Would you brave subfreezing temps, frozen fingers and toes, and the possibility of a single bite per day? Could you mentally prepare yourself for hundreds of casts for the possibility of one chance to hook up in some of the nastiest fishing conditions you can experience in Virginia? If these variables leave you undeterred, winter smallmouth fishing might be for you! The great thing about winter smallmouth fishing is the solitude. You very rarely will find someone as nutty as yourself out in the middle of a half frozen river in the dead of winter looking for a unicorn like the one below.
Fish like this move onto very specific structure in winter months and hang out until the sense of spring spawn moves them to different water. This type of fishing is similar to musky fishing in the winter. You target specific water and fish methodically dissecting areas to trigger that one big fish into a strike. You will not find or hook many small fish this time of year. Rarely are fish under 17″ caught and many fish are in the 20-22 inch range. You may find more success fishing conventional gear during the cold months but if river conditions allow you to make contact with the bottom with big crayfish patterns, you can catch these beasts on flies. You will need to be ready to set the hook virtually every cast and ever second as bites will be few and far between. On an outing with Jeff Kelble and river rat Duncan McGrath we each caught 2-3 fish per day with 1 or 2 other possible eats. The reward was getting to make friends with very nice sized fish including the 5.5 pound beast Jeff caught below. Dress warm, take the proper safety gear, rig for big fish, and be patient. The reward will give you memories that last a lifetime!