Louisiana doesn't have winter, not really. Average temperatures
for January-February are in the 60s with lows in the 40s. Not
exactly electric socks cold. But
as our mild winter gets
into full swing and the weather dips toward the three or four days
below 40 we get each year, Louisiana's water temperatures put
bass and bluegill into slow motion. Cold blooded species reduce
their activity with extremes of temperature and bass/bluegill
consider water temps in the low 60s or 50s to be practically
paralyzing. You know the fish are there somewhere, and you're
pretty sure they have to eat, but where? Obviously they can be
caught in winter or ice fishing would merely be an excuse to drink
or could it be that
The key to winter is patience.
Studies consistently show that, as the surface temperature
drops, bass and bluegill move to deeper waters and significantly
reduced their hunting territory and in one case a large bass
(hunkered down in the roots of a tree) showed no discernable
movement at all for nearly four months which pretty
much guarantees he was flyfishingproof. The
seasonal transition pattern from shallow to deep depends
entirely on weather conditions. As it heats up and cools
down, bass and bluegill will move to shallows to feed, then
retreat back to depths, then back and forth over a period of
months (December March). However, any feeding
pattern can be disturbed with even moderate water temperature
changes, or barometric changes, even with modified amounts
of direct sunlight.
Bass and bluegill of similar size will generally be in the same
proximity, so when fly fishermen find larger fish, they should
concentrate on that area. Because of shrunken hunting territory,
a "good" area may be only a few feet across. Normal fan casting
(in a 90 degree arc) is not the approach to take here, and a much
smaller target area should be worked. An article on plastic worm
fishing once recommended two dozen casts at the same location.
That's just silly. Failure to get a strike is normally an indicator to
move, and no strikes on a good fly at a seemingly good location
in five minutes means there are probably no bass and bluegill there
or another fly should be tried (but not longer than another five minutes).
Results from a Humminbird SmartCast in JanuaryFebruary 2007
showed most of the large fish in a 1000' x 50' lake to be located
in three small deeper areas. In a similar lake the fish were all
congregated in a trough running 200' down the middle of the lake.
Fish and move a few feet at a time until you catch fish.
Try to focus on any apparent structure or vegetation since small
bluegill feed heavily on insects near the vegetation, and bass feed
on smaller fish that feed on these insects. Bluegills and goggle-eyes
are creatures of habit, and if you know vegetation is usually in an
area in the spring/summer, bass and bluegill will frequently return
to that area in winter, although bass prefer snags and underwater
obstructions to vegetation. When the fish move out of previously
occupied areas, drop-offs and deeper holes are the best areas to
fish, often the only place worth fishing.
For either bass or bluegill, the fly of choice should be an insect
replica first, then a minnow replica. Retrieves should be painfully
slow. A "finger strip" is performed by holding the line between
your thumb and forefinger, and then tugging lightly on the line
with your middle finger, then you re-grip where your middle
finger tugged. Use a finger strip-pause-finger strip-long pause-repeat,
and the bait should only move an inch or so each strip.
On a bright day in the warmest part of the afternoon a hungry
fish might take a surface bait, but the only reliable option for
winter bass and bluegill fishing is one that doesn't float. The
soft hackle is particularly adaptable to winter bass and
bluegill fishing. Soft hackle flies have a lot of movement
just drifting in the water without a lot of movement of the
fly. Just twitched occasionally, the hackles wiggle invitingly
(or, to bass, infuriatingly). There is no specific "catch-'em"
pattern, and the choice of colors depends largely on the color
of the water being fished. Not many insects are active in the
winter, but the nymphs of dragonflies and stoneflies cruise the
waters of ponds, feed actively and grow all winter to emerge
as adults in early spring. These are larger nymphs and nothing
smaller than a size 10 need be used. Of course, fish don't have
calendars and any slightly warmer day might find a mayfly pattern
In general, darker colors should be used for the body of the
fly (black, olive or chocolate). These can be dubbed or or
woven or simply thread bodies, but use nothing that will tend
to float. The fly can be accented or dressed with bright
contrasting colors by using flash in tails, wire ribbing, shiny
bead eyes or plastic bead heads. Contrasting hackle (e.g.
black hackle on an olive fly) will also provide some contrast.
Brass bead heads or cone heads are optional, but generally
cause the bait to fall too rapidly between twitches and,
consequently, are useful for bass more than bluegill.
The second best option is a nymph or larva pattern. Since most
flies will be tied on 12 or larger hooks, a bass and bluegill nymph
can take advantage of materials trout nymphs cannot use. Chenille
is particularly effective for bass and bluegill flies, which can be
dressed with plastic legs, soft hackle or other hackle barb legs,
and a variety of materials for the thorax . Flies should be buggy,
but should not be so scraggly as to look like a piece of algae on
Because the fish are not willing to expend any energy to chase
down your fly, using a double fly rig is highly recommended. A
clouser or deceiver pattern minnow trailing an insect pattern (or
visa versa) will present more fish catching options. More than
one large bass has fallen prey to a rubber leg nymph trailed closely
by a minnow imitation
as if it were chasing the nymph. Apparently
bass get really perturbed when they think someone is getting a meal
they are not.
Bass and bluegill are not particularly line shy. For winter fishing
you want tippet that sinks easily and is invisible. Flourocarbon
lines (e.g. Vanish) are a good choice. You can get Vanish in a
6 lb. test at 250 yards for $12 whereas 25 yards of flourocarbon
tippet is $13. If you use something more visible than flourocarbon,
the key is to try and get a line with a diameter of .010 or less.
In ponds a long leader can give you a pretty decent (1 ft/sec)
sink rate and a 10-12 foot leader/tippet is not too long.
Winter takes are not bone-jarring attacks. Winter takes are subtle
and frequently nothing more than a little pressure on the line. In
very shallow ponds (5' or less) a popper dropper rig can be used.
In this instance the popper is simply a cork, but make sure it has
long rubber legs. The dropper will only go as deep as the line
between it and the popper, so don't be stingy with this part of
your rig. You don't need a "pop" from the popper, so continue
using tiny strips. If the rubber legs twitch and you didn't cause it,
that is a take. Sometimes a fish will inhale and your only clue is
that the popper legs moved toward the head of the fly (indicating
the fly moved backwards). This is a take.
Now for the downside (other than the fact that winter fishing is
cold on the fisherman and takes more patience than many of us
possess) which is that winter bass and bluegill fish don't fight very
hard. Warm water species spend most of their energy doing what's
necessary for keeping alive in cold water. There is not a lot left over
for a spawn-like rod-bending battle. Large bass often act like catfish
(or perhaps an old boot), barely moving dead weight on the line.
Not fun. ~ Bob
Robert Lamar Boese has fly fished for five decades. He is an
environmental negotiator, attorney and educator who has provided
environmental legal services for more than thirty-three years including
active duty with the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Justice. He is a
well known fly tyer with several unique patterns to his credit. He has
developed and authored federal and state regulatory programs
encompassing a broad spectrum of environmental disciplines, has
litigated environmental matters at all levels of the federal and state
court systems, and is a qualified expert for testimony in environmental
law. He has authored over 60 published text chapters, comments or
articles on environmental matters, is a member of the Colorado, District
of Columbia and Louisiana Bar Associations, and is a certified mediator.
In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Boese has been a high school
teacher, an associate professor of Environmental Law and Public Health,
has authored numerous fiction and sports publications, and is a softball
coach and nationally certified volleyball referee. He is the president
of the Acadiana Fly Rodders in Lafayette, Louisiana and editor of
Acadiana on the Fly. He has been married for thirty years and is the
father of two fly fishing girls (25 and 21). For additional information
contact: Boese Environmental Law, 103 Riviera Court, Broussard, LA 70518
or call 337.856.7890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.