Cold Water Fish Tactics

By Todd Reed

Cold-man Winter is knocking on the door here in Iowa, but don’t give up on the open water yet.  Even though ice fishing, hunting and football are grappling with our time during November there are still opportunities to get out and catch a few more fish before you will need an auger to accomplish the same feat.  Like any new season, we as anglers must make some adjustments to keep the fish interested in our baits, this month is no different.

November is a tricky month to plan ahead for fishing trips because weather plays such an important role this time of year.  I have always lived by “you can’t change the weather so don’t worry about it”, however in the month of November the weather patterns are critical.  I guess my first tip for catching cold-water fish is to become a meteorologist. Study the weather and fronts coming in and out of your area. If there are several days of dropping temperatures and rain storms, then the following day or two will not be the best for your fishing trip.  Just the opposite, if you see the weather warming for two or three days, then you better make a trip to your favorite fishing hole soon. When water temperatures are hanging around the 45 degree mark it is vital to look at those warming days to conduct your fishing. Bait will get more active during these warm-ups and that will get your favorite species going as well.  Weather also affects shallow lakes much quicker. The shallow waters will cool and warm much faster than deeper lakes that are in the same county. Choose wisely and watch the weather closely this time of year.

Something I enjoy after a long fishing tournament season is the ability to sleep in during this month.  Optimal fishing times are 10am-4pm during this month. During the day the water will warm during these times and be the best for any species.  There is no need to get up early or fish late in the day; the fish do not use this time for feeding during the early winter.

The water temperatures all across the state are crashing into the forties and we must change our bait tactics.  With the cooler temperatures occurring it will bring a time of very clear water, even in river situations. The microorganisms and algae are all but gone from the ecosystem, bringing on this sudden change of clear water.  When this occurs it is important for all anglers to pay attention to their line choice. Angler should use the smallest diameter line that they can to chase down their favorite species. I typically chase bass up until the ice forms, when doing so I use six or eight pound test monofilament.  Throughout the summer months I typically use ten-pound test all the way up to sixty-pound test line. This time of year that will not produce as well as the smaller diameter line. Fish can simply see better and know what we are up to.

With the better water clarity we also must adjust our bait selection.  Matching the natural colors of bait becomes very important also. With the dormancy of crawdads, shad color baits become very good choices as the minnows and shad take over as the prey of most fish species.

Another key factor to continually hooking up during this month is your rod selection.  Bites during the month of November can be ever-so subtle. The light line will help you detect more bites, but so will a well-balanced and sensitive rod.  My selection for this is a 7’2” medium/heavy power QuantumPT rod with a fast action. This rod allows me to have the power to cast jigs, tubs and grubs long distances and still detect the smallest of bites.  A rod with these specifics also allow me to set the hook and know that the fish will be coming my way shortly. A similar rod with a medium action is what a jerbait or crankbait would be best used for. Of course, when using small diameter line it is very important to use a reel that has the smoothest drag system possible.  An excellent choice for this is the Quantum Throttle, with a smooth drag,11 bearings and a price tag that will surprise you, you can’t go wrong. As anglers we need to pay close attention to our rod/reel setups and especially during this time of the year when so many variables are colliding into catching fish or not.

November is a month where we need to slow ourselves when out on the water.  I keep my bait selection very simple this time of year and work them methodically. Live bait on jig heads works wonderfully for panfish and walleyes.  If artificial baits are more your liking then a jerkbait, tube bait, or a jighead and grub can lead you to many fish during this month.  Crankbaits reeled in slow or with a stop-n-go retrieve can do very well during those warming periods as well. Experiment and let the bass, or walleye, or gills tell you what they want.
November is no doubt your last chance to enjoy some comfortable open-water fishing.  It’s the time of year that if the weather creates a warming opportunity, you should take it.  It might just be the best day of fishing you have had in a long time.