As winter nears the mantra of the surfcaster should be ‘go one more time!’
The winter is long, and it’s coming fast. Every season, I hear anglers start to complain about the cold, the wind, and lack of fish; and then they promptly give up. But then, only a few weeks after that, they will start complaining about how long the winter is, how much they miss fishing, and how they wish they had fished more.
If this sounds like you, and you wish you had a better idea of when it was really time to hang it up, I have one big piece of advice. This late-fall and early-winter I urge you: just go one more time. If you take away nothing else, it should be that. When you think it’s really time to stop, just go once more. If you get into a few small fish or even get a single hit, go again. I find that going just one more time ends up getting me to go a few more times, and this continues until it’s very obvious that it’s over.
The way I approach the late season, which in my neck of the woods starts in November and ends sometime in December, is a multi-step process. Your dates will probably vary substantially to the north and south, but the general pattern should be similar. First, early in this period, I just pretend it’s still the fall run. I don’t pay much attention to the reports anymore, and I don’t listen to my fishing friends. They’ve all given up, and they even start saying things like “I can’t believe you’re still fishing!”
I don’t listen to them. When I get into a few fish (or 100) and send them photos, they will invariably complain about missing it and lament giving up too early. During this period, I suggest just keep fishing as normal. Think about migration points, wind and tide patterns, and try to find big bait. Granted, I change my behavior a little bit, and it will be a grind sometimes, but I’m still fishing in the open surf pretty hard; bigger plugs, late nights, etc. Don’t fall back on smaller water and spots too early, stay in the surf until it feels a little bit ridiculous and the skunks have piled up, then transition to the next step.
As this period wanes, and we start to get deep into the late season, I’ll move to places I know have bait well into winter, or even all year. Typically this is around estuaries that hold a whole host of species, or sand beaches with good populations of sand eels. I don’t necessarily switch entirely to small plugs and jigs, as I’ve had great luck swinging big plugs and soft plastics around these spots. I also am not way up inside rivers or estuaries; I’m still out front, catching fish that are going in and out, and on their way by.
As the late-late season hits us, I make another transition. Typically I’ll fall back on just a few select places, and I won’t lie, some of these spots are kind of special. While they don’t contain holdovers, they do attract local fish that don’t migrate, and those fish will stay until these spots get downright frigid. These spots are special because they hold bait all year and have other features that attract the late-season stragglers. They are also places where I can catch fish very early in the year prior to any migratory fish making their way north- that’s a key component of these places. I can’t get into too many details, but think about water temperature, migration routes, and places bait accumulates. You might be surprised by where you can find 10- to 15-pound fish long after the first snows have come that aren’t in a major rivers, giant estuaries, or heavily spot-burned holdover spots.
At this time of year, I’m just content to catch whatever I can, and I will scale down my gear and start throwing mostly small soft plastics on a single hook. However, don’t underestimate your chances at something decent, I always carry a few larger gliders, swimmers, and even darters. It’s also a fantastic time to catch a few fish on the fly; the fish are generally smaller, hungry, and close to shore.