If you were told firing up your winter fishing could be as simple as slowing down your retrieve would you believe it? It really can be and this gets more important as the water temperature continues to drop. Fish are more active when the water temperature is warm, but get lethargic and not willing to chase quicker moving baits once the water cools. This begins once below about 68 degrees and becomes really noticeable once the water cools to around 60 or below. Simply moving your lure slower, often gets their attention and draws more strikes.
If you’re fishing where there’s current, just pop the lure up off the bottom a few inches and let the current push it forward and let it settle to the bottom again. The idea isn’t to see how much water you can pull the lure through, but to make it look tempting enough that anything in the water will try to catch and eat it.
When the water is cool, one of the best ways to make a lure tempting is to move it slow enough it looks easy to catch. Think of yourself, laying on the couch under a comforter watching TV. If you lay there and watch someone making snacks for a while, you’ll be tempted to get up and try one. However, if they move through the room, even with a plate full, you might think about it, but probably won’t get up and chase them down to get one.
This works with fish too. If you keep a bait or lure in front of them long enough, they may decide they have to try it, but if it buzzes by, they say the heck with it.
Fishing slowly is easiest to do with soft plastics. You can pop it off the bottom and let it settle, you can occasionally dead stick it, and with some practice, you can learn to get the line tight, shake the rod tip and make it quiver and vibrate the tail without moving or without moving very far. However, fishing slow also works with suspending and sinking hard baits.
Let’s start with the equipment that works best for this. Your favorite light spinning or baitcasting reel will be fine. Light microbraid line, with no stretch is a plus. I usually prefer lighter rods, but a medium heavy to medium rod gives me the best control for this technique. In my boat, I use a 18-24 inch leader that is fluorocarbon in clear water, while green or gray mono works well in dirtier water. 10 pound test is fine for specks, with 15 or 20 giving a little more oomph for reds and stripers. The leader lengthens to about 7-10 feet when in my kayak to give a little stretch and relief from having to high stick the rod to land fish.
Wide bend swimbait hooks, with the weight positioned in the center, work great for this. They give a more natural flutter to the bottom, rather than a nose dive from a forward weighted hook or jig head. Use the lightest that will work in the current, wind and other conditions. There are several places the current is slow enough to use unweighted hooks. Tie these on with your favorite loop knot for the best action.
My favorite soft plastics are shrimp shapes. Even when shrimp aren’t around, fish know what they are – and are ready to eat them. Shrimp move slower than minnows and are a natural for fishing slow. My next favorite, especially for drum are crabs.
I like smaller lures for cold water and use a lot of 3 inch shrimp and 1 inch crabs. Several times the best success has come downsizing again to 2 inch shrimp. This reminds me of an old saying that “Elephants eat peanuts,” and the proof is that several citation specks have grabbed the 2 inch shrimp.
Using a scented bait or adding scent helps even more when fishing slow. The fish really get to smell it. Fish with the current so the current carries the scent ahead of the bait and a hungry fish is already looking.
With soft plastics, cast up current of where you think the fish will be and let the current carry the bait to them. Concentrate on lifting the bait off the bottom, not bringing it towards you. If the current is light, you can pop it up higher, and if the current is strong, you keep it lower in the water so it doesn’t move as far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get seen as well when it has to stay low.
Sometimes the current is too strong to do this at all and you should fish somewhere else until it slows. Remember that tidal currents are strongest around mid tide and slow as the tide change approaches, then also take a while to build for the next tide. In areas with large tidal changes, there will be strong currents. Moving water is important for this technique to work and sometimes it must be done in the hour or two before and/or after the tide change. Also remember that the tide is later as you move inland from the inlet, so the tide stage you want may be a few miles away.
Fishing slowly also works with hard lures. When someone asks how slow you can go, I laugh and say you can’t go too slow. My best example of this was when I caught my personal best speckled trout. I was struggling to learn to cast a baitcasting reel and had a 8.25 pound trout pick up my MirrOlure (TT 11) while it was laying on the bottom as I picked out a professional overrun (backlash). You can’t get much slower than stopped and this happened before I started using scents.
Much like with soft plastics, cast your hard bait up current from when you think the fish are holding and let the current bring it in to them. Let the lure drift more than you twitch it, but lightly twitch it occasionally and every so often twitch it twice. You’re trying to make your lure move like the minnows you see moving down the banks that swim and then spook occasionally. Let the lure drift with the current and twitch it subtly – no big movements. Like with soft plastics, the stiffer rod tip gives you better control of these subtle twitches.
As we continue into winter and the water continues to cool, this is a technique that can help convince more fish to spend some energy and grab your lures. While it requires a bit more concentration from you to fish slower, it takes less energy and you can save that for fighting fish. Practice this and get it down. You might be surprised there will be days it can make the difference between merely going fishing and catching.