It's 2003, but to the fish it's just another day swimming around the lake, albeit a cold one! We've had some good rain in a short period, especially in Northern California this past month. Most man made reservoirs filled rapidly and the water turned to mud. In that initial flooding phase, fishing can be tough as the bass re-adjust, but once we stabilize, which could start this week, things should start to perk up. So let's talk about winter time fishing.
The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about winter time fishing is timing. Under stable conditions where water temperatures are putting the bass in a nice happy mood, the bass can be very picky about when they feed. That's why in the summer time your peak feeding times are morning, evening, and night. When things are stable and food is everywhere, a big predatory fish like a bass can just loaf up to a feeding area, snarf up a bunch of food during the best possible conditions and go back down. When I was at Lake El Salto in November, this behavior was very apparent as you could see the bass chasing tilapia along the shore during the first and last hour of the day. The food was there all day long, but the bass could be picky and choose the optimal conditions when they wanted to chase it.
In the winter when things are muddy, cold and unstable, a bass may have to feed for longer to get the food it wants. I also believe that the peak feeding time for bass in the winter is mid day and late afternoon. In the late afternoon, the water is going to be the warmest, and a bass that is cold and grumpy is going to come alive during this time, knowing that night and morning will be cold and miserable. A longer feeding time coinciding with an afternoon feeding period, can make catching big bass in the winter a very good proposition. Are there going to be days when the fish just don't want to bite in the winter? Absolutely! But during a window of stable or pre-frontal weather in muddy water in the late afternoon, that's when you're going to stand a shot at a big shallow bite.
Cover to target is pretty obvious stuff. Wood, rock, points, cuts, etc. Baits to fish are a fairly simple selection as well. If it's muddy, I'm fishing a jig. Big black bulky jig. I'm pitching it around any cover, especially cover that can shade a bass' eyes in the afternoon sun, and I'm fishing pretty thoroughly because it might take a fish a little while to find my bait. If I'm throwing a trout bait and it's muddy, I'm throwing a wood bait all the way. Either a Slammer or a Generic Trout and I'm fishing it slowly, hoping that a bass will sense it going by. Usually trout baits are a visual bait for the bass, but they can be a sensory bait if they make enough noise and you fish them slowly enough.
So that's my shallow muddy water winter time bassing advice. It's not a percentage bite, but it's a quality bite. In clear water and in all lakes really, you're going to have deep winter time fish that are going to go for spoons, drop shot, Carolina rig, etc. Pulling big bass from deep water is a skill that is still beyond me. I'm going to try a little though this winter, and I'll update if I figure out any good secrets.
Ocean fishing … whew, there's not a whole lot happening right now. With the rockfish closures and the weather, there hasn't been a whole lot happening. Boats are targeting the bass and whatnot, and there have been some decent winter time sand bass scores, but things have been kind of rough.
So perhaps we should take this interlude in the fishing to talk about being responsible fisherman.
In the last 100 years and probably the last 10,000 years, ocean fisherman have followed a very predictable pattern of behavior. Fundamentally, commercial fisherman and sport fisherman want to fish for the most lucrative fish. For commercial fisherman this means the fish that bring the most money at market. For party boats, this means the fish that bring the most customers on the boats. Private boaters fish for varying reasons, but their impact is far smaller than commercial or sport boat fishermen.
In any case, the pattern that develops is that, without regulation, the fisherman will catch and keep as many fish as possible. Once those fish are wiped out, the fisherman move on to the next most lucrative fish, then the next, then the next. Pretty soon the commercial guys are fishing for squid and cabezon, and the sport boats are fishing for rock cod and sand dabs.
Once the stocks get depleted, the first thing everyone wants to do is point fingers and try to lay blame on someone. The finger pointing begins, but the fact remains that the fish that used to be swimming in the ocean, are not swimming in the ocean any more!
So I am going to take a minute to stand up on the soapbox and encourage everyone who considers themselves a contentious fisherman to do one thing. When you are fishing in the ocean whether you are from shore, float tube, private boat, or sport boat, and you are catching some fish, take a minute to contemplate how much fish you need to bring home for that day, AND LET THE REST GO. Because the DFG has not regulated our fisheries to maintain a decent population level, we are now faced with closures. So let's self-regulate and show some restraint out there. When rockfish opens up again, I know that it's going to be fun to go out and really nail some rock cod. But show some restraint. Keep a couple and stop fishing. If you want 10 fish to take home, take them, but be responsible on your next trip. Take a minute to think about what the calico bass fishing would be like if everyone in the last 100 years had only kept 2 calicos per day instead of their limit of 10? Maybe then you could go to Naples reef and get more than just 11 and ¾" fish. What if everyone had only kept 4 rockfish per trip instead of 10 or 15? I bet the rockfish fishing would be better. We might still be fishing for them if people had done this. You can try to blame bad fishing on DFG for not regulating it right, but it wasn't the DFG that threw 10 calicos in your bag, or those 15 reds. I did it when I was a kid. Lots of us have done it. Let's be smarter than that for the future.