Winter is one of my favorite times of year to target trout on jerkbaits. The reason why jerkbaits are my lure of choice over the colder months is that their realistic appearance allows for extremely slow retrieves, which give lethargic trout plenty of time to inspect before striking.
The basics are simple, cast the Jerkbait out and retrieve slowly. The slower the better, because the trout are lethagic in the cold water. A slow retreive gives the trout more time to decide to strike.
Trout over the winter are still hungry, and they still feed but they simply swim slower. All fish slow down when the water gets close to freezing and trout are no exception. They simply are less willing to expend a large amount of energy chasing down fast moving prey.
Winter is a time for patience, slow, steady, and deep is usually the best approach. Trout seem less willing to trigger to rapid jerks and more energetic retrieve styles. Likewise, they stay deep in their holes, surface presentations rarely get a raise. In winter, being able to suspend a jerkbait and pause it mid retrieve can be essential to get a trout to strike.
Best colors and patterns?
Do not waste too much time trying to decide which color to fish. Us anglers care about such things more than the trout.
When it comes to color selection, winter fishing is not really any different than fishing over the warmer months. In clear water conditions, fish natural looking patterns that match the local baitfish. Generally, when fishing clear water I like the Brook char, Perch and Brown Trout patterns I find these patterns do a good job at representing a generic small fish, they work well even in water without juvenile perch or Char’s.
If the water is colored, maybe from snowmelt, then I go very bright. I like bright orange, but I know many anglers who prefer the reddish green combination known as nuclear chicken. When the water is dirty a bright lure is simply easier for the trout to see.
Lastly, I always like to have a couple of gold or silver jerkbaits. These two colors are classics so is always worthwhile having a few on hand.
My personal favorite Jerkbaits for winter trout
I use many different sizes, styles and colors of jerkbaits when targeting trout and I have written a very comprehensive guide on how I fish them and how many of the top models compare against each other. , I like to experiment and constantly mix things up. Most quality jerkbaits do catch trout but there are several lures I always have with me. These are my personal favorites which I fall back on when nothing else seems to be working.
I personally consider the floating Rapala to be a true classic and I have caught more trout on them than any other jerkbait. They float well, they dive well and I simply know how to get the best out of them. I always bring a few natural looking patterns and a few bright patterns.
The Dynamic HD Trout is a much newer lure, which has all but replaced the Rapala Countdown in my tackle box. I prefer the Dynamic HD Trout because the internal ball bearings make it easier to cast, plus it has a wicked wobble on a straight retrieve. It does not work that well in turbulent water and does not sink quite as deep but overall I feel it is a better trout catcher. The Rapala countdown still has a few uses in deeper pools.
The Rapala X-Rap, at times, can be a game changer. It is a suspending jerkbait, and that suspending action can be critical to trigger a strike from a reluctant trout. One winter morning I was fishing a canal, with steep sides, and the trout kept following my lures in. We all know how annoying that can be. So I tied on a suspending x-rap, the trout followed and about a foot from the edge, I stopped and just let it suspend there. That trout, paused, then spent several seconds expecting the X-rap from both sides before absolutely smashing it. When fishing down into pools, it is also possible to drift a suspended jerkbait under overhanging vegetation. That is where trout like to take shelter.
If I want to fish bigger waters, I usually reach for a Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow. I like them in bright colors. My personal favorite is bright orange which seems to be discontinued, but the Hot Pink Trout also works well. The internal weight makes the Pin minnows much easier to cast than the floating Rapala which is why I prefer them.
Finally, when fishing still waters, I really like the Jointed Rapala. They really have a fantastic wiggle on a very slow retrieve. They are difficult to cast, so are really only an option when the trout are feeding close to shore. Alternatively, they are an excellent trolling lure due to their slow speed wobble.
Water temperature and ice
Cold water temperatures it not usually an issue. If it is liquid, not ice, I go fishing.
Trout like cold water, but they have their limits. Generally trout become harder to catch as the water temperature drops below 44f (6c), but even under the ice during the winter. Temperatures rarely drop below 40f (4c). At these temperatures trout are a bit sluggish, but can be caught.
What causes the water temperature to drop even more, is not colder temperatures but snow melt. Water from melting snow is much closer to 32f (0C) than water trapped beneath a layer of ice. So if there is a lot of thawing ice and snow, fishing can be very difficult. In fishing, there are always exception. The initial surge of water from the melt can actually cause a bit of a feeding frenzy.
It does get to a point, that a river or stream is simply too frozen. Not only does casting become difficult, I never feel safe walking across a frozen stream because it is hard to tell where the weak spots are.
What tackle do I use?
I honestly do not use anything special. Just an ultralight rod suitable for casting lightweight jerkbaits. I pair it with a standard trout reel, usually a 2000 size reel which I spool with either 4lb or 6lb line. If you are interested in reels, I do have a guide here.
On the subject of line, I prefer to fish braid when using jerkbaits. I favor braid for several reasons, firstly it floats, which prevents the line from wrapping around underwater obstructions. Secondarily, the lack of stretch gives it excellent sensitivity, so I can feel every movement down the line. Finally, braid does not suffer from memory like monofilament does. These three factors combined make fishing with braid much easier.
My personal braid of choice is Berkley Fireline, but I know a lot of people prefer Daiwa J-braid. I rate fireline so highly I have even written an entire article about it. When fishing braid, it is essential to use a leader, both monofilament and fluorocarbon leaders will be fine. I typically use 6lb leaders and its length is that of my rod plus a couple of extra feet.
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