishing adventures. Streams and rivers offer a wide variety of species and fun fishing or foraging for food. This time of the year your local spots could be untapped and left to just you and your fishing friends. Fish that get heavy pressure during the warmer months of the year could now be anxious to bite. Be aware od current and generation schedules.

Target species

Many of our “finny friends” are minimally affected by cold water conditions. At 55 degrees and less trout, catfish, crappie and walleye are still actively feeding and willing to bite live or artificial baits. All the bass species feed throughout the winter but with a metabolism slow down the feeding frequency can be limited. No matter water they all still have to eat. On the plus side most fish are schooled up so once you locate a few they should have friends. Don’t discount live bait. A lively minnow or a nightcrawler is hard for fish to resist when properly presented.

What to Throw

Artificial baits dominate cold water fishing. A standard rule of thumb is smaller lures and slower retrieves most often will produce a few bites. Lures that can be worked slowly and stay in the now limited strike zone are most effective. Two lure categories for the wintertime kayak bass anglers are jigs and jerkbaits. With the jigs, the lighter weight models will fall slowly and with addition of a larger trailer it will descend even more slowly keeping it in front of the laziest largemouth.

Consider the Strike King football head and finesse jigs in the 1/8th and ¼ ounce models. I like to trail those with the Ragetail craws, full size and downsized baby craws. As far as colors, neutral shades produce well in the clear water conditions. The jerkbait is what I refer to as a situational bait. The best results with this slim hard bait are in clear / cold water conditions. My “go to” presentation with the jerkbaits is a long cast and three quick downward snaps with the rod to send the lure into a deep dive, next, I literally count to seven and repeat the triple snap. Jerkbaits are effective because they will suspend or rise very slowly keeping them in the strike zone for an extended period of time. The Strike King KVD jerkbaits are available in four models and an incredible 46 colors. # 508 Clown is a killer color! These baits will have a diving range of 3 – 11 feet. The Smithwick Rogue is another great bait.

If you wanting to have a fish fry search for the popular crappie. Heavily schooled up black and white crappie frequent submerged wood / trees, fish attractors and brush piles. Crappie are notorious for gorging on minnows or anything that resembles a minnow. Soft plastic baits fished on light line (4-6-pound test) and lightweight leadheads (1/16th to ¼ oz.) are hard to beat. Limits and size restrictions vary from state to state but there’s no denying crappie are a favorite fish of millions of anglers. *Check your local regulations.
You don’t have to give up kayaking nor fishing during the traditional winter months. With some preparation, planning, some different tackle box contents and a change of mind set you can find and catch cold water, winter fish.

Lure Recommendations

Strike King Jigs……Ragetail craws….Strike King Jerkbaits…..MidSouth tubes and leadheads.