The time of the year has come when the temperatures drop and, for some people, the decision of whether to fish or not is often determined by the winds and how cold the day will be on the water. I have to admit that on those cold and blustery days, it can be a difficult decision to convince yourself to make the trip. For me, I don't alter my schedule for fishing save for a little bit more research on winds and water temperature trends for my target area.
As the air temperatures continue to drop, it is important to understand how your particular fishing spots are affected and how much they are impacted by the change of the seasons. For those fortunate enough to live in milder climates, the seasonal effects might not be as noticeable as they are in other areas. The technique and approach I employ might be one that for some is uncomfortable or different from their comfort zone. For me, it forces me to change my normal techniques in ones I normally don't use. It forces me to think outside the box.
Think of it from the beginning blues and rock guitar player's perspective. You are taught to stay in the box, aka Blues box, when first learning blues riffs, runs and solos. If the aspiring guitar player stays in that perverbial box, they will not grow as a player and will be stuck in an area of mediocrity. Parlay that into your fishing styles and techniques. If you are a shallow water angler or fish only spinnerbaits, you are limiting your growth as an angler as the seasons change.
For myself, the first step is one of presentation, which includes adjusting lure size and color to hone in on a precise pattern. Fish are predators and need to consume prey to maintain their metabolism through winter. For winter bass, the first part of thinking outside the box is my presentation and what the fish can see. I use the same gear I have used all year long, but I switch out my leaders to one that is a little smaller, and I increase the length of the leader. I switch from my normal 12 & 15lb flourocarbon to 8lb, and I increase the length from 3-4' to 6 or 8'. Remember, for many waters this time of year equates to clearer water conditions, so the less visible your line is, the better. If your area is affected by run offs creating muddy conditions, this may not be as critical but the waters I fish are normally very clear this time of year.
The next step of thinking outside the box is that of presentation speed - think less is more. A good angling and fellow kayaker friend of mine (Jeff Little) calls this the flinch game. Who flinched first, you or the fish? If you moved your bait before a fish strike, you flinched and likely missed your chance at a fish. If the fish flinches, he bites the lure and you have a chance at landing a nice fish. While this technique is typically reserved for dead sticking, the concept is one that applies in concept. This time of year, a fish' metabolism has slowed considerably compared to that of a couple months ago. The fish is less likely to chase their prey a significant distance and more likely to exert minimal effort this time of year.
For moving presentations, how fast you roll or present your lure in front of the fish is critical to your success rate. While I don't personally own any slower ratio reels, you can take the approach of using a cranking style reel with a slower 5.0:1 ratio to help you in slowing your lure presentation speed. I force myself to just slow down my retrieve even to the point that I use only rod movements to move the lure. You can even deploy a brush clip, a stake out pole or other anchoring technique to hold your position and just allow your lure to ride the current and hover over a target area.
Another way to slow down your presentation is by using your kayak, canoe or boat and slow-trolling or drifting instead of holding position. In this technique, cast your lure out and simply let the wind or current provide the speed instead of you reeling the lure in. If the wind or current is to brisk or strong, the speed will be too fast, so pay close attention to this. You can deploy a drag chute or a drag anchor to slow your drift in this case to slow your presentation down. I utilized this approach on a recent outing in 54 degree saltwater and was rewarded with a nice chunky striper.
Additionally, you can also employ the use of what is called the float-n-fly technique to ensure that your lure is presented at the same depth every time. This technique is normally used for small hair jigs in the 1/16-1/32oz range, but the technique can be applied to any lure size presented in a suspending manner. The technique is simplistic in nature in that you use a slip bobber, bobber stops and a lure to present a tasty morsel at a specific depth. This is where the use of electronics comes in real handy. You move around until you find a school of baitfish and take note of their depth. Set your bobber stops for that depth and lower your lure down just on the outside of the baitfish school taking note of which way the current or wind is pushing it. If you allow yourself to think outside the box, I'm certain you can see other ways to deploy this tactic.
Some might argue that lure size is the most important factor. While it can be on really tough slow days, it has not been the case for me. I catch bass this time of year on everything from small minnow fry soft plastics in the 2-3" range, 1/2 oz skirted jig tipped with a 3-4" creature bait or even a 3/4oz spinnerbait. A recent tournament I fished in was very indicative of this approach. All of the quality bass caught on the day were caught on presentations that were either painfully slow or even dead-sticking, not ones based on lure size.
Tight lines, stay safe and remember to dress accordingly for cold water angling this time of year.