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Cold Water Kayak Fishing

Regardless of geographic location it’s likely you’ll be faced with colder water conditions at some point in time. Cold is a relative term dependent on what normal conditions might be. Cold in the north could mean “hard water” aka ice. In Florida cold could be waters in the sixty-degree range. Many species slow down during the chilly months, some actually thrive. With bass being the primary target of lots of kayakers, there are still several fish that are willing to bite through the winter months. Smallmouth bass, trout, walleye, crappie and catfish can be caught by the angler willing to brave the colder conditions. Don’t discount the largemouth bass.

No conversation would be complete without the consideration of safety. With the additional element of cold weather and water clothing that is both wicking, wool and warm are at the top of the list. Footwear, gloves and without a doubt a lifejacket are all on the list. In terms of the life jacket I don’t advocate the inflatables mostly because a regular life jacket requires nothing but zipping it up. The winter would be a terrible time to find out that the cartridge that inflates the vest is compromised. (testing is out because they’re single service) Fall, winter or even early spring creates the potential for water temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit and possibly midwinter numbers of 50 degrees and below. I wear and carry and religiously wear an NRS lifejacket, with a spare for anyone with me or that I encounter who is without one. My footwear for many years now has been the NRS boundary boot. Buy one size up in order to accommodate a sock for additional warmth. The 50/50/50 rule is if you are immersed in 50-degree water for 50 minutes you have a 50% chance of survival. I don’t like the odds.

I have had some memorable days in cold water conditions. After a few warmer days I headed for a local river. I like the rivers because they stay warm in the winter and cooler in the summer by the nature of moving water. I launched my Jackson Kayak in a slow-moving pool of water with the goal of catching enough crappie for a fish fry. A quick check of the water showed 58 degrees not much for swimming but more than adequate for a little fishing. My game plan, I would be tossing a small tube on a 1/8th ounce lead head and a spinning outfit. Paddling to within casting distance of a big submerged tree my second cast was interrupted by a solid “tick” and soon I landed a respectable largemouth bass. That catch was followed by eight more “accidental” bass and zero crappie. A great day for a late January trip.

On another occasion with bass on the brain I broke out the jerkbait. By its nature an ideal bait for cooler water, the jerkbait is cast out, two or three quick snaps of the rod and a short retrieve causes it to dive and actually suspend. Because bass are in a metabolic slow down, they often aren’t willing to move far or chase anything, enter the slow moving, suspend and sit jerkbait. Only six bass bit but four were over three pounds one being a four pound smallmouth bass.

Another frigid water factor is the it seems after several seasons a repeating factor is there’s almost always a better afternoon bite. Stuffing a few of the small single service “hot hands” warmers in your pockets is advisable. If action id slow, smaller baits and slower retrieves often are the change that generates at least a few bites. Minnow imitators whether soft plastic are hard baits are good cold water choices. Be aware that the hits may be subtle and concentrate on every sensation given off by the bait. A plus is once you’ve discovered a pattern it could likely be solid for the rest of the day and even several days after. Winter fish are notorious for holding their location.

You don’t have to completely abandon shallower water, maybe three to five feet. If there is rock, sand, gravel or concrete structure available often cold water fish will hover around these objects. Jigs, crankbaits (including the lipless models), minnow plugs, small spinners, jerkbaits and smaller soft plastics are all good to try. Because of the bacteria die off couple with cold water creates clear water conditions open face spinning equipment will allow for longer cast of lightweight baits, I keep at least one spinning outfit in the kayak with me.

Other places to check out would be bluff banks because of the quick transition to deep water and the rock that has broken off and formed a few piles which would warm up and be home to crawfish. Creek channels are migration highways for bass and other species, working bit on and around the channels is highly recommended especially if the channel swings back toward a bank, two attractive feature in one location.
It’s a good idea to go with one or more persons, keep your cell phone handy, have specific game plan and I avoid staying out past sunset. For the person willing to test the winter waters there’s an uncrowded adventure waiting for you