Fishing guide

Fishing Chronicle: A Winter Guide to Fishing in Idaho | Outside

Jordan Rodriguez For the Times-News

All creatures make behavioral adjustments to winter cold. Bears hibernate. The birds fly south. And we humans, including anglers, tend to spend more time indoors.

But what about fish? Surely they feel the cold. But without a den or a warm couch to curl up in, our finned friends have to fend for themselves. And for those of us crazy enough to fish in 30 degree weather or venture out on a frozen lake, it’s important to understand how cold weather affects fish behavior. Here are some observations from this long-time fisherman:

Trout: Trout don’t mind the cold – in fact, they prefer it. Trout is the most common catch on ice fishing trips, and winter is also my favorite season for fishing the local streams. Unlike some fish, trout are ready to crush fast lures in cold water. They are also active throughout the water column – don’t neglect shallow waters while ice fishing, and if fishing in deeper waters for other species, keep a shallow line or two for trout cruising is usually a good strategy. Activity level: 9/10.

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Low: From April to October, the bass is the most aggressive fish. But when the water temperature drops into the 40s, bass metabolism slows down. Fisheries that produced 20 days of fish in the summer can look like ghost towns. But make no mistake, the fish are still there. Bass spend much of the winter glued to the bottom, but they can still be coaxed with smaller, slower presentations like drop shots, Ned rigs and finesse jigs. The bass I caught on the ice only moved about a foot to eat my lure. But if you present an easy meal, you better believe they will eat it. Activity level: 3/10.

Perch: After trout, perch is the most common species caught through the ice in Idaho. Perch spawn in early spring, so they spend the winter eating and growing. The biggest fish of the year are almost always caught through the ice in February. Some perches, especially larger ones, are primed to chase lures in cold water. The rest of the schools of fish are on the bottom, but they can usually be forced to eat tiny jigs covered in a mealworm or larva. Activity level: 7/10.

Crappy: I’ve never had a chance to ice fish for crappie, but they stay active in the winter. The biggest difference is depth – schools that hang out in shallow water in the spring and summer typically move over 30 feet when temperatures drop. Rather than trolling or casting lures, anglers should focus on vertical jigging with small presentations. Using this strategy, many of my best trips to CJ Strike and other crappie fisheries have been between November and February. Activity level: 7/10.

Bluegill sunfish: In warm water, bluegill will crush just about anything in its path. When things calm down, they’re a lot less active, but there’s something in their DNA that makes it really hard to say no to food. Like bass and perch, bluegill spends the winter coaxing the muddy bottom of the lake. But drop a worm or micro jig, even through the ice, and they’ll usually catch it. Activity level: 6/10.

Sturgeon: Winter is the perfect time to fish for sturgeon. They are not afraid of the cold and willingly eat various baits cut from the bottom of the river. Lower water levels also make major sturgeon holes more obvious, and aquatic weeds are less of a problem in cold months. Activity level: 8/10.

We humans also tend to reduce our activity levels when it’s cold. But for those who want to bundle up and go after it, winter is a fun and unique season to enjoy Idaho’s great outdoors. Tight lines!

Jordan Rodriguez has been fishing Idaho waters since he was a teenager. Share your fishing stories, adventures and questions with him at tightlinesboise@gmail.com, or visit www.tightlines208.com for the latest local fishing reports and upcoming lesson offerings.