By Shannon Brooks
Photos by Shannon Brooks
Ah Virginia… where one can experience all four seasons in a single day’s weather. The good news is that as winters become milder (and start later) the opportunities to get out on the water can now extend nearly to Christmas in some parts of the state. True, the bite may have dropped, and tubing is definitely off the agenda, but there’s still plenty of reason to get out on the water in colder months—and even some advantages.
First however, a safety note: wear a life jacket or float coat any time you’re on the water in cooler seasons, regardless of air temperature and no matter how well you swim or how close to shore. Cold water immersion triggers cold shock, which makes self-rescue without a life jacket all but impossible, so wear your personal flotation device.
Now for the fun stuff. Winter is the best time to troll your favorite shorelines and collect all the lures, jigs, and rigs a summer’s worth of anglers have lost to overhanging trees and hungry riprap. Once the leaves come down and shoreline growth dies back, all this hardware becomes far more visible. Tackle hunting in winter also means less boat traffic, which spares your hull the pounding it would normally take in the shallows. If you know where and what to look for, it’s easy to gather enough tackle to make up for all you’ve lost the previous season. Some tips:
- Try to select spots where you’ve seen anglers gather during the warm months—rocky points, trees over deep holes, and half-submerged timber. All of these are notorious tackle-snatchers.
- Approach slowly and watch for metallic flash or glints of color. Approach the same area from multiple angles also; what doesn’t catch the sun one way might shine diamond-bright viewed from another.
- Don’t overlook what’s overhead. Fishing line snarled in trees often has something useful at the other end. Be sure to remove as much of the line as possible and dispose of it properly.
- Check public piers and bank fishing hotspots, too. Landbound anglers tend to get snarled in the same places repeatedly and have fewer options for retrieving snagged gear. The result can be a bonanza of rooster tails, soft plastics, bobbers, hooks, and weights.
What to do with your finds? Polish them up, sharpen the hooks, and put them back into your regular rotation. Better yet, use them to fill up a tackle box or two for the grandkids as Christmas gifts. Some local tackle shops will even take better-quality secondhand jigs and lures for refurbishing and resale; work out a swap for new gear. Whatever you do with your finds, it’s better than leaving them to snag unsuspecting swimmers, entangle wildlife, or disintegrate into trash.
Winter is also an ideal time to explore different launches in your area, especially those that are generally slammed during warm weather. Launching a boat requires skill and patience under the best of circumstances, and a long line of impatient boaters watching you hold up their day on the lake as you try to launch at an unfamiliar ramp is hardly ideal circumstances. Now’s your chance to go see what all the fuss is about—without the fuss. Some suggestions:
- Spend a little time in advance exploring maps online to find new areas of interest and convenient launches.
- Go early or go late. There’s a high chance you’ll have the ramp to yourself even on the weekend, but if you absolutely want no witnesses as you practice, arrive first thing in the morning (too cold for most) or mid-afternoon (too late).
- Take it easy. In warm months, you have to go full throttle or literally roll with it—wake from passing boats, that is. Cooler temps keep most boaters at home, however, which means you can adopt a more leisurely pace as you cruise without courting windburn or frigid digits.
Cooler temps and shorter days don’t mean you have to succumb to hibernation and hole up until spring. A little time on the water can be just the thing to help break up the winter blahs, and now you’ve got plenty of reason to go.