By Zach Lazzari
Winter is here and the local ponds and rivers in many areas are frozen over. That doesn’t mean you should hang up the rod for the season because there are tons of world class winter fishing destinations in the lower 48 states. Get your gear in order and start planning a domestic road trip to explore some of the best fisheries in the country.
1. San Juan River, New Mexico
Trout anglers can largely forget about the northern states during winter but the San Juan River below Navajo Dam remains viable throughout the entire season. The winter months see less angling pressure and while the nights are often cold, the days can swing over 50-degrees Fahrenheit, making for comfortable fishing weather. Bring your best technical flies because winter is midge season and the fish focus on very small bugs. The fish counts are among the highest in the country however and this tailwater holds great potential.
2. Gulf Coast of Texas
The gulf is a great escape for anglers seeking warmer weather and winter saltwater fishing opportunities. Rockport, Texas is home to Aransas Bay and endless miles of backwaters to explore for redfish. The fishery is productive year-round and has the ability to produce some very large, wild redfish. You can walk to productive waters but utilizing a shallow draft boat to explore this area is ideal. Some great local guides base out of this area as well.
3. Tennessee Tailwaters
There are plenty of tailwaters that remain productive throughout the winter. The Green River in Utah, Lower Sacramento in California, Missouri River in Montana and many more are fishable. The TVA fisheries in Tennessee produce many of their biggest brown trout during the winter months. The South Holston is famous for big brown trout and while certain sections are closed through January to protect spawning trout, there are plenty of opportunities to drift midges for picky feeding fish or to chuck streamers in hopes of moving a monster.
4. Florida Keys
The keys offer year-round fishing opportunities the winter offers a warm escape for many anglers. The days are nice throughout the winter months and the humidity is low as well. Tarpon, permit and bonefish are available in areas where water temperatures remain in the low 70’s. Some of the largest permit are caught during the winter months. Jacks and barracuda are also prevalent and exciting to target.
5. White River, Arkansas
Like the Tennessee tailwaters, the White River remains open throughout the winter months. This popular tailwater fishery in Arkansas is crowded during the summer but winter offers plenty of elbowroom and great fishing. The winter and spring shad kills offer the unique chance at large brown trout that are feeding out in the open. The shad are sucked through turbines in the dam and spit out wounded or dead in the river. This brings out the biggest fish in the river system.
6. Oregon Coast Steelhead
The seasons never end for dedicated steelhead anglers and the Oregon Coast is a great place to chase big winter run fish. Winter steelhead runs have lower population counts than summer runs but the biggest fish often migrate during the winter. The entire Oregon coast is loaded with rivers, each having unique runs and the potential for a trophy steelhead. The Rogue in the south has 12-months of steelhead and the northern rivers like the Wilson and Nestucca are excellent places for both fly fishing and gear fishing.
7. Pyramid Lake, Nevada
Winter and spring are the only times to legally target the massive Lahontan cutthroat trout at Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Located less than one hour from Reno, this massive desert lake sits within the remote Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation. It also produces Lahontan cutthroat trout in excess of 20-pounds.