In this country, we are blessed to have numerous species of fish living in our local waters. For anglers, that means that we have the ability to choose which species we target, and which presentations are ideal for each.
Because they are cold blooded, fish of different species react differently once the water temperature drops in the winter. For ice anglers, that’s even more distinct, as there are species like bass that virtually shut down once the lake freezes over.
To help you diversify your intended quarry this winter, we thought it would be a good idea to come up with a list of the fish species that stay the most active in the winter. So, whether you’re in open water or on the ice – try changing it up and going after one of these 7 species for your winter fishing.
The bell cow for winter activity, yellow perch remain active and aggressive even in the frigid waters found up in Canada. They are willing biters through the ice, and have saved many an angler’s day when other species won’t bite as well. Try small ice jigs tipped with maggots or blood worms – Perch often feed in the mud during the winter, so focus on deeper basins with a muddy bottom.
2. Northern Pike
Northern pike have physiological adaptations that make them active and aggressive feeders in even the coldest water. That’s the reason they are native to almost all lakes and rivers throughout the north. They willingly feed on minnows and artificials throughout the hard-water season. They are also delicious, so don’t feel bad about taking one home for the pan.
One of the most sought-after fish in the Midwest, the walleye is also an aggressive feeder when the temperature plummets. They can be found in most river systems and lakes throughout the north, and are targeted all winter throughout their range. Try slow dragging a jig and plastic combination in open water, or placing set lines through the ice along rocky bottoms for hard-water action.
Despite their universal distribution, crappies are well adapted to feed in cold water. In the south, many anglers focus on crappie fishing in the winter because other species like bass typically shut down. Minnows, small plastics, and small spinners are deadly on winter crappie. They are also willing biters through the ice.
Although they’re commonly associated with summertime fun-fishing, bluegills are also extremely active in the winter. Their curious nature and frisky fight make them a treat for any angler looking to get his or her line stretched throughout the cold-water season. Try a tiny jig with a piece of crawler or a maggot, and reel it slowly through the water column near steep shorelines.
6. Channel Catfish
Although they may be the oddball on this list, channel cats are among the most active fish species in the winter. They are more aggressive than most anglers expect, and in recent years there has been a growing group of anglers that target them through the ice with jigging spoons, minnows, and blade baits. They also put up a heck of a fight on an ice rod.
Possibly the most obvious inclusion on this list, trout of all species are genetically predisposed to prefer colder water, which is why you find them so commonly in chilly springs and creeks in the summer. In lakes and reservoirs that have them, trout are an excellent quarry in the winter, and their metabolism allows them to maintain a high level of activity under even the coldest conditions.
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