When fish come easy in early winter, it's easy to get spoiled. But that all changes when fishing pressure, changes to the underwater environment and other factors make fishing tough.
Rather than throw in the towel, tackle a tough bite with these proven tactics. I'll use lake trout for an example, but the strategies hold water for other gamefish as well.
To beat a tough bite for lakers on my home waters in Colorado, I start by checking classic cover and structure, such as humps, weed edges, flats and drop-offs. Finding aggressive fish in one kind of area gives me a pattern for the day, and I focus on similar spots elsewhere on the lake.
When identifying the best of these look-alike areas to fish, I pick those with the most similar characteristics, such as close proximity to deep water, being attached to an underwater ridge, and so forth.
The InSight Genesis mapping on my Lowrance Elite TI sonar-chartplotter helps me find these potential hotspots in a hurry, so I don't waste precious fishing time in search mode.
As I roll into each new area, let's say with a pair of clients, I drill 12 to 15 holes spaced 30 to 40 paces apart, so we can cover the structure as quickly as possible. We fish each hole no more than five to 10 minutes with active presentations like a Clam Leech Flutter Spoon or jig head tipped with a Berkley Gulp! Minnow, Jerk Shad or Havoc tube.
Tubes are fished on or near bottom. Pound them in the mud to imitate crayfish and other bottom-dwelling forage. An aggressive approach is typically best, but you can also deadstick them just off bottom to mimic an easy meal just waiting to be eaten.
Spoons and the other jig-and-plastic combos work the entire water column, and are great for calling fish in from a distance. If a trout moves in but won't bite, I reel the lure away from it to trigger an instinctive predatory response to attack.
If our opening salvo produces big fish or numbers of fish, we drill more holes and keep fishing. If not, it's go time, and we head for the next fishing area.
I'm not interested in spending all day trying to finesse a few finicky fish. Run-and-gun tactics offer the best chance to find and catch fish that remain active in the face of a tough bite. Trust me, there's always a group of fish somewhere that are eating, and those are the ones you want to be fishing for.
The same philosophy applies to bluegills, crappies, walleyes and pike. Give it a shot when your favorite fish play hard to catch, and you, too, can beat even the toughest bites on ice.