Keys To Catch Fish During The Georgia Winter
This isn’t Michigan, it’s Georgia! January and February are great months for anglers to time the weather and catch some fish.
I thought about writing a piece on winterizing your boat, but that is ridiculous when living here in Georgia. Leave the winterizing process for our northerly neighbors. Part of the trade-off of 100-plus degree days of mid-summer is a climate with mild winters that provide premium fishing for many species.
The idea for this article came the evening before Thanksgiving when I looked at the travel gridlock (during the busiest travel day of the year) on the news due to winter storms all around the country. My son, friend and I had just returned from a couple-hour trip to the Georgia coast for seatrout. We had caught 18 seatrout and a bluefish by flinging artificial lures while folks in the Rockies sat along the interstate stuck in a blizzard.
North Georgia can receive some cold weather, but if you watch the weather closely, you can still have some great fishing during winter. The best way to winterize your boat in Georgia is to USE IT!
Different species react to cold and weather changes differently, and you have hopefully figured out some other patterns and bites that I do not mention here. You may also disagree with my observations over the last several decades of fishing around Waycross, and that is OK. The great thing about fishing is to figure out what works for you, and fish how you like to fish. The following are some definite patterns I have noticed over the years.
Stable High Pressure & Cold Temps
For much of the winter, high pressure and cold temperatures are the conditions that will face us. In Georgia, winter usually consists of a series of fronts and warm-ups. The high pressure between fronts can last a day or a week, but you can count on a period of stable weather between fronts. The longer the warm-up, the better the fishing. This is my favorite scenario for both comfort and catching. Some of the best bass and seatrout fishing happens when you have at least three days of warming weather after a front. If it extends into five or six days, you need to manufacture a way to get in the boat.
During a warm-up, you need to figure out how the bass are reacting based on just how severe the cold was after the previous front and how strong the warm-up is. Bass in small ponds may react by actually moving to shoreline cover, while large systems (reservoirs) take much longer to warm up, and the bass will likely remain in their winter offshore pattern. But, in all systems the fish will often feed with just a couple degree temperature rise. I am not going to get into specifics of presentations, but slow-moving baits, such as jigging spoons, underspins with swimbaits and Ned rigs are some of my most effective to make the bass bite. During winter, you will want to think slow and small, in general. I have even had good days for bass with hair jigs, something foreign to most Georgia anglers.
Crappie are generally near the bottom on high-pressure days, and I have had great success longline trolling for them in south Georgia lakes. I typically set up a four-rod spread and stagger distances to minimize tangling while making turns. My setup is basically a single or tandem 1/32-oz. jig heads and Bass Assassin Curly Shads or other curly tail grubs. I start at about 0.9 miles per hour and adjust from there. Move to larger heads if you need to get deeper and lighter heads to stay up in the water column. Many anglers in south Georgia drift an array of minnows under floats across the deepest part of the pond or lake, and they catch a bunch of specks. But for me, that is too slow of a presentation. Regardless of your preference, you will catch crappie when the mercury starts to rise just a few degrees. A cloudy day also helps spur crappie to bite.
Stable high pressure has time and time again been the best conditions to spur a seatrout bite. When the water temps stay below 60 degrees, I shift away from my usual Equalizer Float and start swimming plastics on a jig head without suspending them under a float. I typically use Keitech Swing Impact Swimbaits or Bass Assassin Sea Shads on either a regular jig head or a Flashy Jighead with a blade. Speckled trout react well to a steady retrieve, but you can also try bouncing it or dragging it along bottom in cold water. Use the smallest heads you can feel effectively in whatever wind and current you face. In the usually clearer winter water, more natural colors (figichix, Mama’s 14K, silver mullet) rather than the gaudy hues (electric, nuclear chicken, candy corn) typically produce more fish.
Redfish usually do not care what the weather is doing. If you can find them, you can usually catch them. Look for areas where lots of little creeks drain down into larger feeder creeks, and you just may find an area where giant schools of redfish roam. I have seen the water under the boat turn copper when huge wintertime schools—sometimes more than 100 fish—pass below. Everyone in the boat typically has a bent rod if you are fortunate enough to find such schools.
Southerly Winds & An Approaching Front
When you get toward the end of a warm-up and a front is coming, the fish can sense the pressure dropping and typically feed well. Bass, crappie and striped bass are the species that usually get fired up when the winds shift from the southwest and the barometric pressure starts to fall. This is when you can try speeding up your lures and move to points where the fish feed. Sometimes you can use the wind to your advantage during this stage, as bait will push to the windward side or get washed over points, and bass will crash them.
Crappie will generally still be in the deeper water, but you can usually fool them by jigging or swimming plastics just over the cover they are hanging around. My favorite presentation for pre-front winter crappie is to cast 2-inch Bass Assassin Curly Shads rigged on 1/8-oz. Flashy Jigheads around deep cover or suspended fish to trigger bites from the slabs in the school. You can also longline troll to find them and then cast to the area they are actively feeding.
I do not have a reservoir nearby Waycross to fish for striped bass, but I love fishing the Savannah River for linesides. With an approaching front, stripers will usually feed around pilings or rocks, and I pitch bucktail jigs or swimbaits to fool them.
I cannot explain it, but the seatrout bite slows as the pressure begins to fall with an approaching front. Several saltwater captains would disagree with that statement, but in fishing Crooked River and the Brunswick area, I have seen it frequently. I only seatrout fish under a falling barometer if there are no other bites that I think are better. Seatrout are not like crappie that can totally shut down after a cold front. It is just that I only catch about half of what I have been catching under stable high pressure when the mercury starts to dip.
Again, the redfish do not care. I think the Lord simply did not install an internal barometer in redfish for whatever reason. If you can find them, you can typically catch them. I use artificials almost exclusively, but live and dead shrimp can produce bites from otherwise finicky fish.
Bluebird Skies & Strong Winds A Day Or So Behind The Front
If you are a glutton for punishment, these are the weather conditions for you. Fish it if you want, but this is the time that I work on the honey-do list for a couple days, so that I am ready for the coming warming trend and can cash in the credits for a trip. I have been fishing after a front where the water temperature dropped about a degree per hour during the day. This typically shuts down all species of fish. Conditions are almost always too brutal to make it worth even trying, but improving conditions are typically only a couple of days away.
Wintertime Gear & Safety
Your gear needs to be set up for maximum sensitivity, as bites can be subtle. I use the highest end Rainshadow graphite blanks in the rods that I make for winter fishing. Braided main line and fluorocarbon leaders add to the sensitivity and are my typical choice for almost all of my outfits during winter. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are the exception where I use fluoro or monofilament for my main line.
There are plenty of additional safety concerns when fishing in winter. Some are good ideas anytime, not just winter, such as make sure you give a float plan to someone (ramp, general location you will be fishing, probable return time, etc.). Wearing a life vest all the time when fishing cold water is something you should definitely consider. I have heard that you have a gasp reflex if you fall into cold water that will involuntarily pull water into your lungs. I wear an inflatable vest all day when water is cold. Bring extra layers and even a change of clothes so that you can get dry and hopefully prevent hypothermia if you fall in.
Winter is the time to be extra prepared, so think through any possible situation you think you may face on your waters. I use the NOAA website (www.weather.gov/jax) for marine forecasts, the USGS website (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/ga/nwis/rt) for river levels and saltwatertides.com for tide timing. I always tune to local weather forecasts to calculate what conditions I may face.
It can be a little aggravating with the extra preparation needed for wintertime fishing, but the rewards can be handsome. I still contend that the best winterization for a boat with Georgia registration is to USE IT! Go Fish Georgia!
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