Let's face it …it's cold out there. A lot colder than it usually is for late November. But, hey, I'm not going to worry about that.
Sure, numb fingers, watery eyes and stinging winds are all a part of the game. So, I'm going to bundle up and take my chances. Who knows, I might even catch a few fish!
Hopeful word, indeed. Fishing in November and December can be very challenging in the Mid-Atlantic region.
However, great fishing can occur in both fresh and salt water. For me and my bass and panfish mindset, it can be a virtual horn-of-plenty. My noted from many years of fishing show that November is one of, if not the very best, month for me with exceptional catches of bass, bluegills, crappies, pickerel, trout walleyes, carp and freshwater stripers.
I recently got to fish a Mason-Dixon area pond with my son, Matt, for an afternoon of ultralight efforts for panfish and bass. Although the temps were in the low 40's and the wind was howling, the action was about as good as it gets, warm or cold. We started at the calmer, non-windy end of this five-acre lake in hopes that we could dodge the nasty blasts of 20-mph winds. A small bass here and a bluegill there just wasn't cutting it. We moved to another quiet corner of the lake and picked up a few, but slow action. It wasn't until we muscled-up and posted our butts at the extreme, windiest, and coldest, corner of the water that we started slamming larger bass and beefcake class bluegills with regularity.
No pain, no gain!
We were suspending baits on 4-pound test spinning gear at the 4- to 5-foot depths and letting them drift along with the wind to the churning shoreline. Lightweight, oval plastic bobbers would bounce our baits in the "wind chop," triggering strikes from actively feeding bass and bluegill. Matt simply employed a No. 8 Aberdeen hook with a small worm chunk and I opted for a 1/32 ounce Pink Shrimp Auto panfish jig tipped with a small piece of worm. The PSA jig is a spin-off variation I make inspired by master jig tier Sonny De La Torre, of Riverside, California. He has been molding and making crusher panfish jigs for two decades and sent me some tiny football head jigs to tie up and experiment with. The experiment worked.
There was a reason why the fish were so stacked up in this corner on that cold, raw day recently. Warmer surface water had been blown to that shoreline, creating a "thermal bank" of warmer water that just shifted to the windward shore. Yes, it is uncomfortable to fish with cold, gusty winds in your face. But the results can be excellent, especially during marginal weather conditions wen there is little or no action elsewhere. The water temperature difference can be 3 to 5 degrees warmer than at other parts of any given body of water. Casting and retrieving challenges aside, it was where the fish were.
Matt opted for a 9 foot, light action crappie rod, the Double Touch Duck Commander Crappie Pole, to successfully hook and land fish with a longer rod-sweep and better hook penetration on the set. I was using an older model BPS Micro Light 5-6 Micro for sporty action and feel on these powerhouse bluegills, many of which exceeded the ten-inch mark. Our larger bass, only 2-pounders, just kind of got in the way of the really good bluegill bite that was occurring in the cold. We released the majority of the 60 or so panfish we caught and all of the bass, but hung on to a few bluegills for some tasty fillets for an upcoming fry. In the two hours we endured the cold, we had decided it was time to warm up, and left the fish at about 4 p.m., still biting strong, wishing we had dressed just a little bit warmer. If you have a hankerin' for some "eleventh hour" bass and panfish action then here are a few tips that might help your efforts.
BUNDLE UP: Put some clothes on! Thermal or insulated under garments, insulated footwear, and gloves that can allow you to fish are essential items when questing cold water fish. Outer-shell bibs and parkas will keep you in the game when a hot bite is happening during a cold snap.
TIP JIGS WITH BAIT: We fish small, led head jigs throughout the colder times and prefer to add various baits to tip them and "sweeten" the offering for fish that are becoming increasingly lethargic. Primo winter baits include maggots, wax worms and small Gulp! items like the pink maggots or minnows. Tiny pieces of live worms of mealworms are also a heavy hitter in the chill.
KEEP IT SMALL: We seldom use anything 'big' I start with a jig of 1/32 ounce, then usually down-size from there. Recently, we have had excellent success on the 1/200th ounce Trout Magnet Shad Dart heads simply tipped with a couple maggots or worm chunk. Of course, you have to cast these little offerings with small, weighted bobbers and keep casts close enough to you to be able to actually tell if you are getting a bite.
LIGHTEN UP: Our preference is 4-pound test monofilament in the majority of these cold water applications, However, there are times when you have to scale down to thread like 2-pound string to be able to detect the bite. I like SOS two-pound line in green, sold by Leland Lures. However, many varieties of ice fishing line in 2- and 3-pound strengths are on the market today for todays discriminating ice fisherman. As fish get colder, they turn into zombies, and strike detection is essential.
Jim Gronaw is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or email@example.com.