Well, all I can say is that there are conditions that sure do make it tough for the Mid-Atlantic angler in the winter.
Usually, the ice cover on lakes and ponds is too thin for safe ice fishing, and certainly too thick for trying to push a boat through it. But there are bonafide tidal water options and the Eastern Shore rivers and ponds of the Delmarva are always a hand to play.
One cold weather option would be to fish warm water discharges below power plants. The one I have been fishing in recent years is the Brunner Island discharge area above Mount Wolf, Pa., on the Susquehanna River. The fishing here has changed somewhat over the years.
Whereas the rule of the day used to be high numbers of 10-14-inch smallmouths that dominated the catch, the outlook for a trip there nowadays would be far fewer fish, but more of a chance at a trophy class small mouth in the 20-inch bracket. I have actually done well there on channel catfish and carp that have struck my bass-intended jigs in recent trips the past few seasons. A few walleye have come to hand, along with a single musky that smashed a Rat-L-Trap two winters ago. In most warm water discharges, you are likely to catch most anything.
If you are after smallmouth bass then the arsenal for most anglers are 1/8th- and 1/4-ounce tube jigs bounced slowly along the bottom in small, slackwater pockets near the bank or behind mid-stream boulders. When fish are more aggressive and chasing minnows or shad, then hard baits like Rat-L-Traps in ¼ ounce or suspending baits like Lucky Craft pointer 100 or 128 models can trigger aggressive strikes.
We like chrome or shad patterns for these lures, however, there are days when perch patterns or plain gold with black back plugs seem to out fish all the others. Also, we have had success with Rapala DT 8 and 10 series crankbaits in bluegill and bass patterns. Medium spinning gear with quality 6 and 8 pound monos round out the equipment list.
As with any day-long venture in the winter, you'll need to be in a little bit of shape to trudge up and down slippery, rocky or muddy banks and stretches in order to get in on the fish. We like quality, insulated chest waders, although hip waders make walking a little bit easier. You just won't be able to wade as deep with the hippers.
A bottle of water, small box full of lures and a good angling buddy round out the necessities. River stages for decent wading on this stretch of the Susky should be from 5.0 down to 3.5 at the Harrisburg station. And as the river dynamics change, so will the location of the fish. That small pocket where you picked up a pair of nice, 17 -inch class small mouths last week could be high and dry by the time you get there next week. Or, with incoming precipitation, it could be totally flooded, with water way up into the banks.
Walleye can be another option to target. They tend to stay in slower, deeper holes and pockets and will favor brightly colored plastics like yellow, chartreuse or pearl on a 1/4-ounce jighead bounced along the bottom. This would also be the place where you might hook a channel catfish or a carp. In recent years, many large flathead catfish have been pulled from this region of the Susquehanna.
Downstream, near the town of Saginaw, it is a bass/walleye/ panfish mix with a surprising number of quality bluegills, redbreast sunfish and some crappie for ultra light enthusiasts. Keep in mind that this section of the Susquehanna River is under a total catch and release regulation for smallmouths and largemouths. Bass regulations on this river may well change within the calendar year, so check frequently on the Pennsylvania Fishing and Boating website for updates.
Winter wading in the hot water isn't for everybody. Traditionally, it is a "keep moving 'til you find 'em" approach, and covering the water is essential to locate fish that may have repositioned from either falling or rising river conditions.
Early morning and late evening gigs can be better than a mid-day effort, especially for the low-light seeking walleyes. But, it is a chance to get out and do a little fishing when everyone else is watching football or basketball on the tube. Fish slow, fish thorough, and don't forget the camera! Maybe you'll bring home a memory or two this winter!