Angling for Connecticut’s wintertime river smallmouths is a paradox. The cold weather period is perhaps both the best time to catch trophy bronzebacks and the most likely time for fishermen not to even receive one bite. Here are tips from Lee Bailey Jr (Three time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier) on how to experience more of the former and less of the latter.
“How many writers even suggest fishing for wintertime river smallmouths. Water temperatures are near freezing. Ambient temperature is so cold that you have to dunk your rods into the water to thaw the ice from the guides. Or when the water is so muddy that you can’t see the bottom half of a brightly colored 6-inch soft bait as you hold it at the surface of the water.”
Jigs, Tubes and crankbaits are excellent for Wintertime River Smallmouths.
Most river smallmouths need deep water to winter. In Connecticut and Massachusetts I have conducted tagging studies which revealed that smallmouths migrate up to 60 miles from summer to winter habitat. In many cases, the trip is much shorter, sometimes nonexistent, but a migration of some length is the rule. Most wintering sites on rivers are at least 5 – 20 feet deep up in the North sections of the Connecticut river.. Down the South end of the Connecticut, smallmouths tend to migrate shorter distances and sometimes stay in creeks all winter. They seek deeper water, but a wintering site doesn’t necessarily have to be 20 feet deep.
The Connecticut River doesn’t freeze everywhere during winter, active smallmouths tend to rise up and feed in shallower water. This is usually between 2 and 10 feet deep. Rock bars, gravel points, boulder fields, and shallow flats immediately adjacent to a wintering hole become activity sites. In high water, smallmouths will be on these same spots where they extend up onto the flood plain. The closer to shore, the slower the current becomes. In high, cold water, slack areas become key.
“Deep” is relative to latitude. “On the Connecticut River, ‘deep’ water can vary from 5 feet to over 10 feet,” “Just find the deepest water and scout the entire vicinity around it. Some great smallmouth rivers have long stretches of nothing but shallow water. Smallmouth will travel as far as it takes, sometimes miles, to find water deep enough to satisfy their comfort and safety zones. And they remain in these areas for weeks (up north, make that months).
A wintering site doesn’t necessarily have to be 20 feet deep.
“In winter, deep holes near a shoal or falls are perfect trophy smallmouth areas. In high, muddy water, concentrate on eddies formed by islands that end abruptly. Those ending in a gradual slope are usually too shallow and too swift to be comfortable for larger smallmouths. The holding area for smallies at the ends of these islands is much smaller underwater than they appear to be on the surface. Islands that end abruptly form the bigger, deeper, and slower holding areas trophy bass prefer. They remain in areas like these until river conditions return to normal.
“The Connecticut is an excellent destination for winter smallies because it has such diversified habitat and plenty of it,” “Fish don’t have to move long distances to winter. I typically locate new winter holes during the low water months when you can see the content of these areas better. Then I will go to them in the winter and check them out. Some work out, some don’t. Only time on the water will tell.”
Lastly, please be sure to always wear a lifejacket while wintertime fishing and check river gauges to make sure water levels are safe.
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