February 4, 2016 Last Updated 1:24 pm

*Winter Boat #1

Billy Connolly famously said “there’s no such a thing as bad weather only bad clothing”. There is great fishing to be had this winter if you take your chances and prepare well for a trip. Jim Clohessy reports on the planning and the action down south.

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Winter Boat #1


There’s no easy way to put it – Winter in sea angling terms really doesn’t end until April. Yep, water temperatures really do not start to rise properly  until we get well into April and that is dependant of the temperatures. If you are optimistic I suppose you could call April at touch of springtime in sea angling terms!

Take a look at the graph below which gives the average sea temperatures at Malin Head over a thirty year period. Bear in mind that Malin Is the most northerly point and the temperatures where you are may traditionally be a degree or two warmer than the colder north, especially south and southwest coasts where the gulf stream is felt strongest. Bear in mind also that the Irish sea off the east coast of Ireland can be a very cold place in winter time.


There is no dressing it up any other way – winter can be a difficult time for boat anglers. Still, most of us are an optimistic bunch and we live in hope of getting a regular run during the winter months. May groups will still attempt to get a charter if there are reports of fish showing.

We will deal with the different fishing in the articles Winter Boat –Bait and Winter Boat- lures. Here in this piece we will look at the general things to be considered before getting afloat in the winter time.

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First things first, we need an accurate weather forecast. I know most guys have their favourite forecasts that they will check before committing to a trip.

I was asked once about forecasts and weather – My advice was simple: “Keep looking at all the different sites until you see a forecast that suits you!”

It is important to watch for gaps in the weather. You must also consider the residue that will exist after a period of rough weather. Poor water clarity will result in poor fishing in most areas. However fish that are used to murky water will feed happily. You need to know your area.

But once the weather settles then you have every chance of having a decent day afloat once you are well prepared.

Wet & Cold

Whatever about the fishing, you will struggle to survive the day if you are cold. What may seem like a still day on dry land can be a vicious chill on the water. By the same token I have seen sunny winter days where it nearly gets warm. Clothing is key! I used use a floatation suit during winter months. They are a superb item on the coldest of days. I must say though if there is any heat in the sun it is quite easy to overheat. I have not worn my floaty in a few years now something says we do not get that cold most days. I much prefer to layer my clothing as it gives me more options.

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A decent compression top or base layer with long sleeves is perfect. I will layer up with a micro fleece and a heavier fleece before donning a decent waterproof jacket or smock. Being a small boat angler that launches and retrieves each time, I wear waders most days while fishing. During the coldest winter days I wear a set of neoprene waders that keep me snug as a bug. With the waders you should always consider a decent pair of thermal socks as the wader boots are not good insulators. If I wear my breathables I find that socks are less important because of the neoprene stocking feet on the light waders.

I carry a Buff or a or a fleece wrap for the neck area. I will wear a decent woolly or fleece hat to keep the noggin toasty.

At least with layering if the weather ends up warmer than expected I can lose a layer. There is nothing wrong with a floatation suit if that what suits you. When I am fishing from a marina-based boat I will tend to wear a bib and brace and wellies rather than waders. I will only wear waders when a dip in the water is likely.

I do carry gloves. I must say that I hate wearing gloves when fishing, they just don’t suit me, I do not like the lack of feeling. I have tried various types, especially the neoprene type with the fold-back fingers but even then the lack of feeling hampers my fishing. In very cold weather a pair of fleece gloves provides the warmth I need. I wear then while travelling and moving drifts – suits me fine!

Once the angler is warm and dry the possibilities are endless! One thing not to forget is sunglasses. Oft in the winter time we are fishing on bright sunny days. The sun will be at its lowest in the sky you will notice that it tends to hang at a height that can obscure you rod tip when it is sitting in its rest or holder. I have taken to  having a spare pair of polaroids in my electronics bag. The bag always travels with me so at least I’ll have a pair of glasses. The watery winter sun can be absolutely blinding.

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In winter a warm drink while fishing is a great bonus. I know that the charter anglers will wonder what I am on about! Small boats tend not to have soup making facilities, many anglers will not take a break in any case! But a cup of soup certainly can make the difference between an early exit off the water and a longer session during a cold bright winters day.

Once the wellbeing of your body is taken care of you can then take to getting your equipment ready for winter watering. I think it is important to have a checklist of things to prepare and jobs that need to be taken care of before hitting the water.

During the summer I will often leave my electronics on board the boat. During the winter I am sure to take them out after each trip. Before heading out I will fit and test the electronics. I will confirm that my engine is starting. I’ll give the steering a few turns to ensure it is free and I check for leaks (Hydraulic steering) Many a day was ruined by a seized steering cable. You have a better chance of curing problems at home base than you have on the water. Regular checking is best but a check before you leave base is essential.

Winter time is hard on electronics. Dampness can cause corrosion on terminals. Batteries will run down charge more quickly in the cold. Parts can seize up over long durations. I like to give moving parts a spray of oils every now and then and I make sure all grease points are well lubed.

Check your lights before you head off to the slipway. If you are stopped and have defective trailer lamps make sure you declare that they were working perfectly before you set off.

I will always start my engine before heading off in the morning, especially so if I have not out in a bit. I like to be assured of a start before getting to find a problem at the slipway.

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Plan to fish

Just because it is winter and the day is short doesn’t mean that you can head off like a headless chicken. You really need a decent plan of action to ensure you make the most of your fishing time and hopefully manage to get a few fish.

Make sure that you have your bait sorted. Even if you are lure fishing it might be a help to carry some frozen bait, a few paltry whiting have often saved the day when plan A doesn’t work for whatever reason.

Winter fishing can really sort out the men from the boys, the experienced from the newbie! When winter fishing is tough it can be very tough. Ground that you regularly catch fish on during the summer can be fairly devoid of fish in wintertime. Often you will need to pick marks with pin point accuracy in order to get some fish.

There is no doubt that many fish move in cycles. Certainly cod can be hot to trot one year and can be like hens teeth the next. It looks like we are on a scarcity of cod this winter. This will mean having to drift reef marks accurately when trying to locate some pollack to target with lures. It is important to realise that long drifts over ground that may yield fish in the summer will hardly be as productive in the winter.

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You have a duty to operate safely. In winter this takes on even more importance. When the water temperature is low you chances of surviving a period in the water is reduced. Whatever your chances it is important to make sure that your lifejacket etc. are all in tip top nick.

In winter darkness  will close in early so it is also important  that you leave word of your expected time of return and you check in with the person when you do return to land.

I know the coast guard launched an interesting app for boaters. The app will help track you down if you have difficulty on the water. I don’t think the uptake by anglers is huge but it is worth considering installing on your smart phone  – it’s free after all.

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All is not doom and gloom! Getting out fishing in the winter is superb. The buzz that you get after stealing a day’s fishing shortens the winter. Of course your expectations are different in the winter. Your catch expectations might not be as high as they would be in summer however if there are cod in your area then fishing can be better than a long summers evening. If one species is scarce then you should be prepared to chase another. There usually is going to be something biting other than the wind!

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