Some of the best catfishing can be had during the winter months, but you need to be prepared for sudden changes to weather and water conditions. In other words, don’t drive an hour to your favorite lake without a backup plan. During winter, the weather and water conditions can dictate what type of bait is available, how you’re going to fish and where you’re going to fish, so you need to be flexible.
The first condition to prepare for is bait. I like to call the local bait guys before my visit. They might have bait available for purchase, which can save you a lot of time and get your lines in the water sooner. If I cannot find fresh skipjack, I will scan the entrances to harbors, sloughs and marinas looking for schools of baitfish to cast a net on. Either way, I always have a couple bags of frozen bait available so my trip is not wasted.
You should also prepare to use a variety of fishing methods. I typically have 12 rods in my boat—six medium-heavy-action rods set up for dragging and six heavy-action rods set up for anchor fishing.
If the current flow is swift or the water temperature is below 40 degrees, fish typically stick close to the bottom or structure. This calls for patience and an anchor. During the warmer months, I’ll stay on a target for 15 to 30 minutes. During winter, I give each spot 30 to 45 minutes.
If there is no current or the sun comes out and warms the water, I like to have the option to changeover to dragging quickly and move to warmer water with less current.
Where you plan to fish is influenced by three primary factors: wind, current and what your graph is telling you. I like a little wind, but a lot of wind from the wrong direction in the winter is miserable and makes it hard to control the boat, especially if you have a full enclosure. Drift socks help in current, but you may want to check out the side of the lake where there is less wind.
Winter fish don’t have the energy to fight the current. Their food just doesn’t digest as quickly during the cold months to give them that energy. As a result, the fish seek structure to break the current, allowing them to wait for their next meal without exerting a lot of effort.
I typically won’t target fish with my graph but use it to look for structure and study what the fish are doing. If I’m seeing a lot of fish suspended off the bottom, I’ll use a float on anchor or drag baits slowly. To me, suspended fish are feeding fish. If I’m not seeing fish on the graph, they are either laid up in the mud or holding tight against structure.
Editor’s note: Chad Mayfield of Pell City, Alabama is a lifelong catfishing enthusiast. He started competing in catfish tournaments 17 years ago. “I’ve been humbled many times but learned something from every event,” he says. “I’ve watched the sport grow to what it is today, and I’ve met some incredible fisherman that I now call my friends and co-anglers.”