It was probably a tired but perpetually happy angler who said, “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.” Well, it was that, or the guy simply had no work and nothing better to do than well, go fishing with his portable fish finder. To make such a happy angler even happier, check out some of the best winter fishing spots in the USA.
East South Central region
The jurisdictions for this region for Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama may be confusing, but the angling potentials are definitely not. Pickwick Dam backs up the Tennessee River. It is located in southwestern Tennessee and serves as a reservoir 50 miles long along the state border of Mississippi while driving well through northwestern Alabama.
To date, Pickwick Lake holds four current smallmouth bass catch records for the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). Three of those records top 8 pounds. Near Florence, Alabama is a known hotspot, Wilson Dam, which is geographically the headwater of Pickwick. Boating anglers simply rely on the current to drift while casting spinner baits or jigging diminutive soft plastic grubs as they progress along the shoals and rock piles on the edges.
As more of the bottom structure gets exposed when the water recedes 4 to 5 feet in the winter, the fish thus become more accessible. However, considering how the currents can turn quite swift, the danger levels also rise.
The rest of the lake offers excellent fish-holding capacity. You have a wide array of underwater humps, points, and the sub-aqueous edges of shoreline bluffs where the bass could easily converge in large numbers. Since both threadfin shad and crayfish are typical food sources of bass in this area, you can fish using crank baits that resemble shad and also small jigs.
Aside from those options being the logical choices, you will also need loads of patience as well as a genuine willingness to experiment with various lures and to try out different depths along the precipitous aspect of the bluff prior to just wading to a new spot. Use a 6 or 4-pound test line to make the most of your light lure options. This will also help you go after easily spooked fish.
South Atlantic region
Florida or the Sunshine State boasts some fantastic Bass fishing all winter. You can go after some largemouths, which are actively in the pre-spawn period by January.
Florida is not just for the snowbird in you craving a relaxing one-day fishing break after a tour of the Walt Disney World Resort here. It is also for the avid angler who would like to put in some serious fishing by heading south for the tropical paradise that the state is.
Regardless which type you belong to, anytime is the right time to go sail fishing in southeast coastal Florida in December and January. That is if you would rather not go as far as Costa Rica or Guatemala but would really like to enjoy a fishing experience that is just as fantastic.
If all you have ever caught with your fishing rod is Bluegills, Florida still offers the best fishing ever by way of its Sailfish Alley. This area runs south from Fort Pierce through Miami and the Florida Keys. The location is easily a trove for complete beginner anglers. Apart from your own camera and jacket, a standard charter comes with all you need for a satisfying day of fishing.
Just make sure you have a healthy dose of enthusiasm and willingness to pay attention and learn as much as you can from the captain and mate who will help you find where the fish are. If you are really nice, they might even hook the fish for you.
You should not be short on lures, though, but that aspect is not even quite bad if you think about being able to live the angler’s ultimate dream.
Over in South Carolina, you have some excellent winter fishing lakes located in the Santee-Cooper Reservoir complex at the southeastern section. The popular, year-round hotspot is known as Lakes Marion and Moultrie, where you can capture Channel, Blue, and Flathead Catfish.
Holding the distinguished state record for Blue Catfish weighing 109 pounds, the area also holds the honor of the world-record Channel Catfish at 58 pounds. The Blue Catfish action heats up even more when the temperature dives down even lower.
The open-water activity of vast Threadfin Shad schools slows down as they begin to gather in the early winter when the waters cool. The catfish easily forage for them when they gather around underwater humps and off lakeshore points and other structures.
Some small shad are used as bait by anglers, who also employ depth finders to search for schools of shad clumped near or on bottom structure. That is where the big Blue Catfish are guaranteed to be close by.
Multiple rods are set up by many guides when anchored over a hotspot. Blue Catfish catches are plentiful, with average weights from 5 to 10 pounds. Catching 20 to 30 pounders is not rare either. You may even bag some fish three times that size.
Along the beaches of the outer banks of North Carolina, in Hatteras, you can take your share from massive schools of wintering Striped Bass come December.
For a long time, Georgia has been known for the aggressive stocking of the species in plenty of its major lakes. The action intensifies in winter like most landlocked fisheries for Striped Bass in the southeastern United States. Considering how the cold causes stripers to tune in, they will undoubtedly feed on schools of Blueback herring and shad.
Expect most of the action to heat up in the northern half of the state. It won’t be unusual either if the action extends as far down as Lake Seminole located far south. The Hartwell Lakes and Clarks Hill in the northeast are part of the Savannah River system and are top fishing waters.
The others include Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River system as well as the Coosa River system in the northwest.
Big, fast, and deep, the lower Niagara has dangerous waters at times. This is considering how it serves as a tributary for the outflow of Lake Erie from Niagara Falls itself to its mouth on Lake Ontario located in far western New York. This makes the area a natural magnet for the steelhead of Lake Ontario, along with Lake and Brown Trout, particularly in winter.
Boat fishing is best here if you seriously intend to reap honors for bagging an average 5 to 10 pounds of steelhead and topping 20 pounds on good fishing days.
West South Central region
Winter fishing in the fabulous White River tailwater of Arkansas is sure to be fun and productive. With water temperatures staying in the 50s to the deep 60s, trout will be active all winter. For trophy catches, it is not a crazy-wild idea to fish in February and March.
Because of the water temperatures becoming deadly to schools of small shad in the upstream reservoir because of the extreme temperature drop, there are bound to be dead and dying fish passing into the tailwater currents and through the dam. Big trout are sure to go into a feeding frenzy then so you can easily reel in brown trout weighing 5 pounds or heavier.
Dallas’ Lake Fork isn’t the only bass lake in Texas, but its ability to pump out big bass has given it a bigger reputation compared to other lakes in the state. The fishing at Falcon Reservoir on the Rio Grande at Zapata, Texas is also productive.
East North Central
The Great Lake tributaries along the eastern and western shorelines of Michigan are home to large winter-run steelhead. Legions of anglers descend there in the fall to make the most of the fall run trout and salmon. In contrast, lone anglers visit the area during the winter months for brown trout and steelhead.
In the spring, other anglers go for spawning steelhead. Although King Salmon and Chinook typically originate from the Pacific Ocean, they have been stocked in Lake Michigan for the past three decades. Because of this, there is presently substantial natural reproduction in a number of tributary rivers and streams.
Southern California is home to the small reservoirs that have been written about in Bassmaster Magazine for bagging the honors of 22 of the 25 largest largemouth bass records in angling history. With a huge number of water-supply reservoirs being in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, this may not be surprising.
However, the Diamond Valley Reservoir in Riverside County has also been stocked, notably generously, with Rainbow Trout and Florida-strain largemouths. This makes Southern California bass fishing so popular in fishing circles.
In the Pacific Northwest, steelhead has become the planet’s most heavily politicized fish. Big, beautiful, and elusive, the fish have had runs that have decreased due to overfishing and the loss of habitat. Freshwater trout make good sports fishing, but for those who fish with a passion, the steelhead is the only catch worth making.
Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is home to both wild and hatchery steelhead.
Winter fishing for Rainbow Trout is enjoyable over at the San Juan River tailwater below Navajo Dam near Farmington, New Mexico.
Trout anglers ought to head to Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat, or Vail in Colorado with some four-wheel drive vehicles and tire chains. This is where, if you scratch deeply enough, you can get into flowing water somewhere. That will be where the trout will be eating something regardless how chilly it is outside. Large Rainbow Trout and Browns will feast on Mysis shrimp driven upstream from the Ruedi Reservoir.