4 Tips for Fishing Rivers in the Winter

River freed from the ice in the sunset. Just appeared the warmth of the sun melted the ice in early spring

Winter is here, and the cold weather doesn’t have to keep you indoors. There’s still plenty for the avid fisherman or woman to go out and do. If you’re near a river, you have all you need.

Fishing rivers in the winter is a little different than fishing them in the spring, summer, or fall. You have to know what you’re doing, or you’ll end up out on the river all day long with nothing to show for it. You don’t want that, and I don’t want to see that.

Here are some tips for fishing rivers in the winter months so that you don’t end up coming home cold and empty-handed.

1. Prepare for the Weather With the Right Gear

A senior woman, fighting the wind and the cold of a Rocky Mountain winter, fly-fishing in the Blue River in Summit County, Colorado. (A senior woman, fighting the wind and the cold of a Rocky Mountain winter, fly-fishing in the Blue River in Summit Co
Image from Getty

Having the right gear will help you enjoy your time out on the water. Winter can be cold and honestly pretty brutal, especially right down by the river. Make a point of dressing appropriately.

I highly recommend some waders. Even if you don’t plan on getting in the water, you should have a pair of these on. That way if you do get a little wet, it won’t matter. Waders will keep you dry and comfortable.

If you’re not going to wear layers, at the very least wear stuff that will keep you warm and is designed for winter weather. You’re not going to be able to wear the same stuff you do in the spring, summer, and fall.

Also, you need to layer. As a winter day goes you can experience different temperatures and the wind and whether or not the sun is out can also dramatically impact how comfortable you are out on the water. Layering and avoiding anything cotton will help keep you comfortable no matter what the weather does.

2. Get the Right Bait for the Job

Most lures don’t do so well in the winter for the simple reason that they move too fast for fish in cold water. Some of them do work with the right technique, but as the water chills, fish slow down considerably. That means you need some bait that is suited for slow-moving fish.

What do you get? Live bait. Minnows work well. They move naturally and won’t flutter through the water too fast. If minnows aren’t an option, go with another type of live bait as it will work best in the low temp positions.

3. Learn the River

winter river for fishing
Image from Getty

Learning a river can take some time, but it’s imperative that you do so. Seasoned fishermen will be able to take a look at a river and be able to pick out the best spots pretty quickly. Here’s what they’re looking for:


Eddies are spots of the river that flow in a circular upstream direction. Fish like to hang out in these areas of the river, especially in the winter when the water is cold. Look for these close to obstructions like rocks and tree branches.

Vegetation or Trees Hanging Into the River

Spots where vegetation is heavy or where trees on the banks have branches that hang or have fallen into the river are generally a good area to look for fish. These kinds of river features slow the current and give fish a good place to be.

Other Slow Running Areas

Take a look at the river you’re going to fish. Where does the water look slowest? That’s likely where the fish are going to be. Merging rivers and small inlets are great places to try. Otherwise, look for obstructions and river bends where things seem to slow down.

4. Slow Down When Fishing

Fishing reel in very cold weather.
Image from Getty

As I said above, when the water temperature drops, so does the activity level of the fish in that body of water. On rivers—and lakes, too—this means you need to slow down in general. Fish simply aren’t moving and biting like they do in the spring, summer, and fall. Slow down and you’ll have an easier time catching what you’re after.

Have any winter fishing tips you think need to be added to this list? Leave a comment below!

4 tips for fishing rivers in the winter


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