Some of the best fishing of the year happens in the dead of winter. You might be saying, “Are you kidding?”
Part of living in the Midwest and Upper Midwest is fishing cold winter days and some of the best places to do that are power plant lakes that use lake water to cool power generation stations. Some are coal burners and others are nuclear. They are spread out across the country and stay open all winter,even in the coldest of conditions. If you can stand to be outdoors in frigid temps, the fish will bite in these lakes.
Here are some general rules before you head to winter waters:
1. Dress for the conditions
You can take clothes off but can’t put on ones you didn’t bring. Keep your cell phone charged and in a dry box in the boat. A good hood and a hat are essential. Sunscreen, lip balm and good sunglasses are also “must haves”.
2. Always bring extra dry clothing
You never know when you might get wet and having an extra set of clothes with you can be critical. We always carry an extra pair of wool gloves in the boat. They can get soaked but will still stay warm.
3. Watch for ice and be prepared
Don’t forget that docks and ramps can get icy and always carry a bag of ice melt or sand in the truck just in case. Water pulled up on the ramp during loading and unloading can be super slick. Dock surfaces can be the same way.
4. Bring warmers
A good catalytic heater and air activated pocket warmers are a must. Fleece lined beanies are best as they stay warm and dry and won’t itch after a long day on the water.
5. Wear your lifejacket
Wear a life jacket while fishing. A cold weather suit can get water logged quickly if you fall in and seconds are critical to prevent hypothermia. We wear a Mustang Hydrostatic suspender style lifejacket the entire time we are on the water.
6. Always expect the unexpected
Accidents are called accidents for a reason.
Enjoy wintertime open-water fishing. These truly can be some of the best days on the water all year.
Most of these impoundments were designed with cold water and hot water arms. Cold water arms are utilized to pull cool lake water into the power plant and the hot water arms are where the water flows out of the plant. Both arms can be good in the winter although the upper ends of the cold water arms can be a bit more tricky, as ice can form in pockets and bays. Some of the best areas are where the hot and cold water arms meet. If cover is present, hold on. Fish will congregate where these two water types meet and many times the action can be hot and heavy.
In super cold conditions, the hot water arm is usually best. Water temps will remain in the 50s all year, and the headwaters of the hot ditch can find temps in the 60s and 70s. Air temps in the 30s or lower with water temps in the 60s can be comfortable believe it or not. Although fog can be a problem at times, the warm water generates heat for the angler
Bait selection in the winter varies from jigs to spinnerbaits and spoons to topwaters. A lot depends on the light conditions and prevalent water depth and temperature. Crankbaits can also be very good.
Two of our best baits this time of year are a 1/2-ounce blade bait or a 1/2-ounce Johnson Silver Minnow tipped with either a Uncle Josh white/green pork chunk or eel or a Zoom Spinnerbait Trailer. The Johnson spoon can be worked either on top in pad stems and blow downs or just under the surface in open water with a slow and deliberate wobble. The blade bait can be cast on points and hopped for deeper water applications. We always sharpen the hooks even on new out of the package spoons and replace the hooks completely on the blade baits to Mustad KVD Elite Trebles.
Another great choice this time of year is a Strike King Redeye Shad we particularly like chrome with blue or black back. Shallow divers like the Bandit Series 100, Strike King 1.5 and 2.5 and Mann’s Baby 1 Minus are also fish catchers this time of year. The Spro McStick jerked over points in open water also is a good choice.
One of the side benefits of power plant lakes is current. Water pulled through the power plant can generate some current, and although it may not be noticeable, it’s there and positions fish.
Proper clothing is critical for fishing this time of year. An exceptional suit for this type of fishing is the Frabill Snosuit. The Frabill FXE Raingear can also be great this time of year but temperatures will dictate your choice. Both are not only warm but allow for layering beneath and ease of movement. A pair of the Frabill FXE Task gloves are also critical. Extremities are the first thing to get cold so good insulated boots, pocket heaters and good gloves are essential as well. Frabill also makes an IceSuit for super cold conditions.