I knew it wouldn’t take long. As soon as the thermometer climbed above the 30s I was confident it would happen. What you may ask? The bug to go fishing, that’s what. I can hardly stand it any longer.
It may be a while yet, but soon, hopefully real soon, the ice will recede and open water will once again be there. Boats galore will head to the ramps and chase what hopes to be a stellar 2014 season.
The real question, when this does finally happen, is what should we use? There are a wide variety of thoughts on great cold-water lures but I have had lots of success on two in particular. The first is a tight-wiggling crankbait. There are many good choices on the market, but I prefer a Strike King Red Eye Shad. This lure is best fished in a yo-yo style during ice-out conditions. On the drop, it has a very enticing shimmy that elicits lots of strikes.
The fish are really focused on shad and other baitfish during this time of the year. The flat, lipless crankbait imitates a sick or dying shad on the drop and hungry predators are very intrigued by the possibility of an easy meal.
The other bait that has been successful for me over the years in cold water is a jerkbait. If the water you are fishing is clear, then the jerkbait is definitely my number one choice. Why? Because it can be suspended and sit motionless in the water column for a time.
Now, when I say motionless, that is not entirely true, the lure is still going to sink a little, or rise up, depending on the density of the water due to its temperature. I like to adjust my suspending jerkbaits with lead wire or Storm Suspendots until it sinks real slowly while sitting still. This helps to imitate that whole shad dying situation that is so effective.
Now that the baits have been identified that work well in cold water, where should they be fished? Great question. The first thing that I look for is bird activity. If you happen to be on a lake or river and sea gulls are circling around and hitting the water, that is the place to start.
The birds in the sky are excellent at finding baitfish in the water. Trust them. Where they are is where you want to be. When you get to the area where the gulls are using carefully check your electronics. What do you see? Is there a certain structure feature that the baitfish are orientating to? If so, try to find other places like that across the lake or river you are fishing.
If I can’t find birds then my next choice in ultra cold water is to fish the steepest banks, or bluffs that I can find. I know that in our area those types of structures are not found in great abundance, but if you do have them, that is a great place to be.
On steep banks or bluffs the only real option that the fish have is to move up and down. They don’t spread out all that far. If you can eliminate lateral movement then you have really put the odds in your favor. I can’t even tell you how many tournaments I have seen won on bluff banks throughout all types of conditions.
My next choice is anyplace where shallow water drops quickly into deeper water. I look for breaks that drop off real quick. If some of these breaks have rock or wood on them, so much the better.
The other thing that I try to do during ice-out conditions is to fish the north side of a lake or river. The sun, while getting warmer, is still relatively low in the sky. The north banks warm up much quicker than those on the opposite side. If there are rocks or lots of wood cover on those north banks your odds go up exponentially.
If you are fishing a larger impoundment then check out as many boat ramps on the north side of the lake that you can. These concrete slabs hold heat and fish. Rip-rap shorelines will do the same thing.
I know it seems a long ways off but soon that water will be free of its wintery captor and we can start doing what we love. Give these couple of techniques and locations a try and have patience. Cold water fishing can be rewarding but you must have confidence in yourself and the lures you choose. Good luck.
• Steve Rogers is the outdoors columnist for the Morris Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org