Ways to make the winter months pass more quickly while improving your fishing proficiency.
The most depressing day in the surf fishing season is when you finally acknowledge that you have hit the end of the road; that the fishing is over until spring weather begins the fishing cycle all over again. Unfortunately, the winter months are a major time-hump that we all have to endure in order to experience Mother Nature pushing the restart button for the new season.
For many of us, winter is both a weather obstacle course and a personal survival experience that we wish we could skip. Extreme weather keeps us indoors and off our treasured beaches and away from our now winterized boat. Major outbreaks of cabin fever are commonplace in the fishing ranks, for both boat and beach anglers; although the ailment is not terminal, it is very emotionally painful.
Most anglers have a winter countdown of days to the onset of the new season. For many of us, it is a countdown of approximately 100 days, from late December until early April. Use this winter break to develop additional skills and acquire useful information in addition to prepping for the next season.
Frankly, most of us are stuck with weathering the winter months where we live. Some may toss a few plastic shads until fingers ache in hopes of enticing a small resident bass or two; others find themselves bundling up along the rail in hopes of a big ling or winter blackfish. Then there are those precious few who travel to southern tropical climes where fishing goes on all year long.
My suggestions follow situations experienced particularly by surfcasters; they are in chronological order, from the end of one season through the launch of a new season. Although the suggestions offered are targeted mainly for surf anglers, even boat guys will find most of them applicable.
Clean Up, Repair & Replace
At the end of every fishing campaign, you need to do valuable maintenance on all your gear. Step one is to cleanse equipment from the toxic effects associated with exposure to saltwater and sand. Your rods and reels should get top priority; ideally, line should be removed from all spools and the reels washed thoroughly in freshwater. Any reels that need to be repaired professionally should have the work done sooner, rather than later. Rods should be inspected for defective guides and other damage after being given a freshwater rinse. I like to apply Armor-All liberally to each rod because it keeps the shafts and grips looking new while keeping everything supple.
This is also a good time to clean out your surf bags and check out your lures for any wear and tear. Now’s the time to replace hooks, or even repair, refurbish, or repaint. Any that are severely damaged should be put into the kamikaze expendable collection best used during bluefish blitzes. Any rusted split rings or hooks on lures should be removed and replaced; any bait rigs with rusted hooks or weathered line should also be discarded.
Be sure to clean your sand spikes and apply a liberal dressing of Armor-All on them to keep them supple. Wash the exterior of your waders liberally with freshwater. Finally, wash all your fishing clothes, both for summertime and cold-weather use so they will be ready when you need them in the spring. Time invested in a preventative maintenance process such as this will pay future dividends measured in longer life spans for your expensive gear together with their improved performance.
Get Your Gear Organized
Winter is a great time to restock any of your fishing needs. It is definitely easier to secure some hard-to-find lures, fishing scents, artificial baits, terminal tackle, rods, and reels in the off-season from mail-order catalogs, fishing shows, or trips to the local bait and tackle shop, which I’m sure will appreciate you dropping by in January and February if they’re open! You will surely have the leisure time to spare, and the best selections of the entire season.
Restock and reorganize your bait fishing buckets and surf bags for the spring so when the fish arrive, you will be ready to tackle them. Create new bait rigs, shock leaders, and teaser rigs; hang them over the winter months to let them acquire some memory, which will enhance their presentation. Consider spooling line on the reels that will be used during the spring run and hang your waders upside down on racks.
I store rod-and-reel combos upright in my garage on special racks over the winter months, with dust-covers over the reels to protect them.
Review Seasonal Fishing Logs
Keeping a fishing log is worth the time and effort used to create it. At the end of each season, compare the past season results to those of previous seasons. Look for trends and patterns; which lures and baits were most productive, which spots yielded the most results? Is there a particular tide most advantageous at the several spots that you regularly fish, and which species showed increased landings or reduced catches?
If you have not compiled an annual log, you should really start one for 2018. It can be as complicated or as simple as you deem it to be. You can compile it with pen and paper or go to the computer and keep updated in an Excel spreadsheet or simple word document. Consider a fishing log as another tool in your arsenal that can help to make you a better angler.
Winter is a great time to explore websites that can help you in the coming season. Investigate if there are any video surf cams set up somewhere near where you ordinarily fish, which can give you a real-time window onto the shoreline there. Check out NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center online to locate buoys located near where you fish that can provide information on real-time sea conditions. Many bait and tackle shops keep their sites up-to-date with fishing reports that provide valuable information. Bookmark such sites so you can easily access them.
Scouting & Shows
The winter months are a great time to visit shorelines that you normally fish, or intend to fish for the first time, in order to gather valuable intelligence info about beach access, rock structure, water depth, and other physical factors that will affect fishing in those areas. If nothing else, such scouting treks get you out of the house.
Winter fishing shows are periodic buoys that enable me to navigate through the shoals of the winter doldrums. Judging from the angler turnouts for these events, many others also consider these shows to be refreshing respites from the agony of cabin fever. Vendors galore, seminar speakers, opportunities to meet friends with similar interests: What is not to like? Attending a winter show is like getting an injection of steroids that make my cabin fever back off at least for the duration of the show.
Many fishing clubs sponsor winter shows. If you are a member, you can help work the show, which is a pleasure in itself. Most of us just go for the experience; buying something useful is just a bonus.
Just because the pickings get slimmer does not mean that we cannot put the winter months to good use, in ways that will not only help to pass the dreary days but which can also help to make us better anglers when fishing resumes again.
Getting everything prepped and on stand-by for the new season is not something that can be done quickly; it is a process. Be thorough; take your time. Winter will be over before you know it!
|MEMBERS ONLY: LOCAL FISHING CLUBS/WEBSITES|
If you can’t get enough fishing, joining a local club makes a lot of sense. You can socialize with other anglers who share your passion; you meet regularly at which time guest speakers make presentations on their specialties; you can learn new tactics from your fellow members, and share some of your own with them; you can tell your favorite whopper tales and endure those of fellow members. Many of these clubs hold fishing shows and perform charitable work to benefit the fishing community that you can be a part of.
There are countless fishing clubs in the tri-state region (quad if you consider Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey) in the region that welcome new members and meet regularly throughout the year; if you don’t see yours listed, email us at email@example.com.
Absecon Saltwater Sportsmen
Atlantic Saltwater Fly Rodders
Asbury Park Fishing Club
Beach Haven Marlin & Tuna Club
Berkeley Striper Club
Central Jersey Trout Unlimited
Delaware Bass Stalkers
Delaware Mobile Surf-Fishermen
Delaware Valley Surf Anglers
Dover Delaware Bass Club
East Jersey Trout Unlimited
Fish Hawks Saltwater Anglers
Forked River Tuna Club
Fortescue Anglers Club
Hi-Mar Striper Club
Hudson River Fishermen’s Assoc.
Jersey Coast Shark Anglers
Jersey Shore Surfcasters
Knee Deep Fishing Club
Manasquan Fishing Club
Manasquan River Marlin & Tuna Club
Merchantville Fishing Club
New Jersey Beach Buggy Assoc.
North Jersey Kayak Fishing Club
Ocean City Fishing Club
Penn-Jersey Saltwater Anglers
Raritan Bay Anglers Club
Salt Water Anglers of Bergen County
Saltwater Fly Anglers of Delaware
Shark River Surf Anglers
Spring Lake Live Liners
South Jersey Bass Club Association
South Jersey Fly Fishers
South Jersey Kayak Bass Fishing Club
South Jersey Saltwater Anglers
Staten Island Tuna Club
Strathmere Fishing & Environmental Club
Villas Fishing Club
Village Harbor Fishing Club
Women’s Surf Fishing Club of New Jersey