Winter Fishing Tips


The water is cold, the fish are lethargic, but the bite is still on!

Warm water fish species slow down their metabolism as water temperatures decrease. Even though their metabolism has slowed, it does not mean they stop feeding. They just eat less often and at a much slower pace.

They will not chase fastly retrieved lures or drifted bait. They are searching for a large, slow-moving and/or staionary food source. Fish also retreat to deeper water in the winter months because it is consistently warmer than the shallower water where water temperature is more affected by air temperature and sunlight.


Largemouth, Smallmouth and Spotted Bass

At this time of year, bass seek structure in deep water. These areas usually include ledges around the main creek channels or humps in the main lake. If a warm front moves in for a few days during the winter months, bait fish might seek shelter in coves and shallow flats where the air temperature and sunlight will rapidly heat those areas for a few hours in the middle of the day. You can bet that a few bass will follow that bait ball into the shallows.

If you target bait balls in shallow water, utilize slow twitching swimbaits and jerkbaits. Bass are looking to pick off bait that are injured or dying, but will not expend too much energy chasing a healthy bait fish. A slow retrieved or bounced weedless hooked magic shad with a 1/4th to 1/2 ounce bullet weight is a great selection to pick off bass that are following bait balls into the shallows.

For bass that are staionary on deep water structure (remember "deep" is a relative term depending on the body of water), use large naturally colored soft plastic offerings such as worms, tubes or creatures hooked to your liking (i.e. Carolina-rigged, Texas-rigged, jighead, bass jig, bladed bass jig, drop-shot, etc.). Slowly work the lure around deep structure where bass are positioned and hold on, the biggest fish of the year are typically caught in the late-winter.

Blue, Channel and Flathead Catfish

In the winter months, catfish can be found in their wintering holes. These are areas of slow-moving, deep water typically on large flats or sharp turns in a body of water's main creek and/or river channel.

Natural cut bait from the body of water you are fishing is the most effective bait selection (ex: gizzard or threadfin shad, skipjack herring). You can fish a stationary spot or drift fish from a boat.

Spool your catfish rod and reel with 20-pound monofilament line and place a 1- to 2-ounce no-roll or drag-free sinker on the line and tie on a 1/0 barrel swivel. Then tie a 12- to 24-inch 20-pound monofilament leader-line to the other end of the barrel swivel and tie on your hook (7/0 to 8/0 strong circle hook). Place a 2-inch slotted foam peg float on the leader-line a couple inches above the hook so that the bait floats in the strike zone off the bottom. Place a hefty piece of fresh cut bait on the hook and cast to your desired location.

If you are drift fishing, you want to be drifting as slowly as possible. If the wind is blowing or you're in current, you may need to use an anchor or drift socks to slow your drift. 

Black and White Crappie

During the cold-water months in Oklahoma, crappie will suspend over brush piles and/or other structure in deep water (remember "deep" is a relative term depending on the body of water).

For example, crappie could be holding at a depth of 12 foot in 30 foot of water, 8 foot in 12 foot of water, or 30 foot in 50 foot of water. To reach these fish, you either need to be directly over them in a boat and suspend your lure using weight and/or a jighead at the depth in which the fish are holding or if you are fishing from the bank, you need to use a slip-cork float to get your lure to the desired depth.

Live minnows, inline spinners, small lipped crankbaits and panfish lures are all great selections. Bring plenty of different color variations so you can pinpoint the preferred bite that day.

For bank anglers, focus your efforts on areas of a body of water that has deep water in relationship to rocky outcopprings (such as a dam or fishing jetties) and/or submerged timber.

Boat anglers should use fish finding electronics to target fish in the same areas.


Rainbow and Brown Trout

While Oklahoma supports two year-round trout fisheries, the Lower Illinois River and Lower Mountain Fork River, most anglers start thinking about trout when Oklahoma’s six seasonal trout areas open during the winter months. These areas include:

Click here for trout fishing tips on small bodies of water such as Dolese Youth Park and Veterans Park.

Trout are stocked at these areas every two weeks from November through March. Trout are cold water species and thrive during the wintertime months in Oklahoma, while traditional warm water species such as bass, crappie, catfish and sunfish are relatively inactive.

There are three effective methods for catching trout in Oklahoma: cast and retrieve, bottom fishing and fly fishing.


The basic setup for trout when using a cast and retrieve approach is a six foot to seven foot medium- to medium-lite action rod and a reel spooled with six- to eight-pound monofilament line.

The most effective lure in my opinion for catching trout at all of the state’s trout fishing areas is a 1/16 ounce Vibric Rooster Tail in olive (frog). Rooster Tails in olive, brown, black or white are tried and true.

Super Dupers in gold, silver or trout work well as do Little Cleo spoons in gold and orange or silver and orange. Make sure to keep your lure selection in a 1/8 to 1/16 ounce range. Simply cast your lure out and steadily reel in the line with a slow retrieve.


The basic setup for trout when using a bottom fishing approach is a six foot to seven foot medium- to medium-lite action rod and a reel spooled with six- to eight-pound monofilament line.

This method requires you to find a singular spot and cast to that spot. You will rig the end of your line for a snap swivel, sinker, bait holding snell hook and powerbait. For still water you will want to use a ¼ ounce sinker and ½ ounce for moving water. The snelled hook should be size 6, 8 or 10.

I prefer purple nymph for powerbait, but most colors/flavors are effective.

You will thread the end of your line through the eyelid of the sinker and tie off to the eyelid of the snap swivel. You will then open the snap on the swivel and attach the looped end of the snell hook’s line to the swivel and snap shut. You will then dab a chunk of the powerbait on your finger and work it around the hook, creating a ball or teardrop shape, until the hook is completely covered.

When you cast to your spot, reel up the slack until the line is tight to the tip of the rod and either hold onto the rod or set it in a rod holder. Trout tend to peck at the bait instead of engulfing it all at once so when the tip of your rod is indicating a bite, grab the rod and wait for either a steady “thump, thump, thump” or just constant pressure on the line before setting the hook.


The basic setup for trout when using a fly fishing approach is a five- to six-weight rod with floating line, nine foot 4x leader and four feet of 5x tippet.

If you plan on dry fly fishing in Oklahoma for trout, you need to be able to match the hatch. Contacting a local fly shop is the best way to get up-to-date information on what bugs are hatching and where/when.

For nymph fishing, size 16 and smaller pheasant tails, copper johns, bloody marys, lightning bugs, rubber-leg yellow sallys and San Juan worms are all effective in flowing water.

Strip fishing is effective with a bead head wooly bugger in olive, brown, black or white. I prefer a size 6-8 olive bead head wooly bugger when fly fishing the state’s trout waters.