Regardless of what warm-natured folks are doing, now is not the time to put away the rod and reel and hope for an early spring. Okay, you may stand a fair chance of getting skunked, I guess. But late fall through winter is also a great time for some of the yearís most memorable days on the water. Most of those annoying folks who crowded next to us in June and July are now watching football and Netflix horror shows, turning their attention to hunting, or hoping for early ice. So until the lakes and ponds at lower elevations freeze over until spring, they can be all yours and mine.
Fish do generally bunch up this time of year. Unless you scout out great locations in September or October, they can be hard to locate. For me, that means I stand a better chance in smaller lakes and ponds and smaller than the bigger ones.
I moved to Colorado in the early Ď80s after learning to fish the southern fringes of the Midwest. Iím embarrassed to say, it took me years out here to learn a few useful, basic facts about the differences between warm water fish species back there and here in Colorado. And it took me even longer to start to figure out trout.
I did learn early on that the most productive times for early warm water fishing in these parts begin a good bit later than they do in Southern Illinois and Missouri, and slow down earlier in the fall. But what I didnít realize, for reasons that escape me now, is that trout of all sizes start hitting their prime when temperatures drop into the 50s, 40s and 30s. It is a terrific trout trait that extends right through ice-out, and helps explain why so many Coloradoans stand for hours on frozen lakes, hopefully dunking waxies into a hole in the ice. And why I love to fish open water when it's just above freezing.
Appreciate trout metabolism
You can, of course, catch open water bass, crappie, bluegill and others this time of year; for me, at least, those species can be harder to locate and even slower to bite. Trout metabolisms and appetites, meanwhile, speed up to compensate for the sluggish ways of their warm water cousins.
As for trying to catch any kind of fish, just get out there and see what bites. I recommend hauling out your lightest line and gear, moving around a lot, and drastically downsizing baits. Also, some wise anglers will pontificate that you canít reel a lure in fast enough to outrun a trout. Thatís true, I guess, but during icy weather they seem particularly grateful when lunch swims by more slowly.
In telling you to get out in the cold, I concede I am not recommending common sense. But I will urge you to remember that misery and even hypothermia are possibilities, and you should prepare accordingly. Myself, and the Loveland Fishing Club yahoos who join me, try to use our float tubes all 12 months of the year. But we pretty much never go without a buddy and never without reasonable clothing and a reasonable maximum to our time on the water. (An increased urge to pee in icy cold water usually takes care of that.)
Again, sketchy ice that is too thin to be useful is the bane of most winter-time Front Range anglers. But while smaller bodies of water usually ice up, Chinook winds usually scour them open for at least brief periods even in January and February. Just be alert for warming trends, wear long johns, and scout for open stretches of water where you can cast your line with confidence.