BlogJanuary 2017

5 Winter Fishing Tips For Catch and Release

5 Winter Fishing Tips For Catch and Release

By Debbie Hanson

Jan 04, 2017

Catch and release winter fishing tips to use when you catch fish that aren't within the state regulations, or if you just prefer to release the fish you catch.

Photo Credit:  Michigan Department of Natural Resources

You'll come across plenty of winter fishing tips that cover topics such as ice fishing gear or strategy, but don't forget to learn about conservation-minded catch and release tips that apply to winter fishing as well. You can apply these tips when you catch fish that aren't within the state regulations, or if you simply want to enjoy the experience of cold weather fishing without keeping your catches. Follow these winter fishing tips for catch and release while helping to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities to create year-round fishing memories.

1. When the temperature dips below freezing, it's even more important to limit the amount of time that your catch spends out of the water. Consider the fact that fish eyes and gill tissue can freeze, which may cause irreversible damage. Limit the amount of air exposure by ensuring that your release tools (such as pliers or de-hookers) are within close reach, and make sure that your camera is ready before you take the fish out of the water to snap a photo.

2. Exercise care when bringing fish through your ice fishing hole. When using an ice auger to drill your hole, consider the size of the fish you are likely to catch. The hole shouldn't be too large that it poses a hazard, but should be large enough so that you can reel up your catch without having to use any force that could cause injury to the fish. The average size is between 8 to 10-inches, but this depends on the size of the fish you are targeting.

3. When fishing using natural baits and tip-ups, keep a close watch on your fishing lines and tip-up flags. The sooner you can set the hook, the better for the fish in most cases. If a fish strikes your bait and the hook isn't set quickly, the greater the likelihood that the fish will swallow your bait and become gut-hooked. 

4. Use artificial lures instead of natural baits. If you are ice fishing with kids, live bait will often produce more action initially, but if you don't have the kids along or you just don't seem to be getting any bites with natural bait, switch to artificial lures. Fish are less likely to swallow artificial lures, which increases catch and release survival rates. Jigs heads with plastic tails work great for panfish and flashy metal spoons are known for attracting walleye. 

5. Know the fishing regulations for your state before you go. State fishing regulations may require certain species to be released during particular times during the year (including the winter months) or when fishing specific state waterways. These laws may be subject to change based on updated fish population data that is acquired by state biologists, so check the state regulations for updates before each fishing trip.

Cold weather fishing does bring with it a special set of considerations for both the angler and the fish, but you don't need to hibernate on the couch when the mercury drops. All you have to do is buy a fishing license, learn about ice fishing safety, remember these winter fishing tips for catch and release, and make plans to spend a day outdoors.
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson
Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s sport fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide living in Southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has appeared in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit or follow her on Instagram @shefishes2.