It may have not arrived as quick as we had hoped it would, but there is no doubt that winter is winding down.
This year, we had one of those winters like the ones I used to see where I grew up back home, in Watertown, South Dakota when the snowdrifts were up to my waist.
When the cold winter weather did finally arrived, and the ice finally became thick enough to walk on, the winter fishing was good on some bodies of water, but now the ice is departing quickly in our area.
With warm weather that we have know, many anglers are beginning to get on the water below the Missouri River dams and chasing walleyes where the ice has receded in open water of the river.
The fishing has not been what you call fast and furious, but for those anglers who have patience, have taken some good fish.
This time of year, when water temperatures are cold, you have to understand the way a fish operates in cold water and change your fishing methods accordingly.
When water temperatures start to cool, the metabolism of the fish slows down; they will not move much, so they do not need to eat as much.
Everything in their world has slowed down to a crawl, winter, and early spring walleye anglers will have to do the same with their fishing presentations.
Slow is good when it comes to cold-water angling! At times, just letting your bait drag along the bottom will take cold weather walleyes.
Since the walleye and sauger move less, they use less energy and eat less and this is one of the reasons that you will want to downsize your baits this time of year.
You will want to go with lighter line, from four to six and at times even two-pound test depending on the area that you are fishing and the bite.
When using lighter line, make sure your drag is set properly, you want it set tight enough so your drag doesn’t release when you set the hook, yet tight enough that you do not break the light line when hook setting.
No matter when you are fishing, you want to let the rod, “its action” put the most pressure on the fish and with your drag correctly set; your rod can do the fighting for you.
Cold weather is the ideal time for jigs and live bait rigs. Try going to a smaller jig or live bait weight such as a 1/8 or 1/4 ounce because they really work well this time of the year. With the lighter line, you are able to fish a lighter jig and fish it properly. Tip your light jig with a small minnow, or a scented jig body such as Berkley Gulp giving it the added scent and a little more movement.
Some anglers in my area, do not follow the smaller jig is better than a larger jig and bait rule as this time of the year, they go with a heavier jig, one with a larger hook and a longer length stinger with a chub attached for bait.
The way they fish it is to let the heavier jig drag along the bottom, with very little jigging action. When the angler feels a pick up or a bite is to do one of two things, either feed the fish line or drop back with your rod until feeling the added weight and then setting the hook.
The key to this is a jig with an “oversize” longer, wider gap hook, needed in order to attach the larger chubs. This method does take a lot of patience as once they have a bite, if the angler try to set the hook too soon, the fish may not have gotten the business end of the rig, the hook in deep enough and may miss the fish.
One of our Team members has had excellent luck using a four inch ribbed worm attached to his jig or live bait rig. He fishes the bait the same way you would fish it with live bait or bodies. He cast it letting it descend to the bottom and then reels the bait back very slowly, even slower than you would when jig fishing.
Fishing a tight line and have your line as straight up and down, vertical as possible is very important, as the more line you have out, the better your chances are that you will not detect a fish picking up your bait or a bite.
One thing that cold weather walleye and especially sauger will do is to grab onto the minnow’s tail and just hold on, letting go before you get them to the boat.
To take these short striking, tail biting fish, try adding a stinger or trailer hook. A trailer hook is no more that a short piece of mono or leader material hooked behind the jig. The business end of the trailer is either a single small hook or a treble hook.
Either the hook is stuck in the minnow’s tail or near the dorsal fin, at times; I attach the stinger with a small rubber band placed around the minnow, which allows more action from the bait. When those short biters pick up the minnow, even if it is just by the tail, they will have the stinger hook in their mouth.
I will use a stinger with a single hook in water that is not snag infested jungle and go to a treble hook if you are fishing cleaner water.
As I mentioned before, fish are in their slow mode, you do not want to get in a big hurry when you feel the fish pick up your bait.
Even when using a smaller lighter jig and minnow, I like to let my rod drop back and give the fish the opportunity to pull the bait into his mouth, which gives you a better chance of hooking the fish.
If you are one of those live bait anglers that uses Lindy rigs, the same method pertains to the way you fish these rigs in cold weather.
You will probably want to fish with a lighter spinning outfit, a rod with a fairly quick tip and go with a smaller line diameter and smaller walking sinkers.
When the fish picks up your bait, release line and let the fish move off, feeling no resistance to bring the minnow and hook into his mouth.
After a short period, apply a little pressure to find out if the fish is still on the line and once you feel its weight, set the hook.
It may take you a few times before you figure out how much time to feed line to the fish, so do not become too upset if you miss a few fish at first.
Now that the sun is out and the temperature is above zero, it is a good time to head below the dams or to the river and give late winter fishing a try.
Just remember, to take home the smaller males as the larger females are very susceptible this time of year, as they are the future of fishing.