Make the Best of Rainy Winter Fishing

Upstate Outdoors
January 04, 2019 - 9:16 am

Phillip Gentry


If you are like every other resident of the Upstate, you are sick and tired of seeing the endless deluge of precipitation fall from the sky. As we ushered in the New Year, current rainfall levels were dramatically above normal seasonal rainfall amounts.

The upside for anglers is that all the winter rain, combined with moderate air temperatures for this time of year, has a silver lining. If you had to pick a pivotal number for water temperatures during the winter, it’s 50 degrees. Water temperatures below the 50 degree mark are generally unfavorable when it comes to fish activity. Fish may feed sporadically, but metabolism slows down and fish feed only enough to survive

Conversely, water temperatures above the 50 degree mark keep fish interested in feeding most anytime the opportunity arises.

Currently, the water temperatures on area lakes are right around the magical 50 degree mark. The mercury dips during cold fronts and rises during sunny and warmer days. In the southeast United States, rain typically comes on the warmer side of a cold front. It will cloud up, rain, and then get colder and clearer after the front passes.

The net effect on our reservoirs is that warmer rain has or is making it’s way into the lake before the cooler air temperatures arrive. Accordingly, if the main lake surface water temperatures are in the upper 40’s and rains occur, it’s a pretty safe bet that tributaries running into the lake are going to be warmer than the rest of the lake. Bear in mind that warmer or cooler temperatures are relative.

Be sure to check water temperatures compared to the main body of water. Colder water inflows are bad and shut fishing down while warmer water inflows, relative to the main body, draw fish to the source.

Inflowing water during the winter has several positives. Aside from the aforementioned warmer temperature, it also brings current. Current spurs feeding in nearly all species of fish. Rain also washes sediment into the water. Sediment traps heat, therefore leveraging the warming factor and helps raise surrounding water temperatures. Baitfish, which are vulnerable to cold shock when water temperatures range below 45 degrees, seek out this warmer water for survival. Predators follow the baitfish.

Sediment also reduces visibility. In the generally gin clear waters of our Upstate lakes, reduced visibility is an advantage for predatory fish to ambush prey.

All of the above makes perfect sense on a one time or sporadic basis. Since it’s been raining steadily several days a week since late October, much of the water quality in our reservoirs has turned from stained to outright muddy. Similarly, water inflows from tributaries that create fishable current are now raging torrents sending fish elsewhere to look for refuge.

Too much flow and too much muddy water can be a negative. Instead, look for secondary tributaries that supply water to the lake.

When these conditions occur, angler may witness a reversal of normal water conditions where the main lake is actually muddier than the water coming in. In this situation, keying on the upper reaches of a reservoir, the backs of smaller creeks and coves with ditch run-off in the back, often provide the best fishing.

Even when fishing relatively warmer water in the winter, expect fish to be less aggressive than in the spring and summer. Slow down your presentation, paying particular attention to keeping your lure or bait in proximity to fish holding structure like stumps, docks, or man-made cover.

Finally, match your offerings to the size prey the fish are eating. In wintertime, that typically means threadfin shad less than 3 inches long. A slow or sluggish fish is hesitant to chase larger prey that it will have difficulty swallowing and digesting when it’s metabolism is slower.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. The show can be streamed live online at or via podcast anytime.


Photo Caption –Knowing how fish in Upstate reservoirs react to winter rainfall will help you catch more fish. Photo by Phillip Gentry.

Comments ()