How to Catch Trout in Winter

Trout Caught in Winter

A BaitSoaker reader sent me a photo of the fat winter trout he caught after following my advice on how to catch trout in winter.

Trout, like most fish, tend to slow down in the winter. Their eating slows to a trickle and they barely move. In winter they are feeding on insects a half inch (13 mm) or smaller. They also tend to hold closer to the bottom of the lake, river or pond.

Some say trout in winter cannot be caught. But the truth is that trout are still active and eating. And if they’re still eating that means they can still be caught (the photo above is proof!).  I’m going to show you how to use a trout’s winter behavior to catch them almost all winter long. Just make sure to be safe by being properly clothed against winter and to take all precautions against the cold!

Five Tips for Catching Trout in Winter

  1. Slow Down the Lure Presentation
  2. Fan Cast – A Better Way to Catch Trout
  3. Change Fishing Location – Fish Multiple Spots
  4. Use Small Lures and Baits
  5. Place  Your Lure or Bait Close to the Bottom

1. Slow Down the Lure Presentation

The cold temperature slows down a fish’s metabolismFish Metabolism means how fast or slow a fish needs its body to turn food into energy to keep itself alive.. A trout needs to eat more food than the energy it uses to catch that food. So it’s body slows down. It will not chase a fast moving lure because it is physically unable to.

In order to catch the winter trout, move your lure or bait as slow as possible.  Cast your bait or lure and let it sink to the bottom and wait a minute. Then very slowly reel it back, pausing frequently to wait for a trout to find your bait. You can jerk it a little to make it pop and fall. But usually a slow crawl is best. A slow bait and lure presentation is the number one rule for catching trout in winter.

Choose Your Lures Wisely

Winter fishing requires a slow presentation. That means lures such as spoons, inline spinners and stickbaits (like a Rapala floating minnow), lose their effectiveness in winter.

Spoons and inline spinners can still be jigged slowly (bounced up and down) but it can still be harder catching trout that way in the winter.

2. Fan Cast – A Better Way to Catch Trout

The best way to cast your lure or bait is to do what’s called a Fan Cast. Here’s how to do it: Choose a location on the water in front of you that is to your right or to your left, then cast the lure or bait in that direction. Make your first cast is close to you. Do not cast far, cast close.  Then gradually increase your distance with your next cast.

The reason you cast from close to far is because starting out by casting far could place your fishing line directly on top of any trout that are resting close to you. Dropping a fishing line on top of a trout’s head will scare them and make the trout stop feeding.

Trout Fishing Tip

When trout are startled by something they will stop feeding for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

To increase your fishing success, try not to startle the trout.

Slowly reel your bait or lure back to you so that it is crawling very slowly at the bottom of the pond or lake you are fishing. When I say slow, I mean snails pace slow.  On the next cast increase the distance a little, repeating over and over until you have probed the water as far as you can cast.

Then start over a few degrees to the left or right of your previous cast. So if you started casting on the left and reached your maximum distance, start over by making your next cast slightly to the right and close to you. Gradually increase the distance as before.

This is called Fan Casting. This technique is the proper way to cast for best success.  Use the fan casting technique for casting a fishing spoon, a spinner, and pretty much any other lure or bait. Fan casting works in every season, spring, summer, and fall; but it is especially important to use this tactic in the winter.

3. Change Fishing Location – Fish Multiple Spots

Because the trout may not be moving, you must change your fishing tactic so that instead of the fish hunting your lure, it is your lure hunting the trout. Your bait or lure must find the trout. That means you will have better luck if you keep changing from one fishing spot to another fishing location. Do not stay fishing in one place. This is a good strategy to use in any season when the trout aren’t cooperating but it is most important to change fishing spots in the winter.

4. Use Small Lures and Baits

Food is hard to find in winter. The only insects available to eat are small. In the wild they usually eat nymph stage insects that are only about a 1/4 inch to a half inch long (6-13 millimeters). That’s all there is to eat in the winter. That’s what the trout are sharply focused on.  That is why when the weather is cold it’s important to “match the hatch” and show the trout something that is similar in size to what they are feeding on.  Whether they’re planted trout, holdover troutA holdover trout is a trout that was planted in a previous year that survived and reverted to a wild state or wild, small usually works best in the winter.

5. Place  Your Lure or Bait Close to the Bottom

You probably won’t see the trout. That’s because they are holding close to the bottom. They do that because it’s warmer there. Most of the time you will catch more trout with a bait or lure that is positioned at the bottom or a few inches from the bottom. Float or crawl your bait slowly back to you, pausing now and then to give the fish a chance to inspect it and make up their mind. Remember, in cold weather they don’t like to chase anything. So be sure to pause your reeling in order to give the trout a chance to see your lure or bait.

If the trout are near the top of the water column, like in a shallow pond, then try suspending a small bait or lure underneath a bobber.  Float your bait about 6 – 12 inches beneath the bobber. Toss it out. Then let it sit. Give it a little wiggle every now and then. Slow is very important. But also, as you observed, the time. That said, I can pretty much guarantee you that the trout will be holding close to the bottom and not anywhere near the top.

Good luck and let me know if that helps.

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