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Do Fish Hibernate?

By Brad Metzler
Winter Pond

Winter can be a tricky time for an angler, and even a worrisome time for a pond owner. With falling temperatures, many ponds become very inactive. There is almost no surface action, and the go-to lures that always bring a big bite, are now not even getting a nibble!

Sometimes the change is so drastic it may appear the pond is experiencing a fish kill, and can alarm some pond owners who think they have lost their fish. So what is going on? Why is there such an extreme change in winter? Are the fish dead, or are they hibernating?

Luckily, most likely the fish are not dead, but they are cold. Fish are cold blooded which means their body temperature is regulated by their environment. This means when water temperature decreases so does the body temperature of the fish. Additionally, metabolism is positively correlated with body temperature, so when water temperatures decrease so does their metabolism. As a result, fish require far less caloric intake to survive throughout the winter. However, the fish do not hibernate; they are still feeding, just a reduced rate compared to the warmer seasons when they need a greater caloric intake in response to higher metabolism. While this does make them slightly more difficult to catch, winter fishing can provide great fishing opportunities if you know where to look.

Location

First things first, location. While it’s always important to make sure you are fishing the right areas of your pond, it’s even more so during the colder months of the year. The reason for this is because your fish are going to look for the warmest areas that they can find.This is often the deepest point or any area that can radiate heat from the sun. All it takes is a one to two degree temperature increase to congregate large numbers of fish.

Fish will actually lie in the mud to stay warm during the winter, so don’t be surprised if you catch a fish that has mud on its belly. In a similar manner, they will suspend or hold tight to cover that can radiate heat such as dock floats, rock banks, standing timber/stumps, or laydowns. Habitat that extends above the surface allows heat from the sun to be radiated down below into the water. They will also seek out areas that are close to a well or spring that expels warmer water. We've got another blog post dedicated to understanding the season habitat needs of fish, Habitat Basics

Presentation

Next, presentation. As mentioned earlier the fishes metabolism is very slow this time of year and so is their movement. They are much less likely to chase down a bait now, and prefer to expend as little energy as possible to consume a meal at this time. Smaller, finesse style baits are popular choices as the small profile appears as a quick easy to capture meal for the fish and can often result in more bites.

The bigger fish in your lake will like larger lures because they will be attracted to one big meal, as opposed to several smaller meals. (Which requires burning more energy and utilizing more calories). A large football jig fished very slow across the bottom is a very proven winter technique for catching some of the largest bass in your lake.

In general, slow presentations like Texas rig, Carolina rig, and suspending jerkbaits dominate in the winter. However, tight wobbling crankbaits (often crayfish colored) thrown around rocky banks or retaining walls are not to be forgotten, especially on a warmer sunny day. You find all these lures at our sister store, Lake Pro Tackle

In the winter, your fish are all about the “easy meal,” so sticking to presentations that mimic dying fish or slow moving bottom baits like a jig or ned rig will be effective under most conditions. Keep in mind as the colder the water is, the slower you will need to fish. In some cases pausing a jerkbait for upwards of a min is necessary to get bit, but most of the time here in the southern United States a 3-10 second pause on a jerkbait or a slow drag (counting rocks) with a jig is sufficient during much of the winter.

Any angler who enjoys a bit of challenge will be up for the task of finding fish in the winter. While it may be tough, winter can provide some excellent fishing opportunities!

Tight lines, y'all! 

Editor's Note: Originally published January, 2018, this blog was updated December 2020 for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

Tags: Fish and Fishing

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