It’s not always that these hunkered down, trying-not-to-burn energy, slow-metabolizing targets won’t bite in mid-winter water that can’t get much colder; it’s that that they are looking for reasons not to feed. Days like these don’t bring on the binges of summer, so cold water and sub-optimal conditions conspire to form that never right winter narrative: nothing’s biting.
YEAH, IT WAS CAUGHT IN THE WINTER. Tim Husband with a February 2010 scout that didn't get to tell its buds that there's danger in the kelp. It was also his last mackerel-caught local seabass, and the first and last local February fish. But that hasn't slowed down the attempts, the trying. All it takes is one... one in the winter gives more satisfaction than three in the summer. On gaff is his brother, Dwayne.
Fish too fast, or too big or too small or too heavy or not light enough, and it makes for a long day. Everything has to be right when it comes to winter fishing. It’s not like there are only so many shots a day—one every few sessions is good enough in winter—when it comes to the winter bulls and grumpies, tankers and homeguards, or those doormat bonuses that offer the big game shots, while for picking away at the bass and sculpin, its tweaking on the small things, literally forcing yourself to get away from what works in summer, when everything falls into place and it’s easy to have the do-no-wrong, oh-my-god-I-figured-it-out trap of a mindset. Nobody has “it” or “them” figured out. Never. Ever. Especially in winter, when there are more pieces to put together during these beautiful weather windows that open up plenty of opportunities for those who focus on the small things and realize that more trips are going to miss than hit. It could be a scarred up, pussed-up sand bass; a calico that has made it through many a winter; that early seabass scout; that yellow, that freak, which, for whatever reason, decided to stick around and call its little nook of the bight a winter to summer home, or that halibut that has cycled deep to shallow only it knows how many times. These are the fish that get you through the winters. The year of the last one doesn’t matter; it’s its hash mark that proved that it’s possible that brings you back. The soul can’t get crushed by how many trips have missed, because there was that trip that connected—however many tides ago—that gets harked back to every time the anchor gets put down. The bottom line: fish like it’s summer, and it’s usually a ticket fly lining your way to nothing.
Some say it’s all about small and slow and light; go deep, creep that bait along the bottom, downsize tackle and offerings; others say it’s about getting in tight for that one big bite, big fish shot: “Gotta give ‘em a big bait.” It’s all discombobulated, at best, but nobody has ever figured out how to write the perfect lines for winter fishing. After all, the fish don’t know what they are doing in the winter—do they ever?—so who are we to say we have it figured it out?
Nothing megaphones “Downsize!” like winter fishing. Instead of a whole squid fish a few strips on a smaller leadhead; drop down in line class, slow down on the retrieve. Pretty standard rehash stuff. But then there’s the big bait, big fish approach; it’s a tough one to argue against. Big as in a big swimbait, eight inches or whatever the modern day trend is that really harks back to decades ago when the Worm King Dinosaur was the “secret” bait in the fresh and salt. For every one of the young guys that think they figured out something new, there are old dudes who were doing it—in some not-far-off form—with a cig in the mouth and short OP shorts. And it was winter.
There are no perfect answers; no big or small will get ‘em all when it comes to winter fishing during the two months where it’s impossible to go mindless with rockfish. Even sculpin require a little savvy to end the race to a 5-fish limit; winter bass fishing is an art, and just one big winter white seabass or yellowtail is a fishing career maker.
What other reasons are needed to beat the winter daze?