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Ask an Expert: Winter 2019

Get some winter fishing tips and learn about hibernation.

photo of man holding large yellowish fish

Walleye; by John Mullican

I’ve tried ice-fishing but I’m looking for some other winter fishing ideas. What species of fish can I target and where can I find them? (Mason in Perryville)
For the die-hard angler that can’t wait until spring, there are plenty of options available for open water fishing even through the cold temperatures of winter. Coldwater species such as trout remain fairly active, particularly on sunny afternoons. Spring-fed streams like Beaver Creek in Washington County remain ice-free all winter due to a constant supply of 54-degree water. Blue-winged olive mayflies, midges and black winter stoneflies can bring trout to the surface, although nymphing will bring the most fish, and frequently the largest fish, to the net. A 1-mile section of Beaver Creek is open to public fishing under catch and return, fly fishing only regulations. Consult the Maryland Guide to Crabbing and Fishing for details.

Anglers that prefer spinning tackle can find plenty of stocked trout remaining in local streams from the fall stocking program. Look for winter trout in the slower, deeper pools. Approach from downstream and present very small, lightweight jigs, spinners, and small crankbaits upstream and retrieve downstream just faster than the current.

Walleye is a species popular with winter anglers on the nontidal (Upper) Potomac. Under normal-to-low flows, winter walleye can be found in deep pools and behind significant ledges that break the current flow. The most effective artificial lure for sluggish walleye during the winter is a jig and plastic trailer just heavy enough to maintain occasional bottom contact. The take is gentle and signaled by only a slight “tap” felt through the line and rod tip. By late winter, walleye begin to move extensively throughout the river in preparation of spawning.

Any barrier or impediment to movement such as dams, major ledges and riffles can concentrate fish. Minnow-shaped crankbaits that are retrieved slowly are good tools to find fish. High flows during the winter will push fish into protected areas along the shoreline improving the chances for bank fishermen.

Remember, with potentially dangerous cold water temperatures, winter is no time to take chances. Always wear a personal flotation device when boating and avoid steep slippery banks if fishing from the shore.

—John Mullican: Field Operations Manager, Fishing and Boating Services


photo of small brown frog

Wood frog; by Andrew Gosden

We most often hear about how bears hibernate during winter, but what about other animals we don’t see or hear during the cold winter months? (Marian in Nottingham)
It is a common misconception that bears hibernate in the winter. They do, in fact, den up over the colder months, but they are not true hibernators.

Bears go into a state of torpor, which basically translates into the bear having a reduced metabolic rate and reduced body temperature. Bears, typically pregnant sows that give birth and nurse cubs in the dead of winter, enter the den beginning in mid-November. One of their environmental cues is a lack of available food, which is why bears spend so much time eating and fattening themselves up prior to entering the den. Most bears will be denned up by mid-December. Bears don’t need caves for dens, they use hollow logs or trees, openings in rock piles, piles of brush or even depressions on the ground. In western Maryland, we have found that brush piles and blowdowns are the most common.

A bear may wake up during the winter to move around inside the den. A bear may also wake up if it’s disturbed by humans or something else. There have been cases where a bear denned up too close to a stream and when the water level rose, the bear was flooded out so it relocated to higher ground.

While bears may not be true hibernators, reptiles and amphibians can and do hibernate. Frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, salamanders, turtles and other herpetofauna will find a place to hang out for the winter, called a hibernaculum, where they will be safe from the weather, as well as from predators. Living off stored fat reserves, reptiles and amphibians experience a reduced metabolic rate and basically sleep away the winter. Some herpetofauna will burrow into mud (turtles), while others will survive under water, either on top of the mud or partially submerged (aquatic frogs). Terrestrial frogs may find a comfy crack in a log, while other species will dig down into the soil. These animals don’t freeze because they have a high amount of glucose (converted to glycogen) in their organs, which acts as anti-freeze so when the spring thaw comes, they emerge from their hibernaculum and go about their business.

—Nancy Doran: Program Manager, Wildlife and Heritage Service